There was much more than just traces of gold here. As a result there’s plenty of evidence of mining activity in the late 19th century. Most of the original foundations of the Matilda and Aurora stamper battery sites are where they were abandoned. Mining shafts (vertical) and adits (horizontal) are also a feature. The larger shafts are either fenced off or covered, but many others could present a danger.
Gold was found here in 1862 which brought an immediate influx of miners and prospectors clambering over the hills in search of the elusive metal. Initially the gold was alluvial and easier to extract but that petered out in 1865.
Then gold-bearing quartz reefs were discovered and the focus went underground. Successfully too; in 1875 the Bendigo reef was said to be the richest and best defined in Otago. Mining continued in various forms, with varying degrees of success up to 1943, when a government mining subsidy was withdrawn. Since then there has been some activity in the 1980s and again early this century with renewed prospecting interest.
The historic reserve preserves the gold mining relics of the hard rock quartz mining that took place here – a fascinating legacy that’s easily seen today. There are numerous mine shafts, tunnels and plenty of other remains: stone huts, stamper batteries, heavy machinery, water races, dams and pipelines. Extreme care should be taken here due to both the nature of the country and the possibility of unexpectedly coming across a shaft. Children need to be well supervised.
Bendigo was not used as a significant camping area or as a source of food by Maori greenstone parties heading to and from the main pounamu areas of Wakatipu and the West Coast from Moeraki. Instead, the Cromwell Gorge tended to get the main traffic for that route. However, when William Rees bought the first flock of sheep over what would later be called 'Thomsons Pass', he followed an established Maori trail. It is likely that this was a 'back up' route used when the Clutha was in flood and the Gorge became impassable.
The miners of Bendigo Gully reported in 1872 that they had found pounamu weapons and implements in the stream bed of Bendigo Creek as they mined, local farmers reported finding evidence of broken moa eggs in areas that would suggest possible temporary campsites.
The most significant find of Maori origin in the Bendigo area was the paddle found by two young men, searching techniques in a cave at the back of what is now Bendigo township. "After crawling some distance through the narrow aperture, the cavern suddenly widened out to a good size, and standing against the side they found a Maori paddle. It is neatly finished, is in an excellent state of preservation, and appears to be made of kauri pine." The finder of the paddle was Mr John Evan, who gave it to Vincent Pyke who then donated it to the Otago Museum, which recorded its acquisition in 1877.
This was part of the huge Morven Hills Station taken up by the McLean family in 1858. In 1910 it was broken into a number of smaller stations and Bendigo and Ardgour were two of them. A succession of runholders then battled both the elements and rabbits. Today Bendigo is successfully farmed for high quality fine wool and has established successful vineyards.