At this location the second largest nugget ever discovered in New Zealand was turfed up in 1917 by prospectors who were re-working old tailings from the 1860's gold-rush to Moonlight Creek. The 87.5 ounce nugget was named the 'Victory'.
George Moonlight moved from the Victorian Goldfields (Australia) to New Zealand, then caught a steamer to the west coast of the South Island. George travelled from one gold rush to another, sometimes striking good gold, often not. His remains were found on the 16 September 1884 at Hope Bush (Cow Creek) having gone missing the year before on a lone prospecting trip, and is buried at the Nelson cemetery.
Gold was discovered at a site, about 40 kilometres north-east of Greymouth, by prospectors called Cabet (surname) and 'Panama Bill', in 1868. They decided to name the new goldfield after George Moonlight.
The creek and neighbouring terraces contained coarse dark nuggetty gold, sometimes impregnated with rose quartz (or rose tinted quartz). Many large nuggets have been found historically at the site. These include W.H. Jones 52 oz, George Fox 78 oz, William Coulter (known as Santa Anna) 47 oz, Mitchell and Russell (surnames) 79 oz, 60 oz, 40 oz, 2 x 33 oz, 22.50 oz and 20 oz, 'Flash' Barry (named after his spending spree in Melbourne from gold finds in the Victorian goldfields) 37 oz, Young and party several from 37 oz to 23 oz, Alfred Bliss 37 oz, Thomas Wood 36 oz, and much more that goes unrecorded.
Retired geologist Jock Braithwaite when interviewed in part about Moonlight Creek, gives a fine definition of a nugget: ' A nugget is if you drop it in the dish, and it goes ding'.
The site is well known amongst gold fossickers, lured by the romantic name, and the improbable promises of riches, from the many nuggets found here in the past. Gold prospecting requires a permit, but not in the seventeen public fossicking sites on the South Island (always check the Department of Mines website for the most up to date information). Prosecutions for mining without a permit do occur, as a property owner near the entrance of the Moonlight Road found in 2016. Non motorised fossicking is allowed, in designated fossicking sites, including panning dishes, and small scale sluicing.
The thought here is families will come, with children given the opportunity to pan for gold in the creek, finding a few specks, then going home happy having spent the day in the beautiful New Zealand outdoors. Not everyone
buys into this. Online forums note conflicts with people behaving badly, including a local rock club who arrived, and were threatened by a man clearing trees. Gold does funny things to people, and does not always bring out the best in human nature. Small nuggets have been reportedly found up to recent times.
The best time to go is spring and early summer, after the winter floods have potentially washed gold nuggets to the surface. The best time to go to avoid people is mid-winter, when there is knee deep mud, constant drizzling rain, and sub-zero temperatures.
The entrance road to Moonlight Creek can be found at a location called Atarau, on the main road on the northern side of the Grey River. Where the road turns sharply is a pull-out area with prominent 'Moonlight' sign, and minor gold mining equipment. The fossicking site is via a narrow gravel road heading north from here into the thickly forested hills for 10 kilometres (sometimes used by logging trucks), to a place now known as Anderson's Flat. The fossicking area covers 59 768 ha, beginning 1.32 kilometres above the bridge crossing. A gold location near Queenstown is also called Moonlight Creek.
Prospectors rushed to the site after the 1868 find, many described as 'hatters', a gold mining term for an elderly prospector having gone slightly mad in the head from gold fever. The focus was on a gutter running parallel to the creek, and disappearing into a terrace. Much tunnelling into the terrace failed to locate the gutter extension. There were reefs at Moonlight Creek, but it appears not enough for large company involvement. Several pegged claims, and a couple started work, but amounted to little. The creek was pegged by dredging companies with a similar result.
An 1875 report states by this stage many had left, with one store remaining. Coarse gold was also found at Caledonian Creek, 5 miles away: Baxter Creek for fine gold; and Garden Gully, all seeing small numbers of miners around the same time as the Moonlight Creek rush.
Long (like all day) difficult (steep, muddy, wet etc) but beautiful walks and mountain bike trails eg. Croesus Track,can be taken through the lush temperate rainforest to the Garden Gully site, containing swing bridges, a 1905 era stamp battery, mining relics, and tin gold miner huts.