The Brief History of Gold Mining in New Zealand

Gold mining in New Zealand was kickstarted in 1852, when a man named Charles Ring found a small amount of gold in a place called Driving Creek in Coromandel. Other discoveries then happened in Marlborough, Nelson and Otago and of course the West Coast.

It was an exciting prospect - the opportunity to find gold and move up in the world, financially speaking. Men flocked to the area with this mission in mind. Despite the arduous and often thankless work, whole towns were put together to house miners, then left to go to ruin when the rush died down. Some of the remnants of these towns can still be seen today.

A miner’s life was a simple existence. Long days of cutting bush, digging into hard rock, working in alluvial deposits (river gravels) and returning to a simple hut for shelter. But if you struck gold (hence where the saying comes from!), it was well worth the effort. 

In three separate years between 1868 - 1872 the amount of gold found totalled more than 20,000 kilograms. These were the three most successful years and those totals have never been beaten. 


In 1909 the West Coast well and truly earned the top place in the gold mining hall of fame when the largest ever gold nugget was found in Ross - just south of Hokitika. The nugget was as big as a man’s fist and weighed 2.8kgs.

When machinery was brought in to make the job easier, dredging, sluicing and tunnelling was made possible; offering a quicker way for miners to find gold.

Gold helped make New Zealand’s economy successful in its early days as a recently colonised country. The precious metal still earns New Zealand millions of dollars each year, and large mining operations are set up in Waihī, Coromandel Peninsula, and in Macraes Flat, Otago. Find out more about these operations in our next blog.

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