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Travel,History ian 2/11/2014

These days you can look across beautiful Lake Wakitipu to the stunning Remarkables and think that this place was made for tourism, but that hasn’t always been the case – here is, in a nutshell: Queenstown, an Historical Snapshot

Early Maori explorers to the Queenstown region went in search of what they knew as pounamu. In English it is known as greenstone, a very valuable type of nephrite jade. It is a semi-precious stone of huge cultural importance to the Maori people. They once used this delightfully ornamental stone for adzes, chisels and weaponry. Today it is mostly carved into jewellery and can make for a very nice gift or souvenir. They make lovely pendants and you may also come across carved jade tikis.

As well as the illusive pounamu (it looks like a normal rock until it is cut in two to find the jade) the Maori people found the region rich in food and other resources.

In the 1800s the Europeans discovered gold in them thar hills and streams and the gold rush began in 1862. Today gold is still mined but with sophisticated machinery rather than hopeful folk knee-deep in chilly water panning like mad.

Lake Wakatipu was formed way before exploration and tourism, about 15,000 years ago by a glacier gouging out the lakebed. And, in case you are wondering, the Remarkables mountain range was formed by faulting and folding of schist rock to such an extent that many of the rock faces are nearly vertical.

As in many parts of the world, sensible entrepreneurs saw the soil containing more long-term wealth than gold and explored the potential in farming and grazing. In 1860 William Gilbert Rees and Nicholas Von Tunzelman were two such pioneers who burned much of the beech forest and shrubland. This caused a barren landscape and trees such as Douglas fir, larch, sycamore, willow and poplar were planted to enhance the landscape.

Favoured by local conditions the fir trees began invading the alpine tussock lands, and today wild tree control is necessary to protect the natural landscape. Not quite the catastrophe caused by introducing rabbits and cane toads into Australia but another wee lesson in why you shouldn’t muck too much with nature.

The gold rush finished around 1865 when miners left in droves to chance their hand in other places where gold had been found, leaving the town two-thirds abandoned. The 1930s saw another revival of gold mining as a result of hardships of the Depression.

These days, of course, the goldmine is tourism – the ski fields, the soft adventure, the tours & attractions, the wineries, the shopping, the dining, entertainment and nightlife. And, of course, for all your accommodation needs, you need look no further than Rydges Lakeland Resort.

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