Story: Geological exploration

Page 2. The search for gold and minerals

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The discovery of gold in Coromandel in 1852 and later gold rushes led provincial governments to seek more information on mineral resources. By this time geology had become a separate discipline in European universities, and professional geologists were being employed. They saw the earth as an object whose history could be revealed by studying rocks, fossils and strata.

Hochstetter’s exploration

When the young Austrian geologist Ferdinand Hochstetter arrived in Auckland in 1858 with the Novara expedition, New Zealand Governor Thomas Gore Browne asked him to report on the newly discovered coal deposits at Drury, in south Auckland. He was joined by Julius Haast, a German emigrant who had studied geology.

The Auckland Provincial Council was so impressed with the Drury coal report that it asked Hochstetter to continue his explorations. Over the next nine months he and Haast undertook the first systematic geological exploration of the North Island, and then visited the Nelson region.

Hochstetter left for Vienna in October 1859. In 1863 he published the Topographic-geologic atlas of New Zealand, followed by Geology of New Zealand (1864). This was the first comprehensive report on New Zealand geology, based on his own observations and information from Haast, Charles Heaphy and others. In later years Hochstetter published 21 further reports, and arranged for specialists to study his collection of fossils and other material.

Crawford in Wellington province

J. C. Crawford, a Wellington settler with wide-ranging scientific interests, undertook extensive exploration in the lower half of the North Island from 1861 to 1864, seeking mineral prospects and transport routes. Appointed Provincial Geologist in 1861, he prepared maps and reports on Wellington’s geological features.

Expensive work

Not everyone was enthusiastic about geology. Henry Bunny, a member of the Wellington Provincial Council, considered a geologist to be ‘a very expensive luxury … It is all very well for a man to be paid for going about the country picking up stones and then writing a report about them, but I at any rate do not believe in paying for it.’ 1

Haast in Nelson and Canterbury

After Hochstetter’s departure in 1859, Julius Haast made an epic exploring trip for the Nelson Provincial Council down the Buller River, following a route pioneered by the surveyor and explorer Thomas Brunner. He confirmed the large coal resource north of the Grey River, and discovered bituminous coal near Denniston (later developed as the Buller coalfield).

Haast became Canterbury’s provincial geologist in 1861, and made several expeditions to the headwaters of Canterbury rivers. In 1863 he crossed the Southern Alps by what is now known as Haast Pass, and reached the West Coast. Haast produced the first systematic account of glaciers and mountains in the heart of the Southern Alps. He described his pioneering work in Canterbury in Geology of the provinces of Canterbury and Westland, New Zealand (1879).

James Hector in Otago

James Hector, a young Scottish geologist, was appointed provincial geologist in Otago in 1861 – the time of the discovery of gold at Gabriels Gully and the Otago gold rushes.

Hector was employed to draw up a geological map of the province. By September 1862 he had explored eastern Otago, and gathered 500 specimens of rocks, fossils and minerals. During 1863 he moved on to the West Coast, with a pioneering return trip from Dunedin to Milford Sound.

Using all the information available (including data from Hochstetter, Haast and others), Hector produced the first comprehensive geological map of New Zealand for the 1865 Industrial Exhibition held in Dunedin.

  1. Quoted in Peggy Burton, The New Zealand Geological Survey, 1865–1965. DSIR Information Series 52. Wellington: GSNZ, 1965. › Back
How to cite this page:

Simon Nathan, 'Geological exploration - The search for gold and minerals', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 20 August 2022)

Story by Simon Nathan, published 12 Jun 2006