More than $1 billion has been bet that the Pilbara gold nugget rush has legs, with the share prices of the lead player, Canada’s Novo Resources, and a bunch of ASX juniors skyrocketing as investors back the idea that the region has a lot more of its 2.7 billion year-old nuggets to give up.

The sight of the melon seed-shaped nuggets being plucked from the Pilbara’s extensive conglomerate-type rock with jack hammers — after being passed over by metal detectors — has triggered a modern-day rush to the south of Karratha, the Pilbara town that services the region’s offshore gas and iron ore industries.

Apart from the frenzied activity of investors on the Canadian market and the ASX, an army of prospectors have headed off in to the bush in 4WDs and on quad bikes to try their luck in the lonesome and hot country, prompting security guards to warn them off trespassing on company-owned ground.

But for all the excitement, the question remains if the Pilbara gold nugget rush will live up to the hype that a major new gold province is in the making — one said by the more excitable company promoters to have similarities to the conglomerates mined in South Africa’s fabled Witwatersrand, the source of one-third of all gold ever mined.

The rush has been a boon for a bunch of ASX companies that otherwise did not have much going for them — so one wants to be a party pooper and call it a bubble.

Besides, it will take another six months or so to confirm or debunk the theory that the melon seed-shaped nuggets are as extensive as the Pilbara’s prospective conglomerates undoubtedly are.

Live cross got pulses racing

Novo got the pulses of the faithful racing last week when it made a live cross from the Denver Gold Forum to its Purdy’s Reward prospect, 35 km south-east part of Karratha and part of its broader Karratha project area in the Pilbara.

It was past 1am at the Pilbara project where a patch of near-surface conglomerate had been previously exposed in a small (30m x 10m x 5m) pit, and where Novo geologists and field hands had returned about 300 of the right sort of pings from their metal detectors.

For the “live’’ show back to Denver and its suited investor types, the pings had been marked up with a spray of pink paint, with the workers proceeding to liberate a handful of nuggets with their jack hammers.

The show was interesting stuff but the reality is that it did nothing to answer the question of whether the results were repeatable elsewhere along the prospective horizon.

That goes to the bigger question of whether Purdy’s Reward and the broader Pilbara nugget rush will serve up an economic mining proposition.

Novo’s market value has trebled this year to $C900 million ($920 million), so the company has clearly won over a bunch of investors that the nugget play will be a winner.

The same goes for ASX-listed Artemis Resources (ARV), Novo’s partner at Purdy’s Reward and the owner of its own conglomerate horizons. It was a $10 million company at the start of the year. It’s now valued at more than $110 million.

Novo itself admits that nugget gold is difficult to get a handle on.

Real exploration

That’s why it is cracking on with some real exploration, rather than more live crosses to a metal detector hunt under a Pilbara’s starlit night.

A scout drilling program is underway to test the depth and thickness of the targeted gold-bearing conglomerate.

A program of drilling large diameter holes (17.5 inches) also gets underway soon to provide “bulk’’ samples to test grades of the nuggetty gold system.

At best, it will be another six months before it is known if the conglomerate gold play stacks up or not.

A growing bunch of less advanced ASX juniors are hoping it does.

They have been dragged along for the ride in the interim, posting share price gains that just would not have happened but for pictures of melon seed-sized nuggets being flashed on the Canadian and Australian stock exchange reporting platforms.

Pushed along with the glitz of Novo’s live cross to Purdy’s Creek and the recovery of its own fistful of nuggets, De Grey Mining (ASX:DEG), has soared from 6c to 15c in the last 7 trading days.

Pollster Gary Morgan’s Haoma Mining (ASX:HAO) is a big land holder in conglomerate prospective parts of the Pilbara and is up from 11c to 21c in the same period.

Other big gainers of the Pilbara nugget rush story include DGO gold (ASX:DGO), Kairos Minerals (ASX:KAI) and Calidus Resources (ASX:CAI).

More names are being added daily.