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, man-made 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 hard-working 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.