New Zealand Walks: Ex­plore the Wild West Can yons of Ban­nock­burn sluic­ings

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Francesca Bradley, Tech­ni­cal Ad­vi­sor (His­toric) and Lara Phillips

The stark land­scape of the Ban­nock­burn Sluic­ings is New Zealand’s Grand Canyon, on a smaller scale.

With the mid 30 de­gree weather heat­ing up Cen­tral Otago lately, the Wild West set­ting of the Ban­nock­burn Sluic­ings is the per­fect des­ti­na­tion for a visit.

Slip on a long sleeve top, slop on some sun­screen, slap on a hat and let’s ven­ture out into this mys­te­ri­ous, man­made desert.

The Ban­nock­burn Sluic­ings is one of the twelve re­cently an­nounced Otago Land­marks. This bar­ren land­scape may not be your typ­i­cal pic­turesque his­toric site, but it sure of­fers more than meets the eye. What looks des­o­late from the en­trance turns into a rough, raw and re­ward­ing walk through a val­ley of caves, tun­nels and rock tail­ings left un­touched since the last of the gold­min­ers.

This scarred land­scape wasn’t formed nat­u­rally - what you see is the re­mains of gold­min­ers’ pur­suit for gold some 150 years ago.

From the mid-1860’s this land­scape was trans­formed by the hands of hard­work­ing gold­min­ers in their search

for gold. Us­ing the best tools avail­able at the time, gold­min­ers hand-worked and blasted this land with wa­ter to re­lease their trea­sured gold. Kilo­me­tres of chan­nels known as ‘wa­ter races’ were hand-dug to pipe wa­ter down­hill from the dam above. The wa­ter was then blasted un­der pres­sure to break down the ter­raced grav­els to free the gold – a tech­nique known as hy­draulic sluic­ing.

These gold­min­ers went to great lengths – lit­er­ally mov­ing hills – for a gold rush that only lasted less than a decade.

The walk­ing track grad­u­ally climbs up above the cliff faces, where you have a wide view of how peo­ple from the past and present have shaped this land; from the gar­gan­tuan ef­forts of the 19th cen­tury gold­min­ers, to the de­vel­oped vine­yards beyond, sup­plied by the same wa­ter ir­ri­ga­tion sys­tem.

Once you’ve walked the sluic­ings, there is more gold to be found in the vine­yards be­low. With a Pinot Noir in hand, sit back, re­lax and ap­pre­ci­ate it wasn’t you here 150 years ago trans­form­ing this land with your bare hands.

Above: An aerial view of The Ban­nock­burn sluic­ings.

Photo by Miz Watan­abe/One Shot.

Mid­dle left: Fol­low the track along the cliff faces, hard-work by 19th cen­tury gold min­ers.

Be­low left: The tow­er­ing cliffs of Ban­nock­burn Sluic­ings. Photo by Avara Moody.

Photo by An­drew Blan­shard.

Be­low right: If you’ve got time to spare, head up to Ste­wart Town and trace the hy­draulic sluic­ing wa­ter source back to the Men­zies Dam.

Mid­dle right A old stone cot­tage.

Photo by Clau­dia Babi­rat.

Above right The best way to ex­pe­ri­ence Ban­nock­burn Sluic­ings is to walk the track through the rock tail­ings.

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