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Former Allied Press journalist Rebecca Nadge follows the glint of gold as she explores the Goldfields Mining Centre, in Central Otago.
I emptied the last of the dirt and rocks from the pan and spied tiny glistening rocks.
I was at the Goldfields Mining Centre in the Kawarau Gorge, where I hoped to learn more about the early goldminers in the region — and possibly find my own golden souvenir.
I had previously worked in Australia’s goldfields region before coming to Central Otago, and I was fascinated at how a single element had shaped so many cultures and places the world over.
Guide Bruce McPherson had led us around the historic centre earlier that day, where we had examined the operating water works and stamper battery, and now I was trying my hand at gold panning.
There was something romantic about the notion of relying on just a pan, water and luck to build a fortune, and I eagerly filled my pan with stones and dust before filling it with water.
As instructed, I placed a small lead ball in the mix — this was supposed to sink to the bottom and surface at the end if our technique was correct — but I secretly hoped I’d come across a glistening nugget instead.
Swirling the water around the pan was far more technical than I imagined, but watching the water circulate was strangely therapeutic and I was thoroughly enjoying myself through my intense concentration.
I emptied the last of the dirt and rocks from the pan and quickly did a double take at the glinting rocks at the bottom, but a second glance revealed only fool’s gold, and instead I had to settle for the small ball of lead sitting firmly in the leftover stones.
The hope of finding a fortune was addictive, and I was unable to resist filling my pan again.I happily swirled more water for several minutes before eagerly examining the remaining stones, but the result, unfortunately, was the same.
I would have to stick to my day job a little longer, I reasoned, but I happily made my way down to the jet boat ride, which promised a completely new kind of experience.
The Kawarau River had always looked imposing from the roadside. Flanked by towering, bare hills, the jade water had seemed otherworldly, and as I wandered towards the boat I couldn’t help but remember the tiny place I occupied in comparison to the immense landscape.
We were soon settled into the boat and I was left wondering what to expect as our driver, Holly, guided us on to the river.
As it turned out, the ride was thrilling, and I was soon grinning from ear to ear.
We seemed to travel impossibly close to the banks before hitting the open water again and spinning a full 360 degrees at speed: the atmosphere was electric as the group whooped and cheered.
We clutched the sides as the boat skimmed over the water, splashing cold water over the sides as it spun around again.
I felt wonderfully isolated from the nearby towns and highway and was sorry to head back to terra firma.
I finished the day with a self-guided tour around the historic centre, and was left to quietly reflect on the life of the goldminers in a world so different from my own.
The nearby replica Chinese village stood out purely because it was so minimalist, and I briefly tried to imagine my gold-mining friends in Australia swapping their provided accommodation and exorbitant salaries for the pint-sized structures on the exposed hillside.
I wandered further and came to the closed-off mining tunnels that snaked into the hill, where only a trail of lanterns lit the rock inside.
The tiny entrance and tunnel seemed precarious at best, and I was happy to admire the gathering darkness from the sunny exterior instead.
My phone beeped and I was met with an email from a former contact in Western Australia, who was writing to tell me a significant biodiversity area was to be spared after a mining proposal had been knocked back for the second time.
I smirked at the irony, and was sharply reminded that the lure of gold and other elements was just as powerful today as it was when settlers first began looting the goldfields back in the 1860s.
- Rebecca Nadge travelled with the assistance of the Goldfields Mining Centre.