The gold rush of the 1860s brought settlement. Initially, the steep bluffs and dangerous river currents between Roaring Meg and Arrowtown had to be negotiated on horseback and by punt – a hazardous undertaking. The completion of the coach road around the Nevis Bluff in early 1867, followed by the Kawarau Bridge in 1880, opened access to a stream of goods and people.
The first postmaster, Thomas Gibbs is said to have given his name to the new community. Before long, Gibbstown (as it was originally known) boasted its own store, post office, school, hotels and coalmines. The school was the heart of the community, also serving as a church and centre for public meetings and social gatherings. One pupil who attended the school in 1888 was baptised, married and celebrated her golden wedding anniversary there.
As the gold ran out, many miners turned to farming. Water races once used to recover gold became irrigation channels to grow feed crops. The miner’s ethic of sharing their limited resources continued when, after ‘Big Kawarau’ was subdivided in 1910, the Gibbston Wentworth woolshed became a communal facility until the smaller runs were able to construct their own.
In 1981 the first trial grapevines were planted at what is now Gibbston Valley Wines. That small beginning has led to a thriving wine industry.
The strong sense of community that sustained Gibbston through its early days remains unchanged. For the first ten years, Chard Farm and Gibbston Valley Wines shared a winery. During the second decade, vineyards shared a tractor and other resources. Even today, vineyards work together sharing knowledge and equipment.
It is well worth taking a detour around the Gibbston Back Road where reminders of early homesteads sit comfortably alongside more recent lifestyle blocks.
No matter how the land use has changed over the years, Gibbston still occupies the only bit of flat land in the Kawarau Gorge. That is probably why the community has been (incorrectly) called Gibbston Valley or Gibbston Flats.