Macraes is a small town in Waitaki (Central Otago) with a large gold mining past and present. It was originally named Macraes Flat for a local shepherd, John McRae, but gold discoveries built it. The gold rush began in 1862 with the discovery of gold by prospector James Crombie in Deepdell Creek to the north of the town. By 1865, there were 25 businesses and 500 people. Hard rock gold mining began a little later around Golden Point, between the town and Deepdell Creek. Gold mining continues today at the nearby Macraes goldmine.

As in other gold mining areas across NZ, Chinese miners continued mining after most other miners had left. There were 100-300 Chinese miners in a settlement colloquially known as the “upper township”. Most resided in basic huts, similar to what you can see at the Chinese miner memorial in Arrowtown. But in Macraes, the only surviving residence is the more substantial Louis Gay Tan house. Louis was a prominent merchant and interpreter, proving the gold rush dictum that it is better to sell the shovels than dig with them!

Today, the population of Macraes is small, but there are several historical buildings, including the local hotel. In addition, the modern goldmine has paid for various amenities, which has allowed the town to be creative. There are several interesting outdoor sculptures and artworks, an excellent collection of vintage farm machinery near the historic cemetery and a pretty, restored wetland opposite the hotel.

The wetlands are part of the headwaters of the north branch of the Waikouaiti River. They provide habitats for various insects and birds, and there is a 30-minute walking track with information panels. Many artworks, including a cool modernist version of the extinct giant Haast Eagle, can be viewed on the walk.

The town is on Macraes Road, which connects with State Highway 87 in the Shag Valley north of Dunback and with State Highway 85 in the Strath Taieri Plain near Hyde and north of Middlemarch.

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