44. Macraes Goldmine and More

We had a big drive from Butchers Dam up to Macrae’s Goldmine – big meaning we negotiated some enormous hills. You really notice that when you’re pulling a caravan; also Kevin is never sure that our vehicle is powerful enough for this kind of work. He’s thinking of trading it in on another one when we get back to Nelson. Still, for now, we were driving through the beautiful Central Otago tussock country all the way uphill to Macraes, so it was all good, though I was pretty disappointed that there was literally nowhere to pull over for a view stop. Not a tourist route!

Macraes, owned by Australian company Oceana Gold, opened in 1990 after being prospected for several years (It had previously been dredge-mined from the late 1800’s until the 1940’s). Macraes don’t run tours any longer – the same disappointment we had with Tiwai Point in Bluff and Manapouri Dam. A real loss if you ask me, to nosy interested folk like us who want to know more about our general environment! You’d think Oceana, taking 300 000 ozs of gold from Macraes each year, could find it in their hearts to provide the odd tour.†

Kevin standing at the viewing platform. There’s a small room here, where you can read a bit of information. We were lucky that an ex-employee happened to be there at the same time as us, showing his extended family his old work place, so we got to pick his brains.
Here I have walked back from the carpark to the bridge where the main road crosses one of the mining roads – we saw a dump truck driving under as we drove across which was spectacular – the machinery around here is huge!
Macraes is mined both above ground and underground. The open pit is benched all the way down to give access to the ore and to prevent slipping, while underground the ore is mined from a 5 metre wide tunnel road that winds down 1.6 kilometres and lies over 65 lateral kilometres. These figures continue increasing as the road is extended. You can see the tunnel mouth (portal) centre right in the photo above; it looks tiny from so far away and it was funny to watch a matchbox ute drive out of it.
The portal leads down down down below the pit following the gold lode until you are at least 300 metres below sea level! I still find this incredible – it’s a long way down from where we are standing at 500 metres above sea level.
The only lights in the tunnel are the ones you have with you. Much of the work is done by machinery to minimise people getting trapped inside, though the techies plan the mine carefully so that not too much ground is removed, thus preventing collapse. We joked that their office should be underground to ensure they do a good job!
The site of a second portal used to be set here, centre of the photo at the lowest point of the pit, but a slip once came down over the top of it and, due to danger from further slippage, left closed.
Back on the state highway at Palmerston, we shot back to Dunedin for a day and a night so I could try to identify this fossil that I had found in Southland, against those held in the university geology museum. The closest I got was that it’s some kind of pinna, related, however loosely, to the modern day horse mussels. We had another great talk with a PhD student from England – same as last time we were here – who was working on a species of penguin found along the west coast of the South Island. Again, a bit of frustration for me that there’s no current funding for Triassic fossils (my one above is likely Triassic). But overall great to see this work going on – thanks to international funding that brings students in for fossil studies.
On the way from Dunedin back to Palmerston, we took a different route, stopping at the lovely Warrington beach for a play. There were lots of tracks and we had fun wondering what animals had made them all.
It was also interesting to drive through Seacliff and Karitane where Dr Truby King revolutionised care practices for mental health patients and for babies, improving outcomes for both.
The small township of Palmerston came into existence as a campsite for people heading inland to mine for gold, such as the Kyeburn Diggings. The little hill behind is Puketapu (sacred hill), one of the small 5+ million year old volcanic cones that stretch northwest from Dunedin for 200 kilometres or so. Apparently on Puketapu you can find olivine nodules – olivine comes from the mantle below the earth’s crust, so it’s come from very deep.
Shag Point is just a short drive from Palmerston, and is famous for the new species of Cretaceous plesiosaur found here in 1982, 6.5 metres long and fossilised into the rocks. It’s species name is kaiwhekea katiki.
The fossilised plesiosaur kaiwhekea katiki as it lies in the Dunedin Museum.
Plenty of seals around!
Old boat shed at Shag Point.
The boat shed from further away.
Looking south west…
…and north east.
The small nodules to be seen are made of sandstone and formed in the same way as the moeraki boulders which we intend to visit shortly.
Can’t help myself – more bull kelp; it’s so pretty!
Shag Point was once mined for coal which helped enormously in getting local farming on it’s feet. The coal mined from here drove traction engines which were used to pull trailers, and run ploughs and threshers and other machinery necessary to get the farming underway.
The red in the rocks is from ancient iron deposits, weathering out.
We drove along Katiki Beach, north of Shag Point, trying to see the volcanic boulders that sit in the waves. Maybe the tide was too far in, but we couldn’t see them.
And on to Timaru.
The information centre in Timaru is built of basalt from a nearby 2.5 million year old volcano, the most recent to erupt in the South Island. This building, which lies close to the shore, was erected early in the 1870’s as a local Landing Service Building where goods from ships were winched ashore. A few years later the harbour was built, and later still the railway line put in, so the Landing Service Building became obsolete, and saved from demolition by a group of interested locals.
The railway lies next to the information centre and the sea – you wouldn’t know it!
More beautiful buildings near the information centre…

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