Exploring historic gold mining town Lyell

By: Carron Stevenson

Exploring historic gold mining town Lyell Exploring historic gold mining town Lyell
Exploring historic gold mining town Lyell Exploring historic gold mining town Lyell

Carron Stevenson goes looking for the ghosts of Lyell and is rewarded with a host of unforgettable characters. These are some of the highlights from this historic gold mining town in the Buller Gorge.

Lyell, was described as a town of ‘rogues and ruffians’ where fights were a regular occurrence, and a vigilance committee was set up to deter claim-jumpers and other trouble makers, by threatening to lynch them.

It’s enough to daunt any visitor. However, by the time we visited Lyell, over 100 years later, the troubled township had disappeared. It is now a beautifully grassed DOC picnic area and campsite – the start of the Old Ghost Road cycle and walking track.

A walk through the history of Lyell

The history of Lyell is brought to life on information panels around the campsite which tells of long ago balls held in Lyell ‘to which the fairer sex mustered strongly, all in elegant costumes.
Reading the information panels and walking the tracks around Lyell, to the cemetery and Old Ghost Road, I felt I was walking in the many footprints of those who lived in this thriving town more than a century ago – especially on the trail to the cemetery, up and down hills, over slips and through the pool at the bottom of the waterfall.

We continued on the track, over Lyell Creek, where you can see the old water diversion tunnel, and on to Old Ghost Road, which took us back to the DOC camp. This is also where the 30km cycle trail begins, on the restored County Dray Road leading to the United Italy Company’s mine at Eight Mile. The trail then continues to Lyell Saddle on the old pack track.

The trail is being rebuilt. It currently ends its journey at Ghost Lake Hut. The section in-between each end is expected to be opened around now, making the trail a total of 80km in length. North of Westport, the other end of the trail begins at Seddonville, up the Mokihinui Gorge and on to Goat Creek. On a previous road trip, we camped a couple of nights behind the Seddonville Hotel and walked the beginning of Old Ghost Road.

The trail is classed as Grade 4 (advanced) so it’s too technical for us to ride, but we enjoyed walking each end of it.

Lyell had its own school, as miners deemed education a high priority for their children. The town boasted two newspapers – The Times and The Argus. Between these great tomes, the life of Lyell was faithfully documented enabling history to be recorded.

The grass was too soft for us to stay overnight as we did not want to risk being towed out, so we continued on to Reefton, through the Inangahua Junction, near the site of the 1929 devastating earthquake.

Places to stay

  • There are Kiwi Holiday Parks at both Greymouth and Westport.
  • Westport Holiday Park 31-37 Domett Street. Phone: (03) 789 7043.
  • Greymouth Kiwi Holiday Park and Motels 318 Main South Road. Phone: (03) 762 6768.
  • At Waiuta there are numerous camp and caravan sites. Book at the iSite, Reefton. Phone: (03) 732 8391.
  • Slab Hut Creek – DOC camp 10kms south of Reefton.
  • Lyell – DOC camp in the Buller Gorge.
  • Reefton Camp Ground Phone: (03) 732 8477.

Read the full article in issue #135 of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations magazine. Subscribe here.

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