Aorere Caves

Pighunters find Gold at Aorere River
Aorere Valley is a 5-km wide valley extending inland from Collingwood, Nelson, that has been filled to a considerable depth by river gravels and sands and young rocks. The foundation (or geological ‘basement’) of the valley is composed of hard old rocks and these also form the hills to the south-east.

About 350 to 300 million years ago, and again about 120–100 million years ago, granites were intruded into the Ordovician and other rocks. The heat emanating from the granites altered many of the rocks, to form metamorphic rocks. Intrusion of the granites was also accompanied by widespread mineralisation, with the formation of silver, gold, copper, zinc, lead, iron, nickel and tungsten in many areas of north-west Nelson. Mineralisation of the Ordovician rocks is the source of much of the alluvial gold found in many of the streams flowing out of inland Golden Bay.

The presence of gold in the region had long been suspected before there was a rush of any magnitude. Indeed, the country’s first recorded discovery was made in Golden Bay, and in 1843 a New Zealand Company surveyor had found a nugget the size of a French bean in the Aorere River. Interest grew only with the rushes to California and Australia.

Prospectors were at work on a tributary of the Aorere River when in October 1856 some pighunters paused to quench their thirst. While drinking from the stream they saw gold in its bed. Further finds were made, and within a year £10,000 worth of gold had been sold in Nelson and about 2,000 ounces sent to Sydney for sale there. Enthused one Nelsonian, „Not only does a workable field exist, but it yields a better average return than the boosted fields of Australia; being more easily obtained, more generally diffused and with much less expense. There are now about 2,000 persons employed on the diggings including cooks, storekeepers, bullock-drivers, visitors.“

Gold was also found in the Anatoki and Takaka Rivers, and Rocky River became famous for its nuggets, with finds of up to about 9 ounces. Yet by 1859 the miners of the Aorere fields had become disheartened. Communications were poor, and the prospects were not bright as the gold appeared to be patchy and mainly on the surface. Numbers dwindled rapidly. In the 1860s most of the remaining miners left for Central Otago or the West Coast, though interest in some localities persisted – such as at the Pupu Springs area. The fields revived with the move into sluicing. Reefs, too, were worked – the Taitapu Gold Estate beyond Whanganui Inlet and Big River yielding nearly £125,000 before the supply of stone ran out in 1913.

Later attempts to reopen gold workings met with scant success but more recently claims on Aorere goldfields have been repegged and some of the old workings have been cleared.