Gorges and Gold: Central Otago

Queenstown is a long way from home, as this much photographed sign indicates. The flight from Christchurch in a medium sized plane – but with propellers – gave us fantastic views of the southern half of South Island. The colour of the ground water was exactly as shown – testimony to the clear air, the brilliant blue skies and the very bright sun in this part of the world.

We drove east along the Gibbston valley where the bald mountains rose sharply from the valley floor on which vines, planted in large tranches seemed to struggle…


As the road followed the valley we passed the Kawarau suspension bridge on which large numbers of people queued to bungee-jump, and entered the gorge itself, with its brilliant blue waters and steep sides

The humble rose-hip, shown below, high in vitamin C, was imported to counteract scurvy in the men who travelled this way to prospect for gold in the 1860s. It threatens to take over the slopes vacated by now rare native bush and has become a staple of the many goats which roam the hillsides.


The photos (below) of the Bannockburn Gold Sluices conjour an almost lunar or desert landscape; deep runnels and lack of vegetation suggest attrition on a massive scale.

In fact, this is entirely man-made. In the 1860s, a gold rush brought thousands of men keen to search out the gold deposits of the region. Water was diverted to ‘sluice’ out the gold from the river gravels and softer strata, and the massive erosion has left an eery landscape.


It is said the people who supplied the water for these sluices (from small dams and races taking water from higher tributaries) made more money than all of the gold prospectors put together…



And there remain some vestiges of these ‘gold’ communities – Cromwell preserves a whole street  – and a rather curious model of a horse and cart in the foreground…


Just to the north of Cromwell, on the edge of Lake Dunstan, is the Wooing Tree winery whose wines are imported by Rachel Gibson of Wine Utopia in Winchester – a great fan of NZ wines.

New Zealand is relatively young, in geological terms, and provides dream examples of geological features – for example – the ‘life cycle’ of rivers, and the glacial terminal moraine in the far distance of this photo below  – capped by a line of introduced trees.


Central Otago is fascinating ! It also signalled the end of our tour. Breath-taking !

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