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Craig Douglas said he almost fell over when he prised out what seemed to be an odd piece of rock from a creek bed in an undisclosed location in the Hokitika backblocks, on Monday.
The "rock" turned out to be a nicely formed gold nugget weighing 6.25 ounces (177g).
Mr Douglas, who has been recovering from a broken foot, grabbed the opportunity of a perfect day on Queen's Birthday to take a jaunt with his metal detector.
He was walking through a creek bed known to have been mined in the past when the metal detector suddenly sparked into life.
"It just about blew my ear drums off, so I thought I better check that."
Bending over, he noted a gap in the creek bed, suggesting a ready trap for something heavy, and stretching down and lifting off two large rocks, "I noticed a yellow outline".
"I almost walked straight past where it was. I thought it was more a spot where old coins or bottles would get stuck. It [the nugget] was literally just sitting in bedrock up a creek. I wasn't expecting to find anything like that. It just happened," Mr Douglas said.
"I nearly had a heart attack when it came out of the ground. I fell over against the bank and it took a little bit for my brain to catch up with what I was seeing."
Mr Douglas said he could hardly believe his luck.
"I had cellphone reception, so I rang my mother and said, `You'll never guess what I just found.' I was shaking. I was lost for words."
He had since been advised by two gold buyers in Westland that it was the biggest they had seen since a 14oz nugget from the Paparoa Range area turned up about 1979.
Mr Douglas' windfall was valued at $12,500 in weight value and $25,000 as a display piece.
He has been using his metal detector for nearly a decade, collecting old goldfields relics, pick heads, coins, bullets, the remnants of a rifle, and the odd bit of gold.
By late Wednesday, an anonymous gold buyer from Canterbury had snapped up the nugget, which was destined to be displayed in a private collection.
The price he paid, like the discovery site, was undisclosed.
- Brendon McMahon, Hokitika Guardian