Pan for Gold

Kids love mystery and adventure! And we had plenty of that when we drove around the South Island of New Zealand last September in a camper van. One of the places we stopped at was Shanty Town. There we learnt how to pan for gold. I was chatting to one of the people who work there, and she said the aim is to skill visitors up, get them hooked, so they then can go out and pan for gold themselves! Our Shotover jet boat driver said he has a profitable stake somewhere secret and panned for gold as a hobby.

I knew my kids would enjoy such a fun and fabulous activity, so we purchased a few pans and stopped a creek to try for ourselves. We didn’t find any gold, but it was such a fun family experience and one we will replicate now back in Australia.

Panning for gold

Panning for gold

How to Pan for Gold

It’s a good idea to google “Gold Prospecting” or “How to Pan for Gold” to get a few ideas. This article and this one are comprehensive. I also found this article about novice mistakes really helpful!

We aren’t serious prospectors (yet!!), it’s just a bit of fun when we visit creeks on our travels, and below is a quick run down on how we do it. 

Where to look

“The best places to find gold exist where turbulence changes to slower-moving water flow. Check out slower water below rapids and waterfalls, deep pools, and the downstream side of boulders. Inside bends of meanders, upstream ends of sand or ‘point” bars are good places to pan fine gold, which is renewed yearly during runoff. Bedrock crevices or pockets acting as natural riffles can collect gold. Scoop out and pan material from these spots.” – Gold Fever Prospecting.

How We Pan for Gold

1. Fill the pan with a substantial amount of gravel/water (quarter to half full). It’s recommend to dig deep because gold is heavy (a small spade/shovel comes in handy).

2. First shake the pan vigorously side to side (stratifying). Then make a wave motion with the water in the pan back and forth, tilting the pan into the water to slowly remove the top materials with the wave motion into the water. These are the two steps you repeat over and over. We learned this at Shanty Town, and they put a little gold flakes into each pan and it’s amazing how the gold really does stay at the bottom.

  • One: Shake
  • Two: Wave

The wave action looks a little like this in gif form

panning for gold


3. Add more water, shake first, then keep making a wave motion.

Panning for gold

4. Go slow and repeat the process.

Panning for gold

5. Eventually you will be left with fine materials.

Panning for gold

6. Keep using that wave motion and see if there is any gold in the pan. If you find anything, it can be funnels into a jar using clear water.

Panning for gold

If you want to practice to get a feel for it, buy gold flakes on eBay and add it to the pan (you can get gold flakes for $5-$10). Why would you do this?? Well, it really helps you get a feel for how the gold sits at the bottom. A great way for amateurs to gain confidence about washing out all the gravel, because the gold really does stay at the bottom. It’s amazing.

You can get gold panning pans online here.

For more information about fossicking in South East Queensland, this is a helpful post: Gold Fossicking near Brisbane

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1 Comment

  • Reply
    June 10, 2021 at 10:08 am

    Great article, I enjoy panning too.

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