Eleanor Hughes departs from Coromandel Town to follow in the footsteps of gold miners on a road trip, winding south to the River Thames, where the first great strike took place in 1867, and through Broken Hills and Karangahake Gorge to end up in Waihi, where mining continues today.
Township of Coromandel
The Coromandel School of Mines Museum is housed in the original school of mines, dating from 1898. As well as seeing artifacts from the kauri logging era, photographs of settlers, items appliances and tools dating back to the late 1800s, learn about the area’s gold history at the reconstruction of the entrance to Success Mines, complete with wagon and mining tools. A video shows the conditions in which the miners worked.
Back towards the city, take a look at the Coromandel Top 10 Holiday Park. The quaint cottage used for reception was once the office of the Hauraki Mining Company. The streetscape of one-storey buildings with verandas on the main road takes you back in time. Walk past the Star and Garter, initially a solicitor’s office where many mining concessions were signed, and the Analytical House – originally the BNZ bank, named after the brick buildings used as analytical facilities that stood behind it – and up to the Admiral Arms Hotel in operation since 1872, one of approximately 17 hotels in the city during the Gold Rush.
Why not leave Coromandel with your own gold? Hot Rocks Adventures offers scenic tours in a local river where you can learn all about the Driving Creek, Tokatea and Hauraki Hill mines.
Heading south, the winding coastal SH25 offers views of the Firth of Thames. Just before the Thames, a black-painted watercourse, which supplied water to stamping batteries in the days of gold mining, heralds the Goldmine Experience. Visiting the tunnels of the Golden Crown Mine here, where one character pushes a cart along wooden rails in the dark and another chisels the tunnel wall, gives a sense of mining life. Back in the light of day, watch the restored, thundering 19th-century punch battery in action and learn how gold particles were separated from silver and iron to become ingots. There’s lots of machinery, an audio-visual display of the early days of the Martha mine in Waihi, and historic photos of the Thames too. You’ll find recreations of huge flywheels and the original pumping quadrants still in place above a mine shaft at Bella Street Pumphouse, which pumped water from the gold mines. A photographic exhibit of the city in its heyday, plans of gold mine locations, and a working model of the mine pump and shaft are worth seeing.
Take a guided tour of the Thames School of Mines, where the old classroom and laboratory are portals to the past. The school was opened in 1886 and closed in 1954, desks and chairs remain facing the blackboard, the walls are lined with shelves of glass bottles and jars of solutions, old Bunsen burners and gas taps waiting to be used. The scales and tools used to test the gold content remain in the analysis room. The Mineralogical Museum, built in 1900, houses hundreds of labeled rock specimens in a room with 1950s decor in pale blue, green and pink. Outside is a cage that was used to transport men down a mine shaft.
Still called Grahamstown, one of two towns that merged around 1874, the northern end of the Thames is dotted with Gold Era buildings. Take to the streets to discover the A&G Price Ltd foundry – a huge corrugated iron and wooden plank structure where gold mining equipment was made – large two-story hotels on Brown St, some of the largest of 100 that operated during the Peak gold mining, old cottages and original storefronts of Pollen St.
Heading towards Tairua on SH25A, arrive at Broken Hills, accessible via Puketui Valley Rd, where gold was discovered in 1896. In 1912 the site was a bustling gold mining colony. The regenerating bush now hides a number of relics.
For a short walk, park at the bridge parking lot to access the Broken Hills Battery Parkway, which leads to the brick foundations of a water-powered punch battery and past a low mine opening. The walk joins Gem of the Boom Loop, through quiet bushland to a flat area where a settlement used to be. A rocky alcove nearby was the prison.
Park at the end of the road, pass Doc Campground and take the Water Race Tunnels track through three water race tunnels, or for a hike of about 3 hours (steep in places) add the Collins Tunnel 500m drive. Pitch black is like an Indiana Jones setting with barricaded mine shafts, weta caverns and glowworms. Rusty hopper tracks are thrown nearby. Be sure to take a torch; ultraviolet light will detect ore, pitting red and green.
Back on SH26 and heading south towards Waihi, you will pass through the scenic Karangahake Gorge. Stop at the Karangahake Estate parking lot for the easy 1-hour Windows Walk loop. Gold was first discovered here in 1875 and today there are many information boards and gold mining relics such as the remains of the Talisman battery, old machinery and a tram carriage rust. Follow the old tram tracks through dark, low-ceilinged mine shafts where windows carved into the rock face, used to dump tailings into the Waitawheta River gorge far below, provide some daylight and views of the narrow gorge and the Crown Walkway hugging the opposite, austere cliffside. A swing bridge crosses the river to allow a return along the walkway.
The apartment, about 13 km, 4 hours round trip, Historic Walkway to Waikino, also starts from here. A section of the Hauraki Rail Trail, it can also be cycled and follows the old railway line that ran from Paeroa to Waihi. A torch is required – it begins with a dark journey through the 1.1km Karangahake Tunnel. Following the scenic Ohinemuri River, the trail leads to Victoria Battery built in 1897 to crush quartz. There are information panels detailing the history and operation, and among the remains are those of the punch mill, cyanide tank foundations, and ore kilns. The Victoria Battery Tramway Society offers underground tours of the kilns and the site by narrow-gauge tram. A museum features historic photographs, ore stampers and gold mining equipment.
Located in the old Waikino Station, the Waikino Station Cafe, a short walk away, is a good stop to rest and refuel before returning, or cyclists can continue on the Hauraki Rail Trail to Waihi. Goldfields Railway also offers a fun 30 minute train ride to Waihi from here.
Complete through the story of gold in Waihi. The town came into existence after the discovery of gold in 1878 and continues to be mined at Martha Mine. The Gold Discovery Center features interactive exhibits on modern mining and takes visitors back in time with models of ancient Waihi to learn about the town’s gold history. It’s easy to waste about an hour here and an additional two hours on a tour of the mine learning about its workings and mining processes.