We won’t know until sometime in 2018 if the Pilbara gold explorers — one of 2017’s hottest ASX sectors — have discovered a South African-style payload in Australia’s remote north-west.

But canny shareholders have already struck gold — with key players enjoying massive share price gains.

Artemis Resources, one of the partners that played a hand in kicking off the Western Australian gold rush in July, has gained 625 per cent since the start of 2017.

At least a dozen other ASX-listed players have made gains of 20 per cent or more.

Southern Hemisphere Mining, a fairly recent addition to the Pilbara gold hunt, has rocketed 400 per cent, while De Grey Mining jumped 359 per cent.

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In the beginning…

The catalyst for the frenzy of investor buying was the July 13 news by Artemis Resources (ASX:ARV) and Canadian partner Novo Resources that they had found gold nuggets at their Purdy’s Reward project south of Karratha.

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This was followed by a flurry of announcements by other players in the region highlighting discoveries of “watermelon seed” nuggets, which Artemis has said are “indicative of Witwatersrand-style conglomerate gold”.

Witwatersrand refers to a geological formation in South Africa that houses the world’s biggest known gold reserves, producing 2 billion ounces or about half the total of gold ever mined.

Hot to trot

In late September, Southern Hemisphere Mining (ASX:SUH) said it had applied for two exploration licences to look for conglomerate gold over a 722 sq km area at Paraburdoo, 260km south of the Pilbara capital Karratha.

The company told investors at the time that the new landholdings are considered geologically similar to Artemis and Novo’s Purdy’s Reward project.

The news drove the share price up to a 52-week high of 22c from a low of 3c at the start of the year.

Meanwhile, De Grey Mining (ASX:DEG) attracted the interest of investors earlier this year with its discovery of gold nuggets at Louden’s Patch in the Pilbara and a subsequent discovery that it believes could be bigger again.

In October, Canadian mid-tier gold miner Kirkland Lake Gold backed De Grey to the tune of $5 million after it found 91 gold nuggets at its Pilbara project.

De Grey is Kirkland Lakes’ second foray in the Pilbara following on from a $58 million investment in Novo.

After the first gold nugget announcement on September 26, De Grey skyrocketed from 6c to a 52-week high of 38c in mid-November. The company’s share price has since cooled to 17c.

While DGO Gold (ASX:DGO) has dropped back from the 52-week high of $2.45 that it reached on November 9, the company’s share price is still over three times higher than at the start of the year.

The company back in August reported that its Mallina ground in the Pilbara has “sediments analogous in age with the Witwatersrand gold province in South Africa”.

DGO’s 245 sq km of ground lies 75km east of Purdy’s Reward — and adjacent to and surrounded by Novo’s exploration licences.

The company has made gains of 204 per cent over the course of 2017.

Newcomers to the Pilbara gold chase 

Spectrum Rare Earths (ASX:SPX) hit a 52-week high of 1.6c on November 24 on the back of news it had raised cash to start its hunt for conglomerate-hosted gold at the Whaleshark prospect, located at the North Eastern end of the Carnarvon Basin.

The company’s share price has climbed over 230 per cent from the 0.4c it started 2017 out at.

MinRex Resources (ASX:MRR), meanwhile, hit a peak of 21c on November 21, just before it went into a trading halt pending the release of news of a Pilbara acquisition and cash injection from Artemis.

The company revealed it was acquiring a 70 per cent stake in five licences — including some with conglomerate gold potential that border areas controlled by Novo, Haoma Mining (ASX:HAO) and renowned prospector Mark Creasy.

On top of that, Artemis had agreed to stump up $250,000 cash for a stake in MinRex.

MinRex shares have soared 109 per cent since the start of 2017.