71. Mines Mines Mines

While staying at Waihi Beach we spent a day in its nearby ‘mother’ town of Waihi (which means rising waters) where we walked around the Martha Mine.

We moved on to Thames, wending our way through the Karangahake Gorge, realising we were missing out on experiences offered in the Gorge that would interest us (walks and mines) but having to keep a constant pace on the busy, narrow, winding road. It just wasn’t easy to stop with the caravan in tow. We talked about returning another day, but wound up freedom camping in Thames so were unwilling to leave the caravan for too long. Disappointing, and one more for the list of places to return to.

We had plenty of other mine experiences to whet our interest though, Coromandel Peninsula being a treasure trove of gold and silver mining (amongst other minerals) historically and currently.

This is a replica poppethead of one that was once used to shift men and equipment into and out of the Martha Mine, along with gold and silver ore (quartz) which was taken and crushed for further processing at the Victoria Battery in the Karangahake Gorge (one of the sights we passed by). The mine held seven shafts and provided employment for an average of 600 people over a 70 year period (at one point early in the 1900’s there were 1500 employees working the mine and the Victoria Battery). One of these shafts went to a depth of 600 metres, twice as deep as the depth of the current pit. There were about 175 kilometres of tunnels set over 16 levels.

Our first glimpse of the 200 metre deep pit of Martha Mine was awe inspiring.

About seven million years ago, this area was very much like the Rotorua region of today – high in elevation and bubbling and steaming with geysers, mud pools and hotsprings. The gold and silver was deposited at this time in quartz veins in the host andesitic rock, which eventually became the hill we now know as Pukewa or Martha Hill – and more latterly Martha Mine.

The first mine on Pukewa/Martha Hill was opened in 1879. Other claims were quickly made and it wasn’t long before all these miners banded together to form the Martha Company, which ultimately ran for 70 years, closing in 1952. During this time 5.6 million ounces of gold and 38.4 million ounces of silver were extracted. Horses were the main form of transport within the mine; they lived underground and were brought out at Easter and Christmas, blindfolded to protect them from the sunlight, for a break.

Martha Mine re-opened in 1988 as an open cast mine; many structural beams and supports were dug up as old tunnels were excavated. It closed again due to 2015-16 landslides, but was functioning again in 2018.

We talked with a local who said that Waihi is built on gold and silver; and they would like to see the operation move underground like the one at Macrae’s down south – but there’s opposition from a small band of conservationists which is making it difficult.
Oceana Gold, who own Martha Mine, have planted several thousand kauri trees in and around Waihi in an effort to bring back kauri forests. They record every planting on a database so the growth and health of the trees can be monitored and maintained. The same local we talked with about the mine going underground said that Oceana Gold has been a huge community benefactor over the years with their kauri planting work and their support of the local schools – providing and replacing computers for students educational use.
We could see lots of kauri trees growing up above the foliage surrounding them.
Moving around the pit, here’s another sight of it from a different vantage point.
When this mine closes, it will be filled over a period of six years to become a recreational lake. This will occur with natural rainfall (current pumping would of course cease), and will be aided by pumping in water from the Ohinemuri River when it’s running at high enough levels.
One of the colossol beasts (caterpillar 777’s) that are used to cart both ore and waste rock from the pit.
A circular keeps walkers up with latest information on the status of the mine.
Looking over the township of Waihi.
We came full circle back to the poppethead (you can just make it out in the above photo, centre left); finishing with this Cornish Pumphouse, which was shifted about 300 metres, and reinforced, over a 3-month period in 2006 so it could be preserved as a historic building.
The township of Thames.
Saxon Mine site in Thames, all fenced off. This mine was in use between 1871 and 1914, starting life as the Crown Princess Mine. In 1918 it was developed as a pumphouse to keep rising water levels below the ground’s surface, and a year later in 1919 the poppethead was demolished.
The Bella Street Pumphouse, on the site of the former Queen of Beauty Mine, is open to the public as a museum. The building is original although the roof has been replaced It was well worth the visit.
A tiny glimpse inside the pumphouse – there was a lot of stories, photos and historical equipment and machinery to look at.
Miniature replica poppethead.
The turbine and generator in the lower most level of the pumphouse. – there were three levels to visit.
And the famous Thames School of Mines! I’ve been to the one in Reefton in the South Island a number of times, so it was great to see this one opened to the public as a historical education centre for geologists. You can only go through on a guided tour as there’s equipment that quite rightly has to be protected, but it was only $10 for the two of us to do it, which I thought was very reasonable.
Old style health and safety ruling: this notice was accompanied by a large feather in a jar sitting alongside! I should have photographed it!
There is so much more information I could write about the School of Mines – perhaps I will revisit this blog and add it in at a later date. It was a fantastic tour and visit which I would do again anytime!
For all the time we spent inside buildings in Thames we did get out for one or two walks. We drove and walked up to the Thames War Memorial Monument where it rained torrentially on us.
And we visited the Shortland Wharf, once known as Kauaeranga Landing and the hub of seagoing activity in Thames.
Back inside! We checked out the Boiler House in Thames, now a cafe and bar, but once the main producer of boilers in the area. We could see a few signs of the old activity…
We finished by eating a really nice meaty pizza!
Leaving Thames, we drove the winding, picturesque road to Coromandel where we stopped for a couple of days.
From the NZMCA park up we walked through part of the township of Coromandel, past the jetty in the Whangarahi Stream and up onto Pā Lookout (also called the Kauri Block Walk) where we could see views over both Coromandel and the Hauraki Gulf.
The photos start at the top of the hill walk; we passed lots of young kauri growing up but the photos didn’t come out that well so I haven’t included any here.
Those are oyster farms below us – there’s a lot of shellfish farming in the Hauraki Gulf.
Plenty of evidence of trapping!
En route back to our caravan we walked along the Whangarahi Stream, where there is a jetty and lots of boats tied up.
And photos of the township as we pass back through to our caravan…Coromandel has some really lovely old buildings, well maintained and in current use.
So-o upper North Island – lots of flowers everywhere even though it’s winter.

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