Research into the environmental impacts of gold rushes has tended to be limited, with only a small number of broad descriptive studies. This article provides a new approach in three ways. First, it is confined to a specific small time period – the initial five years – rather than trying to cover all aspects of a long period. Second, it analyses the environmental impacts in terms of the activities undertaken by the miners. A focus on activities was chosen in preference to types of impact as a means of centring attention on humans as agents of change. Third, it utilises a wide range of accounts by miners to examine the changes they observed.