Waihi Borough Council Diamond Jubilee Booklet 1902-1962
By G. H. WORTH
When you look at the bare hills surrounding Waihi it is hard to visualise them covered in forest, but such was the picture eighty or so years ago. The virgin bush came down practically to the fringes of the town-to-be, with a beautiful stand of Kauri in the Waitete Valley, reputedly some of the biggest and best in the province, within a mile of the town.
With the advent of mining, timber became very important and before long gangs of bush workers were busy cutting all classes of mining timber. But the biggest inroads into the devastation of the forests was for firewood. In the early days of mining all steam was raised by firewood stoking and hundreds of tons weekly were used. I well remember stacks of firewood up to a quarter of a mile long at No. 1 and No. 2 Shafts and at the Union battery [he probably means the Waihi Battery on Union Hill – E]. A tremendous lot of firewood was also used in the kilns. In the dry crushing days, all quartz was roasted in kilns before going to the stamps. The idea was to burn the sulphur out of the quartz as sulphur was the bugbear of treatment and no other method of getting the sulphur out of quartz was known. Huge kilns were constructed and a layer of firewood and then a layer of quartz alternated until the kiln was full. The firewood was then ignited and the fires raged until the quartz was red hot. It was then allowed to cool and when ready was trucked to the stamps.
The first contractors to start operations in a large way were Walmsleys, whose men cut the forests to the north and north-east of Waihi and in a few years thousands of acres were denuded as practically everything was taken in a face and all New Zealand timbers will burn. Of course, a lot of timber was also used in the mine, in the way of props, slabs, poles and cribbing. The other big operator was Mr Pat Hogan, whose men cut out thousands of acres to the north-west and west of the town. The method of working was by low-level tramline to remove all bush on the lower slopes and by incline and top-level tramline to remove the balance of timber to the top of the range. Those were the days of good axemen and beautiful horses. Some of the best axemen in New Zealand worked in these forests and it was a treat to see them in action on Miners' Union Sports Day. Not for them the putty-like timbers of Poplar, "Kahikatea" or "Puketea." They generally chopped in eighteen-inch tawa, a fair test for any chopper, but I also remember them chopping in Mangaeo and Miro.
But the days of firewood-burning had to end. The bush was getting further away and scarcer. In the meantime the Waihi-Paeroa road was being improved and Clarkin's teams started to cart coal from Paeroa. It was a great sight to see teams of eight to sixteen horses passing through the town. The carting of coal went on until the railway from Paeroa was completed, when all coal for the Waihi Company came by rail to Waikino, where it was transferred to Waihi Company trucks and brought on by Waihi Company engines on the rake line and distributed where required. The company continued to use coal for all steam purposes, until given the green light by the Massey Government, it developed the Hora-Hora Hydro Station and a year or two later changed completely to electric-power.