The steam engine perched on the rock beside Oxenbridge Tunnel and rapids seems out of place in this majestic settling, but its story is one of gold’s lure.
Just after crossing the Edith Cavell Bridge over the Shotover River, turn left. This is the same side road as the Shotover Jet, but park in the public carpark on the right.
The start of the track is signposted.
The descent to the river passes through scrappy vegetation of broom, fallen pines and other unsightly weeds.
But once you are on the river’s edge, all is forgiven.
The tunnel was the hair-brained scheme of Ned Oxenbridge and his brothers, who figured by diverting the Shotover River through a tunnel, they would then be free to mine the potentially rewarding exposed river bed.
Without much surveying, engineering or mining experience, they poured their heart and souls into the project, not to mention considerable sums of their own cash. By October 1907, 18 months after commencing the 550-foot-long project, work ceased and they were forced to raise a further £10,000 on top of the £3,000 they had already stumped up.
Investors seemed as foolish as the industrious brothers and work continued with explosives and graft. A dam to contain the river at the entry was also started and by 1909 the tunnel was pierced. However, an error in their calculations meant the height was 4 foot out, so they had to blow up the nearby cliff face to create and artificial dam, while they remodelled their orifice.
The wing-dam was completed in 1911 and the day after it was washed away in a significant flood event. Undeterred they rebuilt it, but backflow from the river only exposed around 20 m of river bed. Pumps couldn’t cope and the brothers finally extracted around £600 worth of gold.
Dogged determination kept them going and they drilled a 60 ft deep shaft on the river bed. This got waterlogged and pumps couldn’t keep it dry. The project was finally abandoned.
In the late 1920s the brothers formed a second company and tried to raise a further £9,000 in capital. By this time most investors had lost faith and the company was declared bankrupt.
South Island ▷ Queenstown Region ▷ Queenstown Township
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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 😍