With Mum visiting at the end of September, we were on a West Coast history tour. This time we headed down to Ross, a little gold mining village south of Hokitika. During the West Coast gold rush of the 1860s Ross was an important centre. The largest ever gold nugget to be found in New Zealand was actually found in Ross in 1909 – 99 ounces! It was presented to King George V as a coronation gift. In 1993 a Ministry of Commerce geologist estimated that gold deposits of about $700 million lie under the township of Ross but the town has never been mined – I always like to tell my guests “Ross is literally sitting on a goldmine!”.
Just behind the Ross Information Centre is the start of the one-hour historic gold mining trail. You can call in and see the staff at the Information Centre or start straight into your history tour for the day from the carpark.
Since 1988 a large open cast mine has operated adjacent to the town and Ross is the last example of deep-level alluvial gold mining in New Zealand. This is slowly filling with water and becoming an alluvial “lake”. The historic trail winds around to view the lake and there are interpretation panels explaining the process of mining and the water reticulation systems that were used in the early mining days. The track meets up with the gravel road going up behind the township and then veers off to the right into the bush walk following the old water race. If you want to give gold panning ago yourself, to the right is a creek bed and you can hire a gold pan and shovel from the Information Centre.
Mum and I were there just to investigate the walk this time around. The bush walk winds it way up an incline into the back of the township, crossing the water-race a few times as it climbs. It is a beautiful bush walk and its interesting to think how the water race winds it way around the hill and imagine the miners digging it all out. Every now and again the race disappears into a little tunnel and we come around a bend and the race opens up again. There is the occasional interpretation panel along the way with fascinating photos showing where the pipes used to run and the viaducts created to transport the pipes over drop-offs and the harder to reach areas.
Nearing the top we come across an old miner’s cottage. It is just one room and we poked our head in for a look. Talk about a reality check! Wooden bed with mattress, table and a chair and a fireplace – guess it was all they needed and they probably thought that a luxury.
We round a bend in the trail and pop out of the forest with the Ross township opening up before us. There are views of the alluvial lake and fantastic views right out to the sea. We took advantage of the bench seat here, resting and getting a couple of photos while soaking up the views.
We then start our descent and the trail enters the historic pioneer cemetery of Ross. It is amazing walking around the old cemetery and reading the headstones. I don’t think there was anyone over 35 buried in the cemetery.
Mum and I enter the bush again and make the final descend back into the Ross township, passing the old church that has been converted into a b&b. Back at the carpark for the Heritage walk there are a couple of restored mining buildings – a typical house with rooms set up as they would have been in the early 1900s and a Gaol. Personally I loved the gaol – two rooms, one for the policeman and the actual cell. The cell is locked but the slider is open – peer inside and let your eyes adjust to the darkness and what do you see? A prisoner eating his porridge! It’s great.
On the drive back home, Mum and I were commenting on how lucky we are to have all this fantastic history right here to explore. There are numerous gold and coal-mining trails scattered around the West Coast that are very easily accessible to all and a great reminder of what New Zealand was founded on.
Written by Jan Macdonald, host of Breakers Boutique Accommodation, Nine Mile Creek, 14kms north of Greymouth. Jan has a love of the outdoors and enjoys exploring the nooks and crannies of the West Coast with her Fiancé Stephen and their faithful four-legged companions Nico and Ziggy. To check out further information on gold and coal mining areas that Jan has explored click here