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Gillespies Beach and beyond

Gillespies Beach
In 1865 a prospector named Gillespie discovered gold here. Soon after, Gillespies Beach was a bustling gold town of several hundred people and the mining madness had begun.
In 1891 a gold dredging company spent £5 000 shipping a Von Schmidt suction dredge to this remote beach. This dredge promised gold and wealth for the West Coast but couldn’t deliver—the suction pump was unable to cope with the stones and timber buried in the black sand.

By the 1920s Gillespies was a ghost town. It briefly revived from 1933 to 1946 when a large bucket-dredge mined the beach sands and the old town site.

Lake Paringa
The beach was used as a highway for the first Maori inhabitants and then later by a large number of gold miners and explorers. The ‘Far Downers’ (local residents of Haast) used the Haast-Paringa Cattle Track to drive cattle to the Whataroa sale yards, and, until the airmail service began in 1932, the post was bought in by pack horse along the same route. Today you can still walk the Haast Paringa Cattle track and stay in Blowfly, Maori Saddle or Coppermine Hut.

Thanks to a sprained ankle, Paringa was the turnaround point for one of New Zealand’s greatest ever ‘bush bashes’. In 1848, the explorer Thomas Brunner, with the help of Maori guides, travelled from Nelson down the West Coast and back again on foot.
Until the mid 1950s Paringa was the end of the main road and the ‘loop road’ around the South Island remained unfinished until 1965.

Bruce Bay / Mahitahi
The area is significant for its Maori history. Maui, the great Polynesian explorer, first landed at Mahitahi (Bruce Bay). In acknowledgement, the marae built by Te Rūnanga o Makaawhio is named Te Tauraka Waka a Maui (the landing place of Maui’s waka).

Gold mining, timber cutting and road building were all significant here.

Bruce Bay is named after the PS Bruce, a paddle steamer that travelled the coast bringing the early gold miners and explorers to these shores.

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