A golden opportunity awaits those heading toward the Coromandel Peninsula on State Highway Two. The Karangahake Gorge, between the townships of Paeroa and Waihi, features walkways offering a glimpse of goldmining history amidst dramatic scenery.
Gold was discovered here in 1875, sparking off the Coromandel’s first gold rush. Within weeks, thousands of miners, armed with pick and sluice pan, converged on the gorge, but their dreams of fame and fortune soon soured – traditional mining techniques of the independent miner were of little use on gold deeply imbedded in quartz rock.
Independent miners were replaced by large mining companies. Huge crushing and extraction batteries were built alongside the Ohinemuri River. Powered by steam or kauri wheels, they extracted gold and silver from quartz rock mined from the steep cliffs overlooking the river.
By the turn of the century, the Karangahake Gorge was an important Coromandel mining area. Three townships – Mackeytown, Karangahake, and Waikino – grew from the need to feed, shelter, and support the thousands of mining workers and their families.
Today it’s hard to believe that the gorge was such a hive of activity. The towns of Karangahake and Mackeytown have all but disappeared. At Waikino, all that remains are some old buildings lining the terrace overlooking the newly refurbished Waikino Visitors Centre.
The centre houses an extensive display of photographs and artifacts relating to Karangahake Gorge’s goldmining past, as well as information on current facilities and attractions in the area. The Centre also provides carparking facilities for those interested in doing any of the Department of Conservation walkways.
The walks are pleasant leg stretchers for those seeking a break in their travels up the Coromandel Peninsula. And it is along these walkways that the most interesting goldmining relics lie.
Following signposted walkways, visitors will come across a variety of rusted mining relics hidden among regrown native bush and visible beneath the clear waters of the Ohinemuri River.
Enormous foundation ruins of the gold extracting batteries sit alongside the walkways, serving as a spectacular reminder of the wealth of the Karangahake gold fields. During their short working life, these batteries extracted over half a billion dollars worth of gold from within the Karangahake mountains.
The shortest of the three walkways traces the old Paeroa-Waihi railway line (once used to transport coal and machinery) alongside the Ohinemuri River to the Owharoa Falls.
A slightly longer variation of this walk starts at the ruins of the Crown battery. Passing through the orginial bricklined railway tunnel, the walkway crosses the Ohinemuri River and State Highway Two via a railway bridge and then follows the river to the Owharoa Falls.
The third walkway, estimated at 45 minutes, is commonly called the Karangahake Loop. Beginning and ending at the old Karangahake town site, this walkway passes through the Woodstock and Talisman battery foundations.
An additional attraction to the area is the Goldfields Steam Train, which operates between Waihi and the Waikino Visitors Centre. The return trip, from either Waihi or Waikino, takes an hour and a half.