The largest town is Hokitika, population about 3,000. The town was thrown up overnight where gold nuggets carried by the Hokitika River were tossed around by ocean storms and left lying on the beach for lucky explorers to find.
During the gold rush Hokitika was briefly New Zealand's largest city –population 25,000– and busiest port.
The phenomenon of the Gold Rush fascinates me. There are some hints in ancient records of excitement over gold discoveries in Roman times and earlier, but the first real Gold Rush was the one in California that got under way in 1848. Australia saw half a dozen in the 1850s, New Zealand two or three in the 1860s. South America saw several in the 1870s and 1880s, and South Africa was transformed by the one that began in 1886. The last one to be a worldwide cultural event was the Klondike god rush of 1896-1898.
In October 1941 a local farmer, Stanley Graham, went on a shooting rampage and killed seven people, including three police and two armed Home guard personnel.