Ramblings of a much published New Zealand author

22 September 2010

Bruce Bay, Westland. A Picnic Stop with a Romantic Past.

The Tasman Sea rolls up the dark grey sands of Bruce Bay, relentlessly throwing back on to its beach dismembered remains of the trees that wash out of Westland’s rivers flood after flood. These days turmoil is only from the sea but there was a time when Bruce Bay was a scene of frantic ant-like activity as hundreds of gold-seekers hungrily sought the yellow metal; they were mostly condemned to disappointment.

By 1866 Albert Hunt, a successful West Coast prospector, had developed a ‘bubble reputation’ that made him into a will-o’-the-wisp figure; he was watched carefully and wherever he went an army of gold-seekers followed. Thus it was that when he started to fossick in these areas the local population burgeoned overnight to 2000 leading to the rapid establishment of a flimsy township at Bruce Bay: stores, booze outlets, pubs and the inevitable wild west bordello.

In fact, Hunt had made modest finds, but the miners didn’t believe him, nastiness broke out leading to riots and murderous threats from besieged shopkeepers. Hunt, meanwhile, took to his heels for safety’s sake and in no more than three weeks the Bruce Bay rush had fizzled out.

It’s hard to imagine such a frantic past when you stop at the bay on State Highway 6 south of Fox Glacier. There’s no gold to be picked up but all over the littered beach are beautiful quartz stones, some football-sized, white as bleached bones and smoothly abraded by the action of rivers and sea. Some old guide books suggest that they make good paper weights, and they do, but these days one is conscious of the suggestion that visitors ‘leave only footprints and take only pictures’.

This picture is at the northern end of Bruce Bay with Jacobs Bluff and Makawhio Point in the distance. The bluffs, bays and river mouths would have been familiar to the old gold miners for the beach was their highway. It’s good as a short stop for reflection and picnic but the sandflies will want to join you!



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By Don Donovan