Athenree to Waihi Beach North Island 19th to 20th June 2008.
9 Jul 2008
It was with reluctance we left this lovely campsite and the hot springs to get back on the road once more. We are now making our way to the Coromandel Peninsula, but first we will stop in Waihi, a gold mining town. In 1878 gold bearing quartz was found on Pukewa Spur, a Maori way point and burial ground, and it soon became famous as the Martha Mine. As with gold findings, tent cities were hurriedly erected and later were replaced with small miner’s cottages. By 1908, Waihi was the fastest growing town in the Auckland Province, with a population three times that of Hamilton. Miners took their families to Hamilton on the long weekends to escape the bustle of Waihi.
We had a walk along the main street to the tourist office and passed many of the original buildings now lovingly restored. On one corner stood The Rob Roy Hotel, built by an immigrant from the Western Isles, we Scots get everywhere. In the tourist office there were posters advertising a train ride on the old mine railway. On enquiring about it the lady said it was a nice trip and we would enjoy it, so with directions as to where the station was we set off to walk, what we thought was a short distance. We soon discovered it was much further than we had anticipated but we passed many more restored buildings on our route making it a nice walk. At the station Jeff purchased our tickets and with only one other couple travelling with us we were on our way. Our fellow travellers are farmers in a small town close to Arthurs Pass, a road we had travelled way back in February, and were enjoying a holiday touring the North Island.
There are two of the original carriages on the train, one enclosed with plush leather seating; the other was an open truck with picnic tables down the centre. We were on the open truck, wonder if that was the second class carriage. In 1905 the Waihi Gold Mining Company lent the NZ Government £75,000 to finish the railway to Waihi after the project ran out of money. Finally opened in 1906, the railway became a vital link between Waihi and the rest of NZ. Our journey today is on the only remaining section of the heritage railway between Waihi and Waikino. It crosses a number of original bridges and meanders along the side of the Ohinemuri River and ends at the restored station buildings, now converted into a lovely café. Our fellow travellers vouched for the food here as they had stopped for lunch and enjoyed it, so we ordered coffee and home made muffins, before our return journey back, choosing once again to ride in the open carriage.
Once back at Waihi we walked up to the Martha Mine viewing platform, close to the old Cornish Pump house, now a feature of the town. This pump house was home to the two pumps which raised nearly 9 million litres of water per day from the mine workings. It was moved to its present position in 2005, by the mining company, when land subsidence from old underground workings caused it to begin tilting. The mine was one of the most important gold and silver mines in the world. By 1952, when the mine closed, around 5.6 million ounces of gold and 38.4 million ounces of silver had been produced from 11,932,000 tonnes of ore. A world wide resurgence in the gold mining industry in the 1970’s saw some prospecting and exploration work take place in Waihi, and in 1987 the mining licence for the Martha Mine was granted. Annually, approximately 1.3 million tonnes of ore is processed at the treatment plant just over 1 mile away. It was expected that the pit would reach its final depth of 810 feet in 2006 and the operation will have produced some $600 million worth of bullion. There is a walkway around the rim of the mine and from here I found myself looking into the biggest hole I have ever seen. Down near the bottom was a number of very large dumper trucks looking like dinky toys and some tiny dots walking about. After mining finishes a recreational lake and associated parklands will be created in and around the open pit.
It was now time to move, and we drove on SH 2 through the Karangahake Gorge to Paeora our stop for tonight. There are a number of walking trails in the gorge taking you through some of the old mining areas but it was now too late to do any today, so we will return tomorrow. Our stop tonight was at the Paeora RV Centre, another POP site for motorhomers, on the edge of the town. Paeora is the home to the big L & P bottle. L & P, or Lemon and Paeora, is a favourite soft drink of kiwi’s and was once made here until the factory was moved to Auckland. As you enter the town the welcome sign says “Home of L & P, world famous in New Zealand”. With the discovery of gold close by, Paeora became a thriving port on the banks of the Ohinemuri River. Heavy machinery was brought from Auckland and Thames to the town and then ten horse teams pulled huge wagon loads of machinery and coal to the processing batteries at Karanghake, then through the gorge to Waihi.
On Friday morning we drove back to the gorge, parked the van and we off on one of the many trails. We chose to follow the Windows Loop which would take us into the gorge and passed many of the old mining works and through some of the tunnels built to service the mines. It was an interesting walk in this quiet area which was once a very busy working environment for many miners. The path clung to the rock face and followed the river, at some places we went through tunnels high in the cliffs with the rail tracks still lying in their original settings. We had been told to take a torch with us to light our way in the tunnels, and we must have looked a comical sight with Jeff in front with the torch and me following behind hanging onto his coat in the pitch dark. Advice for anyone else doing this walk is to take two torches. The latter part of the walk passed by all the old buildings used to extract the gold and silver from the ore once out of the mine.
Once back at our van we prepared lunch and sat with our door open enjoying the sunshine. Another motorhome pulled in next to us and on looking up Jeff shot out of the door. I wondered what on earth had happened as I have never seen him move so quickly for a long time. He had seen the occupants of the motorhome and recognised them as Gerard and Enica, the people we were going to contact at Mt Maunganui, who we had met a couple of times before. They were on their way to Miranda Hot Springs, where with their family would celebrate a special birthday for Gerard. We had a chat with them and they informed us that the Central Bay of Plenty was holding a rally at Waihi Beach starting today, and we would be made very welcome if we wanted to join them. As the weather forecast is not good for this weekend, very heavy rain, we thought it would be a good idea to sit it out in some nice company, so that will be our destination for tonight. Gerard and Enica said good bye and they would see us again tomorrow as they would join the group for dinner.
After lunch we continued our journey through the gorge, stopping to view the Owharoa Waterfalls, before driving across the country back roads to Waihi Beach, just 7 miles east of Waihi. It is a small holiday town with a 6 mile stretch of ocean surfing beach. We did not have much trouble spotting the rally site, as perched up on a hill top as we entered the town was the RSL ( Returning Servicemen’s League) with its car park full of motorhomes, on the opposite side of the road, at the bottom of the hill was the overflow car park at the community centre. This was were we were based for the week-end. We signed in and were given a programme of the week-end activities and a parking slot, before heading for the bar.