We’ve been so blown away by the breathtaking beauty and history of the South Island, that time to write and edit photographs of our adventures has been in short supply! Our intention is to document all the places we’ve experienced – however long it takes us! We’re now over four weeks behind. Do bear with!
Today we’ll ‘show and tell’ about where the gold rush originated in New Zealand. Along with some of the people who came here to attempt to make their fortunes.
The Road To Gabriel’s Gulley
After a brilliant week of cruising Doubtful Sound and Milford Sound, as well as seeing Kingston, Queenstown and Arrowtown, we needed to find somewhere to stay still for a few days. My work as a self-employed digital marketing consultant with Ad-Extra entails scheduling in time to manage client’s accounts, build new accounts, and have client calls. To be able to fit work in around our lives, rather than the other way around, is something we’re both extremely grateful for.
We left the Champagne Gulley free campground on the morning of 30th March, expecting to head directly to the next campground. As is often the case, we got side-tracked along the way!
Superb Scottish Stonemanship
Along the road, we spotted a sign for ‘Mitchell’s cottage Historic Site‘. Barry had actually driven past, but we decided to take a look. Boy, we were glad we did. What an amazing place.
Andrew and John Mitchell had left the Shetland Isles in Scotland as young men. Andrew mined for gold in Australia, and then at Gabriel’s Gulley until the gold ran out (more on that to come). In 1886, he began building Mitchell’s Cottage for his brother John, taking till 1904 to be completed. He used the stonemasons skills he’d learnt from his Father, taking advantage of the supply of local stone.
John and his wife Jessie lived here with their ten (!) children. Andrew lived there also.
You can read more about the cottage if you’re interested in this informative DOC leaflet – https://www.doc.govt.nz/globalassets/documents/conservation/historic/by-region/otago/mitchells-cottage-factsheet.pdf
The cottage is gorgeous, and we spent a good hour or so wandering around fascinated. It looked well insulated, with a fireplace in each room and views to die for! However, it would’ve been really remote living there. I was full of admiration for Jessie in particular.
You’ll see how impressed Barry was by the number and variety of images in his slideshow at the end.
A Lunchtime Hub Stop
By the time we’d dawdled around the cottage, hunger had set in. So we didn’t venture far along the road, finding a fabulous lunch spot near the Knobby Range, on the Otago Central Rail Trail route. We’d driven this road before, on our way down to Stewart Island at the end of February, and I’d been fascinated by a white stone with a red cross sitting on a hillside. We hoped to get closer to investigate, but only managed a nearby stream. There we discovered a memorial to a number of men who’d been stranded and died in a severe snowstorm. Maybe there’s a link to the place where the red cross is?
The Great Snowfall of 1863 killed somewhere between 100 to 200 gold miners. No-one can be sure of the exact number, as many bodies were washed away and the miners were transient:
“It started in July 1863 when heavy snow storms were shortly followed by extreme rainfall, causing the snow to quickly thaw out and rivers to rise rapidly. Rivers like the Arrow, the Shotover and the Molyneux. Many miners were swept to their deaths while others watched helplessly as their few possessions were washed away.”https://historygeek.co.nz/2013/06/19/snowpocalypse-1863/
They lived under canvas with a limited supply of fuel, having to prioritise cooking over heating. It’s impossible to imagine the harsh conditions. We think it gets cold in the campervan now autumn is well underway – that’s nothing! The memorial and this story are another example of us stumbling on a piece of NZ history we’d not previously been aware of.
Hub Caps and Fruit
Barry found some shiny hub caps for the van in Ranfurly and decided to splurge some of his pension income on them. He took the chance to fit them during our lunch stop. I think they look rather smart. Well worth $56 – so long as they remain on.
Continuing towards Gabriel’s Gulley, we were on the lookout for fruit stalls. We’d bought a range of scrummy fruit on our last trip – sadly there wasn’t much left at the end of March! Just a few pears and apples. Delicious ice-creams though, so Barry was happy.
The Clutha Gold Trail
This part of the country is teeming with cycle trails. We’ve been reliably informed the increased interest in electric bikes has made these even more popular, especially for families. We’ve enjoyed watching so many kiwis relishing the outdoors together.
Gabriel Read, from Tasmania, dsicovered gold in May 1861. He saw “Gold shining like the stars of Orion on a dark frosty night”, and so began the first gold rush. By the end of 1861, there were more than 10,000 miners camped in tents in “Gabriel’s Gulley” prospecting for gold rather successfully! In the first year, 477,870 ounces of gold was exported.
Our campground not far from the goldfield gulley, was next to a beautifully reflective lake. Autumn was definitely spreading its red and gold glow in the surrounding trees.
We walked a little around the gulley after we’d sat still for a couple of nights – but not IN the gulley itself. We took heed of the notices warning that there could be old mine shafts around, and didn’t stray from the marked paths!
The Internet signal at Gabriel’s Gulley campground was poor, so we had to move on. Heading for Balclutha, we took the opportunity to look around the nearby town of Lawrence. What a splendid place – we loved it! It was like stepping back in time. I was drawn to a newspaper article about escaped lions in the magnificent museum. It’s rather a sad one. A circus was in town, and somehow the gate of the lion’s tunnel was left open and Sultan and Sonia escaped onto the rugby field:
The danger to the public was too great, and both were sadly shot. Read their story here – http://www.thelawrencelions.com/p/facts.html
The museum houses hundreds of relics from the areas gold mining past, including more stories of Chinese miners who were invited to come after the other miners left when the gold dried up.
In Lawrence itself, there’s a gold Stamp Battery which you can see in Barry’s photos at the end.
Barry recalled that Lawrence has another couple of accolades to boast. Patrick O’Leary, a 20-year-old blacksmith, built the first two-wheeler bicycle in New Zealand in 1893. In 1876, the New Zealand National Anthem music score was written by John Joseph Woods when he was headteacher of St Patrick’s School in Lawrence.
Two Nights In Balclutha
We chose Balclutha A & P Grounds, Park On Property, at $10 a night for our next two nights’ camp. The Internet signal was far better for my work calls, there were toilets, a dump station point and potable water. It wasn’t as scenic as Gabriel’s Gully but it was definitely more productive. Plus we were amazed to be in a prime position to watch a pre-season rugby game – Clutha against a local team. Sadly the visitors won by a narrow margin, but it was an exciting match. Barry captured a couple of shots.
The weather was becoming increasingly crazy. Heavy rain at nighttime with cold mornings. Then it would brighten up with gorgeous sunshine and warmth. Only for a short while until showers and cold returned. Rather like Autumn in the UK! Winter is on her way down here.
Next Stop The Catlins
Our next plan was to head to the Catlins. We’d heard so many positive tales about this area in the southeast of the South Island, and friends Rod and Tracy would be at a place called Kaka Point on holiday for a few days. Once I’d caught up on my action list for my clients, we were on our way. I’ll aim to share our stories about the first few days shortly.
As usual, click on the first image to begin Barry’s slideshow. The autumn colours at Mitchell’s Cottage are amazing. Lawrence is such. And the rugby match with our campervan front seat brilliant.