The region was deserted when the first Pakeha (white person) arrived in the mid-1850s, although there is evidence of previous Maori settlement. Sheep farmers came first, but after two shearers discovered gold on the banks of the Shotover River in 1862, a deluge of prospectors followed. Within a year Queenstown was a mining town with streets, permanent buildings and a population of several thousand. It was declared ‘fit for a queen’ by the NZ government, hence Queenstown was born. Lake Wakatipu was the principal means of transport, and at the height of the boom there were four paddle steamers and 30 other craft plying the waters.
By 1900 the gold had petered out and the population was a mere 190. It wasn’t until the 1950s that Queenstown became a popular holiday destination. In recent years Queenstown has wrestled with rising water levels in Lake Wakatipu and, in 1999, a third of the town was severely flooded. To thwart a repeat occurrence, there was an initial proposal to permanently lower lake levels. Instead, the town has decided to raise floor levels and put other flood-mitigation measures in place.