Queenstown, New ZealandQueenstown History

Queenstown | Regional Information | Activity Highlights | Scenic Highlights | History

Queenstown, originally valued for its moa and pounamu, prospered under a gold rush in the 1800s. Today it is one of the world's finest premier alpine resorts.

Queenstown History Overview

Early Maori expeditioners to Queenstown came in search of pounamu, or greenstone, a nephrite jade. It is a semi-precious stone of huge cultural importance to the Maori people. They once used the beautiful stone for adzes, chisels and weaponry. Today it is mostly carved into jewelery.

In the 1800s the Europeans found gold and the gold rush began in 1862. Today gold is still mined in the region, but typically with heavy machinery.

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Natural History

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand. Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown, New Zealand
Lake Wakatipu, Queenstown
Photographer: Ben Crawford

Lake Wakatipu was formed about 15,000 years ago by a glacier coming down from the north-west which gouged out the lakebed. You can see evidence of this glacial activity by the striations, or scratches, on the mountain slopes of Cecil Peak.

Once the bed of the Shotover River when it flowed into Lake Wakatipu, Gorge Road now runs through the dry valley.

The Remarkables Range was formed by faulting and folding of schist rock to such an extent that many of the rock faces are nearly vertical.

Maori History

The Maori first came to Queenstown in search of food, fibre and stone resources. After discovering the moa, and pounamu (greenstone) here they came to the area seasonally to hunt and gather greenstone.

Expeditions continued up until the mid 19th century.

Early History

Image Source: Tourism New Zealand. Eichardts Hotel, Queenstown, New Zealand
Eichardts Hotel, Queenstown
Photographer: Eichardts Hotel

In 1860 William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelman came to the area to develop its pastoral potential. To open up grazing land they burned much of the beech forest and shrubland. This caused quite a barren landscape and trees such as Douglas fir, larch, sycamore, willow and poplar were planted to enhance the landscape.

Favoured by local conditions the fir trees began invading the alpine tussock lands, and today wild tree control is necessary to protect the natural landscape.

Gold Mining

In 1862 Thomas Low and John MacGregor discovered gold in the Arrow and in the Shotover rivers. The goldrush peaked the following year with William Gilbert Rees' pastoral lease being cancelled and a goldfield declared.

Two years later, in 1865, the Westland goldrush began causing an exodus of miners leaving two thirds of Queenstown vacant.

Due to advancements in mining methods, quartz crushing began and by the 1870s gold was being mined from the quartz reefs of Macetown, Mt Aurum and the Shotover River.

The 1930s saw another revival of gold mining as a result of hardships of the Depression.

Historic Arrowtown

Copyright: Ron Laughlin. Arrowtown chinese village, Queenstown, New Zealand
Chinese Village, Arrowtown
Photographer: Ron Laughlin

Twenty-one kilometres from Queenstown, (less than half an hour), Arrowtown is home to the superb Lakes District Museum, often described as one of New Zealand's best small museums.

Much of Arrowtown's history is very much alive and in daily use. Wander the banks of the Arrow river and discover life as it was for the thousands of Chinese miners. Their humble village can still be seen tucked into the riverbank. The main street, Buckingham St, is testament to the town's determination to preserve its illustrious past.

Historical buildings line the streets, housing a stylish shopping and dining precinct. Pick up a directory of historical buildings from the museum and spend an afternoon soaking up Arrowtown's unique history.

In April and May, the town's trees are one of the best and most magnificent autumn displays in the country.

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