Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 23, June 1979
By: Henry Rawle
You may have passed it on the way to Waihi and the eastern beaches, the 'whistle-stop' town left over from the old goldmining days. Nothing much to see after the grandeur of the Karangahake Gorge receding in the rear-vision mirror. Blink and you might never notice the ancient pub, the row of derelict shops.
That was Waikino seven years ago, or all you saw of it just driving through. The town itself is hidden in the hills, its quaint old houses nestling in the valleys or perched like alpine chalets on the wooded slopes. In those days you could have bought a house and half an acre for $5,000.
Things are different now. Houses are at a premium and people seldom drive straight through for there is much to see here nowadays and much to do.
Waikino's transition from its 'ghost town' image has been swift in recent years, starting from the time the first craft shop appeared and speeded by the housing boom of the ensuing years. Now a small community of art-lovers has settled in the town and opened up a treasury of art and history around the nucleus of the old Waikino Tavern.
Here, in the renovated shops, tourists can purchase a variety of artefacts produced by local craftsmen, from gemstone jewellery to kauri candlesticks. Visitors from overseas are not uncommon in Reilly's craft shop with its display of pottery and other souvenirs. One 'globe-trotter' recently bought a totara plaque carved in Waikino and took it home to Texas. But it is not only art-lovers who come to the former butcher's premises, many tourists call in for a 'cuppa' and the home-made fudge and scones for which the craft shop is becoming famous.
Along the road the one-time general store now stocks a different kind of merchandise. The wholesome tang of leather greets the visitor to 'Bit a Sole' which offers hand-tooled leather goods like sandals, hats and music satchels, silver jewellery and other items. Proprietor Steve Pardy plans to use adjoining ground for an outdoor museum and a children's playground by the riverside.
Nearby, the disused R.S.A. Hall has now been converted into the only tea rooms between Waihi and Paeroa. With parking at the rear this new amenity should prove a welcome haven for the jaded traveller.
For those with more selective thirsts the hotel beckons from across the road. Apart from the addition of conveniences the old Waikino Tavern is little changed since it was moved from Mackaytown in 1925. Its dim saloon retains the old-world atmosphere of bygone days, only the clientele is different. The hotel is noted for its collection of historic photographs and its links with sporting personalities of earlier times. Built in 1898 it flourished for ten years. No licence 1908-25, then moved to Waikino.
Students of the town's goldmining past will climb the short, steep hill to the Museum and browse amongst the miners lamps and implements. Housed in the former Karangahake School of Mines, the building is no less historic than its contents. Unique amongst the exhibits is the antique miner's paydesk and one of the cast iron 'dolly pots' used by old-time prospectors for crushing quartz.
The mechanically-minded will be well rewarded by a visit to an exhibition of vintage petrol engines further up the hill in Poland Street. The collection comprises over 40 of these ancient machines all restored to their original condition and many of them in working order.
Drive on up the Old Waitekauri Road if you have the time and view the scattered cottages of old Waikino sleeping in the sun. There won't be many 'House for Sale' signs nowadays.
On your way home through Karangahake Gorge linger a moment at the riverside picnic area. Across the road the new Gold-digger Gardens have taken shape on what was once a wilderness of gorse and blackberry. The paths and terraces are bright with flowering shrubs and the gardens feature fish ponds, waterfalls, a Barbeque area and a refreshment kiosk.
Across the river the ancient hills which once resounded with the awesome clatter of the Waikino [Karangahake – E] batteries look down upon the Gold Camp with its giant water wheel and gold panning race. Shadowed by majestic Karangahake Mountain the area is a happy hunting ground for rock hounds who can still unearth fragments of gold-bearing quartz along the banks of the Ohinemuri River.
The winds of change are stirring in Waikino but time means nothing in Karangahake Gorge.