The Golden History Of The West Coast

Gold made the fortune of the West Coast and you can be sure that you won’t have to travel far in order to find a golden relic of the Coast’s glory days.

There's Gold In Them Thar’ Hills! 

Gold made the fortune of the West Coast.  The mysterious lure of this rare and elusive element brought prospectors, miners and con-artists from all over the world hoping to make their fortunes or maybe to con some else out of theirs. 

Following closely behind came the shop-keepers, brewers, builders, engineers, inn-keepers and dance-hall girls who would settle and populate the Coast.  And even though most of the gold eventually ran out, the people stayed on and created the unique atmosphere of the West Coast as it is today. 

But the coast’s golden history has been kept alive in many places and wherever your West Coast accommodation is located, you can be sure that you won’t have to travel far in order to find a golden relic of the Coast’s glory days.  Here are four suggestions to get you started.

Kumara.  Located 23 kilometres east of Greymouth on SH73, Kumara was one of the busiest of the early gold-rush towns.  Richard “King Dick” Seddon, the Premier of New Zealand from 1893 until 1906, was Kumara’s most famous resident and he was both a miner and a businessman in the town from 1877 until his death. 

The area was especially popular with Irish miners and Londonderry Rock, a house-sized boulder amid stacks of mine tailings was named in honour of them.  Opposite the beautifully restored Theatre Royal Hotel, a series of informative display panels chronicles the long and fascinating history of the area. 

Ross.  Situated on the edge of a vast, water-filled pit which was once the open-cast mine which gave the town its reason for being, Ross today is a tiny settlement of smoky chimneys and quiet back streets.  The local Information Centre has a covered gold panning area, models of gold-mining machinery inside and full-scale replicas outside. 

An original settler’s cottage and the former town gaol provide insights into the lives of the early miners and the residents of Ross.  Nearby, a walkway follows a water race past gold workings and a replica miner’s hut to the original town cemetery where there are great views of the town, the giant pit and the surrounding countryside.  Guided walks are available but you can easily follow the 45-minute walk yourself.

Shantytown. This lovingly-recreated replica of an early West Coast mining settlement has been an institution on the Coast since its opening way back in ’73 (sound’s like something an old miner would say!).  Featuring re-creations of miner’s houses, Chinese prospector’s huts, gold sluicing and panning displays, and all manner of industrial gold-mining gear, Shantytown is literally a working gold town. 

Artisans create unique souvenirs and jewellery; craftsmen make horseshoes and steel parts for machines; and authentic shops give you the feeling of having travelled back in time to the gold rush days.  Ride the steam train, pan for your own fortune in gold or pose for an old-time Sepia photo in the Golden Nugget Saloon.

Gillespies Beach. Located west of Fox Glacier, at the end of a winding gravel road, Gillespies Beach, with its booming surf, crowding forests and backdrop of towering, glaciated mountains seems an unlikely setting for a gold rush.  Yet this tiny, forgotten corner of the world was, for a short time, home to thousands of miners who came to dredge the surrounding waterways for alluvial gold. 

Almost nothing remains today.  A walking track leads to piles of old dredging gear – suction pipes and huge iron dredge buckets – and on to a seal colony at Galway Beach near a rocky headland.  The headstones in the tiny graveyard hint at the lives of the people who came here to seek their fortunes. 

It is a beautiful place to visit and well worth the effort as you search the coast for relics of the days when there was gold in them thar’ hills.