A short drive from the hustle and bustle of Queenstown is a unique glimpse into the history of the Otago region. Twelve Mile Creek Gorge, 12km from central Queenstown, was once the site of frenzied gold mining. Public gold fossicking is still permitted in the area, but most of the miners trickled away as gold findings dwindled in the 1930s.
The area is now enjoying a new burst of activity as a popular, family-friendly walking track. Known officially as the Mount Crichton Loop Track, this three-hour trail begins at the edge of the road between Queenstown and Glenorchy.
Mature manuka trees and the soft green of mountain beech shade the track from the worst of the weather making this a grand day out any time of the year. Expect bright red toadstools in autumn, sparkling frost in winter and rediscover every shade of green in spring and summer.
This is a trail where the sharp-eyed will be rewarded; there’s subtle details of the area’s glittery past all along the trail. Rusted relics and tell-tale signs of blasted rocks tell a story of the early miners’ incredible efforts to free gold from the rocks and rivers. About an hour into the walk, there’s an impressive canyon, 24 metres long, one-metre wide and 10 high, where gold-bearing gravel would have been washed through.
Shortly after this is one of the area’s best preserved relics and where this track gets its common namesake; Sam Summers Hut. It was built by Bill Summers and his son Sam around 1930, on the site of a Chinese gold miner’s camp. Sam and Bill lived there for 10 years and Sam continued to mine the area on and off for 30 years. He maintained the hut until he died in 1997, aged 93. Today, it’s maintained by DOC and occasionally keen campers stay overnight. It’s a fascinating peek into how miners once lived.
Sam certainly enjoyed good views from his hut; it’s close to a stunning waterfall and 12 Mile Creek. Cross the bridge here and follow the track up to a ridge with grand views of Lake Dispute. From here, you can branch off and head down to the lake and onto Glenorchy road, or stick to the track to get back to the carpark.
Walk time: 3-4 hours
Trail notes: There’s a small gravel carpark at the start of the track and a public toilet near Sam Summers Hut.