Between 1900 and 1913, nine gold dredges worked the area around Nelson Creek. Today’s remains are well enough preserved to send the imagination back to the day when the town busted with life.
Nelson Creek Recreation Area is signposted along Nelson Creek Road, 25 km north of Greymouth along SH7. The recreation area is signposted on the left 7 km further on, at the settlement of Nelson Creek. There’s a large picnic area with toilets and playground by the river. The track starts by crossing the bridge over the creek.
Follow the mining adits for 30 metres to the swingbridge. Colls Dam Walk is signposted to the right.
At the top of the steps, the track surface improves with numerous structures over the tailraces. For this reason, stay on track. The loop also detours to Colls Dam, the collapsed remnants of which dam a small lake.
The first prospector to announce a find at Nelson Creek, was a Mr Nelson. Most other prospectors thought he was bullshitting and threatened to kill him, or at least cut of his ears.
Fortunately for him and his ears, the area did yield gold and infrastructure was set up to extract the metal from the rock.
The first system used sluicing, where the gravels were blasted with water and the finer material washed through sluice boxes. This “long tom” of horizontal parallel bars separated the larger rocks from the fine gravels, which could them be panned to get the gold.
The returns were good and more water was required to power the sluices. The Government of the day thought big and stumped up £90,000 for the construction of a 30 km long race. Lake Hochstetter was dammed to provide the head. It took 6 years for the project to reach completion, by which time impatient prospectors had already built smaller scale races. The return on investment yielded £125,000 with a further £15,000 for upkeep and maintenance.
In the early 1900s bucket dredges were brought in after trialling on other Otago and West Coast goldfields such as at Gillespies Beach. These steam-powered machines supported conveyors of large buckets, which literally dredged the creek beds to uplift the gold bearing sediments. It was a job not without hazards, as submerged logs would often snag the buckets causing a sudden and perilous lilt in the floating barges upon which the machines were mounted.
South Island ▷ West Coast ▷ Greymouth
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍