Nelson jeweller Glen James Tomlinson with the two gold nuggets he found in the Lyell River. Photo: Jonty Dine.

Gold digger unearths a ‘gem’


Swarmed by sandflies and knee deep in muddy river water, Glen Tomlinson’s gold digging crew made a once in a lifetime discovery.

Glen had unearthed a gold nugget weighing in at a whopping 3.7 ounces from the Lyell River, in Buller.

The find came just one day after Glen’s son, James, discovered a 1.3 ounce nugget for a combined value of over $12,000.

“We all started acting like five-year-olds,” says Glen. “It was a weird high.”

The Lyell was one of the country’s most lucrative goldmines but became unviable during the 1970s.

However, as Glen found out, plenty of gold still lurks in the Lyell waters.

Following floods in December, Glen knew gold would be stirred up in the river.

So armed with a pan, metal detector and shovel, the team of three headed into the West Coast wilderness.

After a day of digging, the rewards were soon reaped.

Glen says once James realised what it was he was shaking.

“He picked it up and was looking at it with disbelief, I looked up and saw his face, it was really cool to capture that moment, I knew he had something.”

James then put the gold in his sock.

“It lived there, that was its safe place.”

Glen’s team made the wise decision to return the next day.

“We got up early and just kept digging.”

Glen’s experience allows him to read the river for potential hot spots.

“You can quickly rule out 95 per cent of the river. I call gold the fat, lazy man. It’s the last thing to get up and move in a flood and when it does it will move in the straightest shortest path and it will sit down as soon as it possibly can.”

His instincts led him to a spot which had previously been dug by another crew.

It was here that the 3.7oz nugget was found.

While all profits from the gold will be split three ways, Glen has no immediate plans to sell or smelt the nuggets.

“Money burns a hole in your pocket, gold doesn’t. You form a weird connection with gold, you bond with it, and so for now it will just remain on display.”