Gillespies Beach was once a thriving, albeit short-lived, goldmining settlement. At its peak in May 1866, the township consisted of 1500 people (600 miners), 11 stores, two bakeries and two butchers. Because of the limited gold success the population dwindled to 200 people by October of the same year and just two years later only 17 people remained.
Today the area offers a very pleasant, off-the-beaten-tourism trail where rusting remains of the gold era can be seen and several walks are on offer, ranging from a five-minute historic cemetery stroll to a four-hour walk to the remote Galway Beach and seal colony. The shorter-duration trails feature interesting insights into the goldmining past while the longer Galway Beach/Gillespies Lagoon walks provide a fairly decent but moderately easy half or full-day hike.
Gillespies Beach Trails
One of the main attractions of the Fox Glacier area is the world-famous mirror lake, Lake Matheson, which is situated 5km west of the township on Cook Flat Road. This gem of a lake is well worth a visit on the way to Gillespies Beach. A little over four kilometres further along Cook Flat Road, Gillespies Beach Road heads off to the right and takes you over a narrow gravelled road that twists and turns through beautiful rimu forest to Gillespies Beach and DOC campground, 20km from Fox Glacier.
For some history of the people who once called Gillespies Beach home, be sure to stop at the Miners’ Cemetery Trail that starts (and is signposted) just before the turn off to the Gillespies Beach campsite. This five-minute walk and cemeterial insight into a bygone era are a reminder of the harsh environments our pioneers endured.
The camping and carpark area is large with wide-open grassed areas, a toilet and running tap water. The eight non-powered camping sites, well sheltered by surrounding raised ground and vegetation, require self-registration at $8 per night.
All of the four trails and walks begin from the camp site and are easy to find thanks to the numerous signs and information panels present. The shortest is the Suction Dredge Loop walk at 400 metres, taking about 15 minutes to complete. The track meanders past remains of the large suction dredge that was used by the old miners. Interpretation panels along the way provide plenty of history and titbits of information to dwell on.
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