One of the most appealing things about visiting Central Otago is the slower pace of life, the peace, tranquillity, open spaces and lack of population. Driving through rows of vineyards and orchards, and alongside beautiful lakes and spectacular mountain ranges, there is a feeling that life in this part of New Zealand has always been this relaxed.
However in the 1860s and 70s life was quite different due to one thing…..gold! During this period the region went through a huge increase in population and the landscape was changed forever as thousands of people from as far away as America and China dug and washed away millions of cubic metres of hillsides and riverbanks in their search for gold.
For anyone travelling through Cromwell, a visit to the old Bannockburn Gold Sluicings is well worth doing. There are various tracks to explore in the area including a 2 hour return walk via a loop track which takes you through the remains of an extensive gold mining area. The landscape is bare and desert-like with pinnacles and spectacular cliffs carved out of the landscape by the miners. You will see numerous tunnels and caves and a network of water races during your walk up to Stewart Town and Menzies Dam. Once a thriving area, all that remains of Stewart Town are the remains of a few buildings and an old orchard planted over 100 years ago. The apricot and pear trees in the orchard still bear fruit today. Near the Town is the remains of Menzies Dam. This engineering marvel was built out of stone to supply water to the gold fields below and was the largest miner’s dam in the region.
The Bannockburn Sluicings are quite easy to find. Just head toward Bannockburn which is approx 6 km from Cromwell. After crossing the Kawarau River turn right into Felton Road and the car park is approx 2km on the left.