The Karangahake Gorge, located right on North Island’s State Highway 2, is situated about halfway between the mining town of Waihi and Paeroa, best known for its lemon drink. At the confluence between the Ohinemuri River and its tributary, the Waitewheta, ditch the car and stretch those legs for a walk that allows you to experience New Zealand’s industrial heritage in a stunning natural setting.
There’s gold in them thar hills…
Karangahake was once one of the most prosperous gold mining areas in the country. Back in 1885, the Woodstock Gold Mining Company was formed and was keen to exploit the high grade ore in the region. At first, it was hard to mine as the ore was of a refractory type, but technology soon caught up and within a decade, the mine was able to turn a profit.
Discover the century-old remains of the mines
By the dawn of the 20th century, three companies were mining in the area: Crown, Talisman and Woodstock, soon to be taken over by its rival. Each needed to be able to crush huge quantities of rock to be able to process the ore and so the construction of three large batteries was undertaken. Today, a short walk across the river via a suspension bridge leads you to the ruined Woodstock and Talisman Batteries. In their short heyday, thousands of tons of ore were processed every year, but by 1918 the reserves were almost exhausted and the company shut down operations by 1920. Today’s tranquil site scattered with remnants of machinery and buildings offers little clue into the noise and bustle that would have characterised the area a century ago. The sounds of trickling water and the gentle fanning of tree ferns in the breeze are about as noisy as it gets these days.
The Karangahake Gorge Walks
The Windows Walkway trail
One of the popular Karangahake Gorge Walks is the Windows Walkway. Following this trail, hikers can head down right into the old gold mining tunnels. It’s a good idea to take a torch, though there are four openings in the tunnel which provide a window onto the impressive Waitewheta River down below and give the trail its name. The path descends via a staircase and back over the river by suspension bridge, looping back to the car park along the banks of the river. This walk takes you to the Woodstock Pumphouse where you can still see remains of the beam engine as well as glow worms.
The Rail Tunnel Loop
Next to the list of popular Karangahake Gorge Walks is the Rail Tunnel Loop. The Ohinemuri River cut a slice out of the landscape which was once exploited by the East Coast Main Trunk Railway. Following the Ohinemuri River away from the car park and crossing the Eastern Portal Bridge, the path takes you to the old railway tunnel. Lit for its 1.1 kilometre length and suitable for cyclists as well as pedestrians, this tunnel ends at the Western Portal Bridge, convenient for the car park. Each of these two walks takes around ninety minutes to complete.
You can book your accommodations in nearby towns if you’re planning to stay and explore the Coromandel Peninsula or the Bay of Plenty after doing the Karangahake Gorge walks.