All the hope but never the glory. The remains of optimism and the riches of gold are cast in the rusting remains of an 1880s hi-tech machine.
At the northern end of Fox township turn into Cook Flat Road. Continue past the Lake Matheson turnoff, take the sharp right hander and pass the Peak View Lookout.
From here and for the next 12 km to the coast the road is narrow, winding and unsealed. Not suited to larger campervans. All walks start from the road end carpark where there are toilets and a campground.
The grassy track shortly forms a loop, passing rusting boilers, control gates and other old metalwork.
The Gillespies Beach Gold Dredging Company formed owned a claim of 75 hectares and put down test bores to assay. Mr F. Graham was sent overseas to scout for the optimal machines, returning with news of the von Schmidt Suction Dredge. Accompanied by Mr von Schmidt himself and Mr Higgins, the patent owner, they convinced the company to get one made in Christchurch.
The Otto von Schmidt suction dredge worked by creating a vacuum in a telescopic pipe, which literally hoovered up the silt at the bottom of a water body. The sludge was then processed to remove any gold.
The huge machine sat on a hull of 60 ft x 50 ft x 5 ft deep. The 5 foot diameter pump ran by crankshafts and was powered by two steam boilers.
Despite the hubris and optimism of the initial investors, a year after commencing operation in 1891, the machine was deemed unsuitable. The company went bust without a single ton of material passing to the extraction apparatus. The more reliable and tested design of the bucket dredge took over employment and brought the black sands to the surface. This is discoverable on the Bucket Dredge Walk.
Today the cutter/drill remains of the suction dredge. This rotating cutter was used to loosen the sands before suction. Boilers, control gates and a pontoon are discarded around the place too.
During its heyday, Gillespies Beach had 650 miners and 11 stores.
South Island ▷ West Coast ▷ Fox Glacier
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍