Travel outside of New Zealand and you might not find many folks who have heard of St. Bathans or its stunning Blue Lake. The Southern Hemisphere’s deepest man-made mining hole formed the gold-sluicing days of the late 1800s and was filled with water in the 1930s.
As a location for stand-up paddleboarding, the world’s fastest growing sport, Blue Lake is pretty hard to beat. The waters were glassy still as we circumnavigated the shoreline, paddling beneath the lake’s white clay cliffs. Then it was back to the tiny townships’ reputedly haunted Vulcan Hotel for a restorative ale.
With only ten permanent residents, modern-day St. Bathans is a far cry from the 2,000-person boomtown it was at the height of the gold rush. But this historic village still attracts plenty of visitors looking for a pleasant escape amongst its sleepy buildings, easy walking tracks, and hidden camping spots.
In 1887, Saint Bathans was a bustling town with around 2,000 miners living in the immediate vicinity. Some of the buildings from that era remain today and little else has been added since, so it's very easy to imagine the town as it was during the gold rush.
The Vulcan Hotel, built in 1882, is a fine example of mud-brick construction. It's a great place to share tall stories over an ale or two, and offers meals and a small amount of comfortable accommodation. Overnighters should be aware that many people believe this fine public house has a resident ghost. The two-storey kauri (native hardwood) Post Office that opened in 1909 is also still in operation. Other historic buildings include the mud-brick Anglican Church built in 1882 and the stone school house.
Close to the town, the Blue Lake was created by extensive mining activity. Beginning in 1864, miners chipped and sluiced their way through the quartz rock of the 120 metre high Kildare Hill. By 1933 the hill had become a 168 metre deep pit. From the 1880s the miners used hydraulic lift technology, like a giant vacuum cleaner, to suck water and gravel out of the pit to where it could be worked for gold.
Mining was halted in 1934 because the sides of the pit were getting too close to the town. The huge hole was allowed to fill with water to create today's beautiful lake. The minerals in the surrounding rocks give the water an astonishing blue colour which is offset by surrounding columns of white quartz tailings.