Question: Would a suction dredge be useful for gold mining on the Wild West Coast?
Gold was discovered at Gillespies Beach in 1865 and the mining madness began. In 1891 a gold dredging company spent £5,000 shipping a Von Schmidt suction dredge to this remote beach. This dredge that promised gold and wealth for the West Coast was officially “myth busted” when the suction pump was unable to cope with stones and timber buried in the black sand.
The remains of this expensive blunder, including the boilers and pontoons can be seen on a short walk from the northern DOC car park and campground. A more successful bucket dredge that operated between 1932 and 1945 is also quietly rusting in the swampland on the Lagoon Walk that leads to the Northern end of Gillespies Beach.
The Gillespies Lagoon is often landlocked and on a sunny day this makes an ideal spot to have a soak in the sun warmed water. Continue over the boardwalk and up the hill to the Miner’s Tunnel which is roughly thirty meters long. This was blasted through the sea cliffs so there was all weather access to their gold operations. Today it gives you a spectacular view of the Tasman Sea and dramatic coastal cliffs.
The Galway Beach track will give you a real sense of what it was like to be a miner walking on a pack track through untouched rainforest. You will also view the fur seal colony. These amazing creatures like any wild animal with sharp teeth can be ferocious when cornered. Be advised not to get between the mothers and their pups or their escape route to the sea.
Gillespies Beach is a 21 kilometre drive from Fox Glacier village past the Lake Matheson turn off. Note, half of the drive is on a narrow, unsealed road.