FolkestoneJack's Tracks

The Karangahake Gorge and Waihi

Posted in New Zealand, Waihi by folkestonejack on April 10, 2019

On our leisurely return to Auckland we spent a couple of days around Waihi, a location which offers a splendid array of quite different sights – the natural beauty of the Karangahake Gorge and the Owharoa Falls; preserved industrial remains at the Victoria Battery; the gold mines of Waihi and the surf of Waihi Beach.

The concrete base that supported the cyanide tanks at Victoria Battery

The Karangahake Gorge is a popular spot for day hikes, rich in natural beauty, but turn the clock back a century and you would have found a rather different spectacle. The area would have been dominated by cyanide tanks and large stamper batteries constructed to process and extract gold from the ore being mined in the area. The foundations of many of these still remain and can be seen along the many walking circuits, but it’s hard to get a sense of the scale of industrial activity now that nature has reclaimed the land.

A little further down the road, at Victoria Battery, you get a little more of the picture. The Victoria Battery was constructed to process ore from the Martha Mine in Waihi. Today, the Victoria Battery is a peaceful site with industrial remains nestled in a green landscape, but in its heyday this would have been a hellish place to witness with 200 steel crushers hammering way constantly and kilns burning non-stop. The crushed ore was mixed with potassium cyanide and the sludge generated by the process discharged into the rivers.

The discovery of gold re-shaped the landscape in other ways, with the construction of a hydro-electric dam on the Waikato River and the construction of the Paeroa-Waihi railway line. The latter is no longer in everyday use but you can ride a part of it on the heritage Goldfields Railway and walk another stretch on the Karangahake Gorge: Rail Tunnel Loop short walk.

The gold industry is far from finished. The open cast Martha Mine still sits at the heart of Waihi and remains open to this day, albeit a little quiet right now while measures to address a major slip are put into place. Once this is in place modern processes can extract gold that would have been impossible a century ago. A minibus tour from the Gold Discovery Centre gave us an opportunity to get a closer look at the mine and the plant where the ore is crushed and processed.

Martha Mine

One of the landmarks on the perimeter of the mine and its rim walkway is the Cornish Pumphouse, a relic from the mine dating back to 1904, which was moved by 300 metres at a cost of 4 million NZ dollars in 2006 when monitoring revealed that the historic building was tilting and that the land underneath was continuing to move. It’s one of a number of community projects that are going on in the town to give something back.

Our time in the area was limited but we saw as much of this fascinating story as we could and still found time to sample a few of the pies and slices that are sadly absent from the other side of the world!