Gold Mining In New Zealand

Gold mining in New Zealand: how to pan for gold, equipment needed, New Zealand gold sites, nuggets and identifying fools gold.

Gold is very dense, almost twice the weight of silver or lead of the same size. Being as soft as a human fingernail it is easily workable. It's ductility is so good that an ounce can be drawn into a wire 50 miles long or can be beaten thin enough to cover two tennis tables. The total amount of gold mined over the last 5000 years is estimated at 80,000 tons which is the equivalent of a cube 100 yards square. Most of the gold mined though, has been in the last 150 years and at present the total global annual production of newly mined gold is 1,250 tons. In New Zealand the first gold rush began in 1861 when Gabriel Read tried his hand by panning the Tuapeka River near Dunedin. Late one afternoon he crossed over a spur and as it was getting dark, he quickly dug a 2ft hole, saw specks shining and panned 2oz of gold. Shortly after he and two friends panned 112oz in 14 days, another party 49oz in 4 days and one party washed up 7.5 lbs. in 1 day! All in all the Otago area has yielded over 200 tons of gold since 1861. The largest nugget found to date in New Zealand is the 'Hon Roddy' nugget, found at Ross on the West Coast, weighed in at almost 100 ounces.

This article is not about the mining or dredging for gold but about the art of fossicking. Fossicking is primarily a form of recreation; it is fun, with the chance of making some pocket money or even the possibility of finding a fortune. The whole family can enjoy it and the equipment is inexpensive. Just remember optimism and a wee bit of endurance could have a rich reward - after all, the men that made a fortune in the California gold rush were all beginners.

Equipment needed

- A bowl, dish or a basin for use as a gold pan but it must be clean of all grease. Purpose made gold pans have a lip and a groove on the inner edge to prevent the finer material from being washed out too quickly.

- Digging tools - a larger size shovel, one of the army foldaways is ideal and a smaller sized digging implement like to a pointy tablespoon for the smaller crevices. An old paintbrush is also handy for sweeping out the crevices.

- A lever - a small crowbar or powerbar - a tyre lever could be used at a pinch, for the purpose of moving boulders.

- Sturdy footwear or gumboots - remember you'll be wading in water most of the time.

- A screw topped jar for your finds.

- A must in NZ South Island locales is spray on insect repellent.

Equipment for the more serious fossicker

- A small pick-axe.

- Portable sluice box.

- Some history of the area and a Lands and Survey geological survey map of the area. NZ survey maps have the key of crossed pick-axes to indicate former gold mines.

- A larger sealable container for the last sand and gold specks left in the pan to be panned more carefully later.

Where to start looking

After having chosen your river or creek, walk up stream and look for large boulders, rock outcrops, groups of boulders or a channel of rocks that the water rushes through. Then start digging on the downstream side of them where the gravel accumulates. Look for the spot where the water will have swept and deposited the grit and smaller stones, especially the material that floodwaters will have left behind. Other good spots are gravel banks on the inside of a bend or gravel beaches on the downstream side of a sheltering outcrop or bluff. In some cases the riverbed itself could prove lucrative but it has to be a slow flattish stretch immediately after a portion of rapidly rushing water. The thing to keep in mind is that gold is heavy and will drop quickly when the water is calms, so watch the steam and see how the water works.

How to pan and work the material

Clear the chosen area of the larger boulders and debris. Gently scoop the material into the pan, avoid disturbing the material too much as the gold will go down - it being heavier. Usually the gold will be in the first 10 - 12 inches of the gravel although there will be gold at deeper levels one will generally have to dig to the bedrock and the added will probably not be worthwhile. Also carefully scrape the smaller crevices and grooves of mud and sand, putting this in the pan as well. Cover the wash with water, breaking up any muddy clumps and clay lumps. Shake the pan gently to allow the finer material to settle to the bottom and remove the larger stones. Tilt the pan away from you, immerse in water and gently move the pan in a circular motion. Gradually increase the angle of the tilt to remove more material. Every so often bring the pan back to level and shake, this will cause the heavier particles to drop to the bottom again. Continue until there is only a teaspoon of black sand in the bottom of the pan, pour most of the water out and give the pan a quick circular twist. Look carefully and the gleams should be visible, transfer the gold by fingertip to your glass jar full of water. Touch the top of the water and you will be rewarded by seeing the gold quickly drop to the bottom of the jar.

Recognising gold

Alluvial gold (from the river) will be the heaviest material in the pan, so if you have panned carefully the only residues left will be black sand (magnetite and ilmenite) and flakes of gold. Sometimes the gold has been stained either by tannin from decayed vegetable matter or by other minerals in suspension. If this is the case scratching with a knife or pin should show the gleaming lustre of gold. Tapping the piece with a hammer will also indicate its makeup, as gold will squash whereas other materials will shatter. The final test is the acid test; a drop of nitric acid on the specimen will not produce a reaction if it is pure gold. There is another method using aqua regia (a solution of hydrochloric and nitric acids) but this destroys the specimen.

Types of fools gold

- Mica - shiny dark flakes, but floats out of the pan and crumbles under pressure.

- Tellurides - do contain small amounts of gold but are much lighter and do not show the glowing line when scratched.

- Pyrites - Brassy yellow, brittle like mica but when scratched shows greenish/black line. Larger lumps are striated (raised, straight lines).

- Pyrrhotite - Reddish yellow to bronze - black/grey when scratched. Is also magnetic.

- Chalcopyrite - Brassy-yellow sometimes with a multicoloured blush. Brittle and crumbly, scratch colour purple/black. Found in quartz lumps.

Alluvial sites in New Zealand

There are hundreds of sites in both the North and South Islands but most creeks on the West coast of the South Island will yield good colour. Between Queenstown and Dunedin has been the area of the greatest gold production in New Zealand, with the Shotover River being called 'the richest river in the world', but they have been well worked. Still there are creeks in this area that are still producing results but the best bet is to visit the local library and ask about local history. The only other necessary item is a Prospector's Right, valid for 12 months in New Zealand and available from a Mines Division office or a larger Post Office for NZ$10. Happy fossicking.

© High Speed Ventures 2011