The Mt Crichton Loop Track is a much-loved Queenstown day walk offering a diverse range of scenery. However, this walk is also a history lesson and offers a glimpse into Queenstown’s gold mining past, thanks to remnants left behind from gold rush days. Take a walk along the Mt Crichton track, and you can clearly imagine what life would have been like during the days of the Central Otago gold rush over a century ago.
You will find the Mt Crichton Loop Track on the outskirts of Queenstown along the Glenorchy Road. This moderate walk takes two to three hours to complete, but today I would take a little longer as I would be stopping to photograph several impressive sights along the way. The walk takes you past creeks, a waterfall, beech and manuka forests and a wonderful viewpoint for views over Lake Dispute and Lake Wakatipu.
It is July, so my day began with a frosty start. Heading out onto the track, I was happy to get moving, and it wasn’t long until the first rays of sun break through the trees and warm me up.
Mt Crichton is a loop track and can be hiked in either direction. My recommendation is to hike the track clockwise as you avoid hitting the steep sections on the way up, and you also get to some of the photographic highlights sooner.
The miner’s tunnel
My first stop is an old tailrace tunnel from gold mining days. It is hard to miss this narrow tunnel, which looks like an enormous rock has been split through the middle. The 24-metre-long tunnel was chiselled and blasted by gold miners to provide a way to wash gold-bearing gravel. It makes you realise how impressive the tunnel is when you think it was done without the help of power tools. This tunnel is also very narrow. With my backpack on, I could only just squeeze through the gap!
With its sheer rock walls and an intriguing tangle of roots covering much of the rock, I enjoyed spending time here capturing the tunnel from different angles and positions. Using different exposures, I was able to get some spectacular results.
This one is a favourite.
Sam Summers Hut
Next up is the highlight of this walk, Sam Summers Hut. The hut is a charming (and sometimes stark) reminder of the gold mining days. Despite the hut being nearly 100 years old, it is still in good shape, and you may spot some of Sam’s old tools and relics lying around.
I think about old Sam living in this stone building for nearly ten years, perhaps staying out during the freezing winters on his quest for gold. It makes me feel grateful for my modern insulated home!
Queenstown’s gold mining past
The story of gold in Queenstown is a thrilling tale. And while the gold rush didn’t last long, it irrevocably impacted the area. Queenstown and the Wakatipu Basin were once a pastoral region but all that changed one day in 1861. A shearer named Jack Tewa, who was working for the pioneering runholder, William Rees, spotted something sparkling under the surface of the water in the Arrow River. Jack had made one of the first gold strikes in Otago, and news of his discovery spread like wildfire. Another discovery was made in the Shotover River in November, and the existence of the Wakatipu goldfields was confirmed. By December, thousands of miners were working the two rivers, and the township of Queenstown was born.
The gold rush boomed for years, but by the early 1900s gold strikes were beginning to dwindle, and miners slowly made their way to other gold rushes around the world. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Queenstown began to boom again as its popularity as a holiday destination grew.
Back in the present day, I was happy with the images of Sam Summers Hut. For a small building, it has a huge amount of character and I wanted to take the time to capture this. Behind the hut, there is a small bridge crossing 12 Mile Creek. The bridge provides the perfect position to capture the small waterfall which cascades through the mossy creek.
The final result.
After Sam Summers Hut, the track meanders through the trees and up a small incline. After a 20-minute walk, I arrive at the highest point of the track, which gives a spectacular view over Lake Dispute and Lake Wakatipu. I spend some time here to enjoy the sunshine and photograph the view.
For those who prefer a more strenuous hike this is the point where you can branch off onto the Lake Dispute Track and the Moke Lake Track. But for me, this exploration of Mt Crichton Loop Track and its gold mining past was everything I was looking for. I followed the track down the hill to my car. And back to my warm and cosy studio!