Gold fever: David 'Digs' Hargreaves and Mandy Keep on the Arrow River


An Arrowtowner with the glint of gold in her eyes is sharing her love of prospecting by running guided trips on the river.

Mandy Keep says she’d been prospecting the Arrow River for about two years when she thought to herself, ‘‘if I enjoy it so much, why not turn it into a business?’’

So for the past three months she’s been taking up to five people at a time for one-to-three-hour trips with her new venture, Gold ‘n’ Gumboots, giving them a hands-on experience on where to look and dig, and explaining the area’s goldmining history and geology.

They get to handle all the mining paraphernalia like pans, gravel pumps, sluice boxes and sniffer bottles.

‘‘There’s no other tour guide that puts you in waders and throws you in the river.

‘‘It’s like a day in the life of an old-timer.’’

Drawing on her background as a photographer, Keep takes photos of her clients on the river, and they leave with a vial of whatever gold they find — ‘‘they could find a nugget’’.

They also have the opportunity to have their gold melted into a nugget by Keep’s friend and collaborator, Arrowtown identity David ‘Digs’ Hargreaves, a retired jeweller who used to operate a shop in Queenstown Mall in the ’80s.

Hargreaves says when he was he local gold buyer for an Auckland coin and bullion company, he would get a lot of very fine gold, so he developed his own method for heating it and turning it into nuggets.

He’s now resurrected that skill, and can create jewellery with the nuggets.

Keep says she’d only just got the multiple permits needed for a stretch of the Arrow in March, and was about to launch her guided trips, when Covid arrived.

That threw a spanner in the works for a few months, but she’s now working hard to build up her new business’s profile, confident that if she can thrive in  domestic-only travel world, the only way is up.