Alpine Living Issue VII. New Zealand. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. ©

Bikers, hikers and skiers fill the roads and trails of the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island. While tourism is currently the main industry of the region, the area was once flooded with miners searching for gold in the vast hills and streams around Queenstown.

In Search of a Fortune

Chinese miners in search of gold helped turn Arrowtown into a booming mining community, now flush with tourists

Thomas Joa

Lane Stafford

 “Many of the miners left their families behind and came out to New Zealand where they thought they would make their fortune,” David Clark, Lakes District Museum Director said. “It was expected that if they got 100 pounds’ sterling—that was the British currency in those days—that was the equivalent of 20 years’ wages in China, and they could go back to their villages with great honor and prestige.”

However, many of the miners did not make much money and were left with no sustainable options in New Zealand. Chinese miners were persecuted when they first arrived because they looked different. They were not allowed to own gold claims and the European settlers in Arrowtown were afraid of them. The fear would eventually subside and, according to Clarke, when the last Chinese miner died, the pall bearers on his coffin were made up of every denomination of churchgoers in town.  

 

After all the miners died or left Arrowtown, the population fell to about 100 people. Then, in the late 1940s, people began to build small vacation homes in the region, bringing the tourism industry back to the area. In 1984, the University of Otago carried out an archeological dig, which uncovered and restored the remainder of the Chinese settlement.

Today, tourists can see the remnants of many buildings from the original Chinese settlement and glean what life was like during the gold rush. Many of the buildings have markers in front that let visitors know what the building was and who owned it.

 

The Lake District Museum offers visitors the opportunity to walk through recreations of buildings from the gold rush. It also provides pamphlets and other books with information concerning the era. The Department of Conservation estimates between 75,000 and 100,000 people come through the settlement each year.  

 

“It’s interesting to see how this place has grown from one boom to another boom,” Clarke said. “The booms tend to come and go but this one seems to be a fairly sustained one. I often call the tourist just the new gold rush.”

The hills of the Otago region are full of trails for hikers, bikers and adventurers to explore. Most of the trails take only a few hours to hike and they can be completed by all levels of outdoor enthusiast. Though Arrowtown is just a 20-minute drive from Queenstown, it is possible for hikers to walk from one area to the other, staying mostly on the trails and pathways. For more info visit queenstowntrail.co.nz.

travel tip

Arrowtown, a small town 20.5 kilometers (12.7 miles) northwest of Queenstown, was once one of the most vibrant mining towns in New Zealand. Jack Tewa, a shepherd who worked for Queenstown’s founder, William Rees, first found gold in the Arrow River in 1862. Soon after, others came in search of their own fortune and the new mining town emerged. Arrowtown boomed for around three years, but when the gold became sparse and more was discovered on the west coast of the South Island, the miners moved and left Arrowtown merchants without customers.  

 

The provincial government then invited Chinese miners from the Kwantung Province to come to Otago and, in late 1869, they began to build a settlement in Arrowtown.

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