Waihi markets itself as New Zealand’s “Heart of Gold”. As you drive up the main street, it’s immediately obvious why as the old pit machinery looms large as you approach the visitor centre and museum. What’s not so obvious until you park up, however, is that the town still plays host to a working mine.
A mine called Martha
Gold was first discovered in 1878. The Maori burial ground known as Pukewa Spur was found to contain gold-bearing quartz and it wasn’t long before it became the Martha Mine. William Nicholl marked out five acres of land, named it after a family member and had a battery built and operational within three years. Thirty years later, Waihi was the fastest growing town in the area. By the time it closed in 1952, Martha Mine had produced almost 175,000kg of gold. But that wasn’t the end of the story.
The Cornish Pumphouse
Opposite the Seddon Street Visitor Information Centre, the Pit Rim Walkway takes you past the Cornish Pumphouse. This imposing stone building was built in 1904 and housed the pumps that carried out the vital task of pumping out water from the gold seams. This steam machinery was used until 1914, but the introduction of electricity rendered it obsolete and the building became derelict by the 1930s. Underground mine workings threatened the stability of the Pumphouse and so in 2006, the entire building was relocated to its present site. It seems so at home, you’d never know it hadn’t always been there.
Visit the open cast mine
Continuing on the gravel path of the Pit Rim walkway, you soon reach the current Waihi gold mining site. Following the resurgence in gold prices in the 1970s, it was once again economically viable to mine for gold. The open cast mine that you see before you was first developed in 1987 and extended a decade later. The views from the pit rim are extraordinary, the huge trucks dwarfed by the immense size of the pit itself. Opened across the street from the mine in September 2014, the Gold Discovery Centre offers visitors an interactive experience. You can feel the shaking of the huge drill, sense the power of the explosives used to blast out the rock and hear stories from the people involved as part of a 3D theatre experience. The centre can also arrange tours to the mine, enabling you to go behind the scenes and discover the processes involved in gold mining. Tours run twice daily. Tickets for the Gold Discovery Centre cost $25 per adult and children enter for $12. If that’s whetted your appetite for learning more, there’s also an interesting museum display in the basement of the Visitor Centre; entrance is free.
Waihi Gold Mining: Gold Fest
October is Gold Fest month, featuring a wide range of activities for all the family to celebrate the Waihi gold mining heritage. Visitors and locals alike can ride the narrow gauge railway and participate in guided underground tours. Kids can pan for gold, go on a scavenger hunt or visit the amusements. A fireworks display is a highlight for all the family.
If you’re planning to visit the Waihi gold mining town this month, book your accommodation in Waihi now before it gets busy!