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"Thars Gold In Dem Thar Hills" - Mining Then & Now

Waihi, New Zealand


Gold...man has responded to its siren call since the beginning of time and many have perished in its name. The first gold discovery in New Zealand occurred on the Coromandel Peninsula in 1852 and many more followed, especially on the South Island in the 1860s, that lead to true gold rushes.

Early miners worked their claims with picks, shovels and gold pans. Progress and the quest for richer sources saw miners employ water cannons to wash down high banks, build long raceways through challenging terrain to carry water to mining operations and eventually operate steam powered dredges in rivers.

As surface gold became scarcer, prospectors directed their attention underground. Hard rock mining required greater capital and expertise that most surface miners possessed or could acquire. Syndicates with strong financial backing formed and developed large underground operations to remove ore-bearing quartz that was pulverised in massive rock-crushing batteries. The use of cyanide to recover gold lead to higher production. The Martha Mine at Waihi expanded its operations with that process and became the largest gold mine in New Zealand by 1900. It closed in 1952, after producing 5 million ounces of gold from nearly 11 million tonnes of ore.

Gold was mined in nearby Karangahake Gorge starting in March 1875. With the introduction of the cyanide process, gold recovery dramatically increased and three large batteries were constructed to treat the ore extracted from extensive workings deep inside Karangahake Mountain. The Karangahake mines accounted for 60% of NZ's total gold produced in 1909. Ore mining in Karangahake ceased in 1918 while the Victoria Battery, capable of crushing up to 800 tons of ore daily, continued to process ore from the Waihi Martha Mine until the mine closure in 1952.

The Martha Mine returned to life in 1988 as an open pit operation. It is located at the end of the main street of Waihi, and is a major employer and attraction for the area. It has produced an average of 100,000 ounces of gold and 700,000 ounces of silver annually since reopening. It is now winding down its operations and heading towards closure. The area around its perimeter has been replanted with native plants and the near 250-m deep pit will eventually become a recreational lake.

One can experience the 'then and now' of gold mining in this area in one day. A beautiful walkway with information posts and lookouts encircle most of the Martha Mine perimeter. We watched the operations on three separate days, marvelling at the enormity of the pit that dwarves the huge dump trucks capable of carrying up to 100 tonnes of ore in a single load. Each truck takes about 15 minutes to make a round trip from the mine bottom to the crusher at the pit top and return.

We then drove to Karangahake Gorge, 8 km from Waihi, and hiked several of the tracks maintained by the NZ Dept. of Conservation. The tracks incorporate original mine workings such as tunnels and tramway lines, and suspension bridges located where original mining bridges once existed.

The walk was fascinating as it winded through the forest that has reclaimed the once stripped hill sides and cliffs. We felt like 'Indiana Jones' as we came upon the remains of old mine buildings that appeared like Aztec ruins in the rainforest. We saw the remnants of old machinery in several locations along our chosen tracks. One can literally spend days exploring the many tracks and sites that they pass through.



Gold...watching today's modern miners and walking in the footsteps of the miners from yesteryear makes one appreciate the power of its siren call.

permalink written by  Shane & Norma on July 5, 2009 from Waihi, New Zealand
from the travel blog: "Not Just Another Rugby Tour" - New Zealand, Samoa and Australia
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now gold mining was abundant in New Zealand...and those pictures really reminded much about a site that taught me about Waihi :) http://baraaza.com/..it's a really great site:) good site for tourists and travelers

permalink written by  steph cheng on July 6, 2009


now gold mining was abundant in New Zealand...and those pictures really reminded much about a site that taught me about Waihi :) http://baraaza.com/..it's a really great site:) good site for tourists and travelers

permalink written by  steph cheng on July 6, 2009

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