1862 gold discovery comes right to life

Even the weather played its part.

After two years of planning, Arrowtown 150 organisers were holding their breath late last week as heavy rain and winds continued to threaten their parade.

However, Saturday dawned calm and warm - and the relief was visible on organiser Julie Hughes' face, along with stallholders at the Arrowtown Market and the thousands of people who had come to enjoy the beginning of the town's sesquicentennial celebrations.

The New Zealand Army Band impressed those gathered near the Library Green with its renditions of some classic songs - and some hot hits - before the throngs moved to the flood banks of the Arrow River to watch 1862 unfold before their eyes.

From the moment "Jack Tewa" meandered along the Arrow River before jumping for joy at finding gold and sprinting off into the distance, the crowd was captivated by the re-enactment, played out by more than 120 residents, including the Buckingham Belles, the Arrow Miners Band, horses, carts and wagons.

The army band then led the crowd along the river to Butler's Green for the official opening ceremony - complete with a Chinese Lion and Dragon dance, the latter performed by the Chinese Dragon Dancers, of Dunedin.

Present were Chinese Consul-general Madam Xiutian Tan, Vice-consul-general Madam Yanli Chu, Consul Madam Xiaoyan Chen and Vice-consul Mr Baoming "Jimmy" Xie.

Queenstown Lakes Mayor Vanessa van Uden said the pioneers of 1862 wanted to create a place for future generations.

"I'm sure they would be absolutely delighted to see how many of you have turned out ... all of you are going to be a great part of history, too.

"[Children], you will look back in years to come and show your family videos and pictures of how you marked the 150th anniversary of gold.

"When you grow old and they put you in a chair, you can tell your great-grandchildren: 'I was there'."

Ms van Uden paid particular tribute to the Chinese gold miners who stayed in Arrowtown long after those who "lived on chance and rumour" left for the West Coast to further their fortunes.

"When they moved out of town, everything could have gone quiet.

"It could have become a ghost town.

"Some special miners kept the town alive. All were clever enough to know there was still gold to be found ... those people came from a place as culturally removed from New Zealand as is possible.

"They came from China [and] they stayed here until their work was done."

Madam Chen told the crowd it was important to honour the past, but even more important "to carry on the pioneering spirit and work together for an even better future".

"As Consul-general, I can assure you my colleagues and I will do the best we can to support those efforts.

"Let's start now."

After 16,000 firecrackers were set off in a two-minute display - a Chinese tradition to ward off evil spirits - the Chinese Village Theatre bought the historic miners' homes and stores to life.

As the curtain came down on the theatre, the predicted rain arrived, but was not enough to dampen the spirits of those dressed to the nines at The Gold Ball in Athenaeum Hall.