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The anniversary's official opening was marked by the arrival of dozens who made the four-day journey from Dunedin to Lawrence on foot, followed by riders on horseback who made the trek via the trail Gabriel Read took from Dunedin.
The reserve was decked out with tents, harbouring various stalls, exhibits and the occasional heritage-dressed participant.
About 50 took part in a gold-panning competition where contestants were judged on the amount of gold they retrieved and their overall time.
Three of Gabriel Read's descendants also attended the celebrations.
Jim Read (72), the grandson of Gabriel Read, with his son Andrew (51) and grandson Chris (17) had flown from Australia.
Jim Read said they had only decided last month to attend the celebrations last month after a friend Andrew made during his first visit to Lawrence invited them.
"We had no idea how important the discovery of gold was to Lawrence and Otago."
Andrew Read said other than stories, the family did not have many items left by Gabriel Read.
"I think he was very generous and gave most things away. He was more interested in discovery ... than riches."
Gold in them there hills
• Gabriel Read first discovered gold in Central Otago on May 20, 1861.
• He found enough gold to earn an award of £1000 offered by the Otago Provincial Council for uncovering a payable gold field.
• By the end of September 1861, 13 butchers, seven bakers and 44 storekeepers set up shop in Gabriel's Gully to supply the thousands of miners.
• By the end of 1861 at least 11,500 miners (twice the population of Dunedin) were working on the field.
• From 1861 to 1871, over £23 million worth of gold was recovered by hard-working diggers in Central Otago.
Source: celebrategold.co.nz, written by author and historian Dianne Miller.
Gold-panning competition results.
• Men: Sean Pryde 5min 19sec, 1; Calvin Bird 8.22, 2; Richard Allan 9.39, 3. Women: Margaret May 7.15, 1; Jean Goodlet 8.05, 2; Annie Fitzgerald 10.25, 3. Locals: Jean Goodlet 6.57, 1; Delanie Goodlet 7.02, 2. Under 16: Alex Vilela 8.01, 1; Mackenzie Tohill 13.32, 2; Jayben Tohill 13.46, 3.