The Central Otago Gold Rush (often simply called the Otago gold rush) was a gold rush that occurred during the 1860s in Central Otago, New Zealand. Constituting the country's biggest gold strike, the discovery of gold in Otago led to a rapid influx of foreign miners - many of them veterans of other hunts for the precious metal in California and Victoria, Australia.
The rush started at Gabriel's Gully but spread throughout much of Central Otago, leading to the rapid expansion and commercialization of the new colonial settlement of Dunedin, which quickly grew to be New Zealand's largest city. However, only a few years later, most of the smaller new settlements were deserted again, and gold extraction became a more commercialized, long-term activity.
Gabriel's Gully during the- height of the gold rush in 1862
Gabriel Read, an Australian prospector who had hunted gold in both California and Victoria, Australia, discovered gold in a creek bed at Gabriel's Gully, close to the banks of the Tuapeka River near Lawrence on 20 May 1861. "At a place where a kind of road crossed on a shallow bar I shoveled away about two and a half feet of gravel, arrived at a beautiful soft slate and saw the gold shining like the stars in Orion on a dark frosty night".
The public heard about Read's discovery via a letter published in the Otago Witness on 8 June 1861, documenting a ten day long prospecting tour he had made. There was little reaction at first until John Hardy of the Provincial Council stated that he and Read had prospected country "about 31 miles long by five broad, and in every hole they had sunk they had found the precious metal." With this statement, the gold rush began.