In the late 1870’s alluvial gold was found in the forest streams west of the Knysna River. It took a while to assess the value of the find but by 1887 the rush was on. Where once there had stood only a small water-powered sawmill in the forests, suddenly there appeared a town with six hotels, three competing newspapers, over twenty shops and banks, and a population estimated at more than 700 fortune-seekers.
There was gold, both alluvial and reef gold, but not very much of it. After a few exciting years the mines began to close, the diggers moved on to the Witwatersrand and the site of the short-lived boom town returned to nature. Today it is almost impossible to believe that a town once existed here. What was once its main street is just another track through the forest.
To explore the old goldfields, take the Rheenendal road and immediately after passing through the village turn right onto a gravel road signposted Bibby’s Hoek. This brings you to the shady picnic site of Krisjan-se-nek in the heart of the indigenous forest. Driving on from here, keep left where the road divides, and at the second fork go left again. This road leads down into Jubilee Creek, an attractive picnic and braai area and one of the streams where alluvial gold was found. A footpath leads upstream along the right bank, bringing you eventually to several old mine openings and a small pool at the foot of a waterfall.
When you drive back from Jubilee Creek turn left at the first fork. After about 4 kilometres you reach the site of Millwood, passing on your right a road to the old town cemetery, and then reaching a fork. The road leading left here, merely a forest track now, was once Millwood’s main street. If you take the road leading right, and at the next fork go right again, you will eventually reach the boiler of an old steam engine in a clearing on your left; this was the site of the stamp battery for the old Bendigo mine.
A sign her points downhill to the opening of the main Bendigo tunnel, which you can reach most easily by driving back the way you came and taking the first turn to your left. The tunnel reaches 200 metres into the hillside but is too dangerous to explore.