Tailrace Walk

Tailrace Walk - Nelson Creek

Tailrace Walk

Nelson Creek


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Marios Gavalas's avatar

Marios Gavalas

Author And Researcher

Nau mai, haere mai

Nau mai, haere mai

I'm Marios, delivering the best of Aotearoa's nature walks to your device.

I've personally walked hundreds of New Zealand's tracks and spent months in libraries uncovering interesting information on New Zealand/Aotearoa. And you'll find a slice of that research on this page - enjoy!


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900 metres return | 20 minutes return

This short walk crosses a number of impressive tailraces. Old gold workings are also visible throughout the red and silver beech which are the dominant tree species. Mr Nelson’s gold discovery in 1865 prompted a mini-rush with 9 hotels, a billiard saloon and numerous other facilities to slake the goldminers lusts.


Nelson Creek Recreation Area is signposted along Nelson Creek Road, 25 km north of Greymouth along SH7. The recreation area is signposted on the left 7 km further on, at the settlement of Nelson Creek. There’s a large picnic area with toilets and playground by the river. The track starts by crossing the bridge over the creek.


This is the rougher of the two walks at Nelson Creek.

Cross the shallow stream then climb to the top terrace to start the loop. Take care following the orange triangles, as any deviation from the track and you could end up at the bottom of a deep channel. These were cut into the rock to allow used water to return to Nelson Creek.

European History

The first prospector to announce a find at Nelson Creek, was a Mr Nelson. Most other prospectors thought he was bullshitting and threatened to kill him, or at least cut of his ears.

Fortunately for him and his ears, the area did yield gold and infrastructure was set up to extract the metal from the rock.

The first system used sluicing, where the gravels were blasted with water and the finer material washed through sluice boxes. This “long tom” of horizontal parallel bars separated the larger rocks from the fine gravels, which could them be panned to get the gold.

The returns were good and more water was required to power the sluices. The Government of the day thought big and stumped up £90,000 for the construction of a 30 km long race. Lake Hochstetter was dammed to provide the head. It took 6 years for the project to reach completion, by which time impatient prospectors had already built smaller scale races. The return on investment yielded £125,000 with a further £15,000 for upkeep and maintenance.

Tailraces were used to return the used water back to the river. These deep cuts in the rock are now sometimes bridged with unsupported vegetation.

In the early 1900s bucket dredges were brought in after trialling on other Otago and West Coast goldfields such as at Gillespies Beach. These steam-powered machines supported conveyors of large buckets, which literally dredged the creek beds to uplift the gold bearing sediments. It was a job not without hazards, as submerged logs would often snag the buckets causing a sudden and perilous lilt in the floating barges upon which the machines were mounted.


Feature Value Info


South IslandWest CoastGreymouth


  • Walking
  • Free


Turner's avatar



Ranking: 8/10

Walks are well marked - in beautiful forest - signs of Gold mining / history - makes this place interesting too!

Reviewed almost 12 years ago

DOC Managed

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 😍

Nick Morrison's avatar

Nick Morrison

Rankers owner