While Loïc was off on a gas run, I stayed at the place we camped overnight to do some much-needed laundry. Loïc and I make a great team, often using this ‘divide and conquer’ strategy when there’s a lot to be done.
When Loïc arrived with the van full of gas, we got everything sorted and then decided to backtrack to a tourist attraction we saw on the road a little bit earlier, Mitchell’s Gully Goldmine.
If the walk through the old tunnels, by the tool sheds and waterwheel are pretty interesting, the real attraction at Michell’s Gully Goldmine is Valentine, the great great grandson of James William Mitchell and great great great nephew of John Pervis Mitchell who immigrated from Scotland in 1866 and started mining a few kilometres north of Charleston.
Valentine is passionate about his elders’ work and will tell you all about gold mining in the area, how the gold is extracted with mercury from the rocks which used to be the sea bed but have been lifted up through successive earthquakes. Be ready to listen carefully though, he has a thick Kiwi accent, and for some maths, he apparently likes to get his audience participate.
Val poured some magnetic powder in my hand at one point and waved a larger magnet underneath, causing the particles in my hand to stand upright. He asked if I felt a tingle in my elbow and started talking about the iron in our blood. I couldn’t entirely following along at this point… But, he was impressed with my knowledge of mercury causing the Mad Hatter’s Disease, and confirmed that some of the gold miners would succumb to this as well.
After the history lesson, you are free to wander along the track and through the tunnels. There isn’t much signage but don’t worry, if there are multiple entrances to the mine, they will all be dead-ends except ones so all you risk is to waste a couple minutes.
Oh and don’t forget your torch, it gets dark in there!
I was a little disappointed that Valentine didn’t give us a guided tour of the place, as we had lots of questions, but it was still very intriguing to do our own walkabout. Val had given us a good enough introduction that we could guess the purpose behind the shack, the rather large mill wheel, and the labyrinth of tunnels.
I probably had the most fun with the tunnels! They were so old that trees and roots had grown around them in interesting ways. Sure enough, Loïc spotted a jumping spider in one of them; If I didn’t look, I was okay to keep going. There were a few weta in there as well.
As we exited Val caught up to us and told us there was one more, very long tunnel that would actually set us out on the side of the highway. Loïc and I were in the mood for adventure, so we gave it a shot. Either we didn’t explore carefully enough, or Val was pulling our leg. We went for a very very long time into the tunnel, often having to choose a direction at several intersections, but never reached any end.
Overall, a fun little diversion on our way down the west coast!