Champion hopes to teach gold panning techniques

A French gold panning champion will help tourists strike it lucky on West Coast's goldfields if a proposed gold school gets a green tick.

Gerard Bardel, who has decades of experience searching for gold, is seeking a 10-year guiding permit to teach groups gold panning techniques at the West Coast's recreational areas.

His concession application to the Conservation Department states he was the French gold panning champion in 1997 and represented France at several world championships.

Today, the West Coast Tai Poutini Conservation Board is expected to ratify a letter to the department supporting his tourism venture.

Chairwoman Clare Backes said it was the first time such a gold school was proposed on the region's free panning sites.

Bardel proposed to teach visitors about the environment as well as gold panning, she said.

''We see it as a reasonably low impact activity.''

There are 17 sites around the South Island where people can fossick for gold without a mining permit, including eight spots dotted around the West Coast.

All are on conservation land and include sites at Moonlight Creek, Nelson Creek, Jones Creek, Waiho River, Shamrock Creek, Slab Hut Creek, and Stony and Britannia streams.

The Economic Development Ministry said the sites were designated under the Crown Minerals Act 1991, which restricted fossicking to hand-held non-motorised methods, including gold panning and sluice boxing.

It said alluvial gold, usually found around rivers and streams, was present in all the free fossicking areas but typically in low concentrations.

However, New Zealand's largest gold nugget was found on the West Coast, weighing a monstrous 2.807kg, albeit 103 years ago by two lucky prospectors at Ross.

The Press