Set in the heart of New Zealand's historic gold mining region, the Goldfield Mining Centre transports visitors back in time to the gold rush. In 1861 Gabriel Read discovered gold in Gabriel's Gully, beginning the Otago gold rush. Prospectors began to search near all the rivers in the area, including the Kawarau River. One particular area became to be known as Gee's Flat but is known today as Goldfields and is where the Mining Centre is now located.
During the 1860s, early prospectors cut races bringing water from 3 neighbouring creeks to a series of dams. The water was then directed into a cascade over the working faces. The miners would then help to loosen the gravel with picks, bars and rakes using a method known as ground sluicing. The initial gold rush dwindled in the 1870s but there was a renewed interest in the 1880s. Miners were mostly European but there was a number of Chinese miners. The Otago provincial government encouraged miners from the Guangdong province in Southern China to come to New Zealand to take the place of European miners who routinely abandoning mining in the Otago region. There were series of mini gold rushes over the years with the last full-time miner leaving Gee's Flat not too long ago in 1969. Now the historic Gee's Flat is home to the Goldfields Mining Centre which has preserved the authentic mining site for people to experience.
Upon entering the visitor centre, I was greeted by a friendly team member who informed me of the structure of my visit. It began with a walk to explore the 25 hector site following the trails. You have a choice of 2 trails - a 30 minute or 1 hour trail depending on your time limit and personal preference. Wandering around the site, you have the opportunity to see various remains of the gold rush era. From numerous shafts and tunnels to a replica 'Chinese Village' and miners' store made up of shacks and huts, there's plenty to see and all allows visitors to take a look back in time to see how miners would have lived whilst searching for precious gold.
After plodding along the trail it was time to meet up with the tour guide in one of the cosy heated buildings which was definitely needed to take of the winter chill. Sat around a table, the guide gave a detailed history of the Otago gold rush and explained exactly how gold was obtained. He then passed round different pieces of gold, most of which were from the area, to allow us to see what it was that the miners were so desperately looking for, for over a century. After this we headed back outside to see demonstrations of some of the old mining machinery. First up was the stamper battery, used to crush gold-bearing rock. Next was the California sluice gun which was used because of its immense pressure and ability to dislodge the gold. During this time, the guide happily answered any questions from the group.
Finally, it was time for us to try our hand at gold panning. Unlike other gold mining experiences I have had, the guide told us exactly how you are supposed to find the gold which saved the group from aimlessly swilling dirt around in the pan. After our detailed training we all had a go. Admittedly, visiting in the Winter was perhaps not the best idea for gold panning since it involved plunging your hands into a trough of ice topped water but it was a fun experience nonetheless even if no gold was found. However, if you are lucky enough to find some specks of gold, it's yours to keep so well worth the visit!
Opening Hours: Sept to April: 9am - 5pm, May to August: 10am - 4pm
Admission: $25 per adult, $10 per child, under 5s go free (price includes tour)
Location: Goldfields Mining Centre
State Highway 6 (SH6)
Cromwell, New Zealand
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Amy-Lee Haynes graduated with BA (Hons) History from the University of the West of England in 2017. She has worked and volunteered in various museums in the UK and has recently been travelling in New Zealand. She started her blog, Looking Back At History, in 2019 to continue her love for history and research. You can also follow her on Instagram at @lookingbackhist.