Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 32, September 1988

By C J Gwilliam


PERIOD: 1875 onwards

LOCATIONS: Karangahake, Waitekauri, Owharoa

[sadly there is considerable confusion contained in this article - E]

Since the Ohinemuri District was one of the longest lived, if not the largest reef-mining area in the North Island, the writer will attempt to describe early procedures in regard to the driving power necessary for the Battery machinery.

Karangahake will be the starting point, since this spot marked the opening of the Ohinemuri Goldfields.

First of all, it must be recalled that the very first location of gold here was in a loose form, and it was this which brought the rush of prospectors from as far a field as the deep South. However it was not the alluvial type that many of these men knew so well, they having been used to working in the river beds of the Southern rivers, and some even as far off as the Klondyke in U S A.

It was not until some of the hundreds who had crossed the river at Mackaytown in 1875 made their way higher up to the craggy skyline that the source of this loose gold among the fern roots was revealed in the outcrops of quartz reef. These were the luckiest men, and it was from their findings that the various Mining Companies came into production.

Talisman, Crown and Woodstock were the three largest to prepare the breaking out and treatment of ore from various reef systems. This meant the erection of large buildings to house the machinery, copious supplies of water to feed the steam boilers for driving power, as well as form a "man-made alluvial process'' in order to save the precious gold and to by-pass the sands sea-ward.

I state "man-made" because the gigantic nature of this type of treatment was far beyond one plain man and his pan in the bed of a creek, for now we are going to deal with hundreds of tons per day, not a couple or so of barrow-loads. From where comes the water?

"Talisman's" first supply came from a low dam in the Waitawheta River almost beneath the line of the old aerial [ropeway or aerial tramway – E] that crossed from No. 8 adit. This water drove a turbine (later two). As the Battery grew in size, another dam was built at a higher elevation much further upstream, and races and flumings passed the supply downwards practically on the route of the present Paeroa pipeline [this was a water race belonging to the Crown company; it powered a 7ft Pelton wheel inside what is now known as the "Crown Stope". It drove an air compressor, the air used in the Crown mine. – E]. The extra supply served the steam boilers which powered Mill machinery as well as Air Compressors for the Mine.

"Crown's" first supply came from a dam situated in Scotsman's Gully, not far above the old "Comstock" adit, and travelled along the hillside to the Crown Battery [I don't think so – E]. Later, when this Company changed to cyanide treatment, (the first to do so in New Zealand) much more water was required and some arrangement was made for part use to Talisman's [No. The Crown's second plant took water from the Ohinemuri at a dam just downstream from the eastern rail tunnel portal – E].

"Woodstock" built a dam across the Ohinemuri River, just upstream of the east end of the railway tunnel. In the beginning the water travelled by a large pipeline down the far bank of the river, but the upper portion was flood -prone and following its destruction by a massive flood in 1906, it was resited on the roadside bank down as far as the Bluff where it crossed the river by a flood-free bridge to join the original route down to the Battery at the confluence of the two rivers [I don't think so. The pipe was positioned this way from the outset – E].

The writer remembers that flood well for he watched a wall ofwater come down Scotsman's Cully and wipe away all the stacked mining timber and the whole of the tiphead of the Comstock workings.

The Woodstock Battery was destroyed by fire after the writer moved to Waitekauri. The Talisman Company took over its mining area which lay beneath its own upper levels as well as the Taukani holdings.

Waitekauri is the next location.

It was here that the first really rich find was located, a matter of hours before the reading of the Goldfields Opening Proclamation by J Mackay.

Certain prospectors, weary of the delay in opening the field, made their own way secretly from Paeroa via the western bank of Tarariki Stream, up and over the hill. It was near the top of the peak (similar to Karangahake Trig) that they struck a rich find, an out-cropping reef. It was too high up to build a large treatment plant, and eventually a small one was built on a flat area down beside the Huranui [Huanui – E] Stream. As the size of the 'find' increased, it called for a larger plant. "Waitekauri Gold Mining Company" was formed and more water was wanted. So a small dam, a little way up stream served to supply enough to pass down and across to a massive over-shot water wheel. This first powered a saw-mill to supply the building timber, as well as to run the early pre-cyanide workings.

Numerous other 'finds' in the close proximity, which included 'Alpha', 'Durbar', 'Grace Darling' and 'Golden Cross' caused the Waitekauri Company to enlarge again in the hope of using the one plant for all.

"Golden Cross" was the first to make a move in this direction and built a tramline right down the valley for nigh on five miles.

More water and power would be needed, so the Waitekauri Company put in a small dam some three miles up the main river [Waitekauri River – E], excavated a water-race right down to the Battery. The height of fall powered a twin pelton wheel. Ore from "Golden Cross" was brought down, kiln-dried, crushed and treated for a year or two until the cost of up-keep of the long tramway decided them to build their own Battery.

The loss of this, plus the fact that the other claims, beforementioned, did not co-operate, put the Waitekauri Company on a limited intake of ore after changing over to the new cyanide treatment process. Around 1900-1901 the Waitekauri Company closed down and the township began to move away.

Soon the Golden Cross Company ran into trouble when their shaft at river level failed through seepage. They put down another shaft higher up on the hill-siding but it went to no great depth before the Company closed down. Had they continued driving towards the old 'Hippo' and Maratoto, who knows what they would have struck?

New Companies were formed at both old sites around 1906 and 1910 respectively, but costs and man-power shortage at the beginning of the 1914 war saw the end of these ventures.

Owharoa - "Rising Sun" and "Golden Dawn".

Here we have another bad luck story, and once again to do with water.

A reef system cuts through the country in almost a direct line from Karangahake Trig to Waitekauri and Golden Cross, crossing rail and Ohinemuri River at the site of the old "Rising Sun" and "Golden Dawn" batteries.

"Rising Sun Company" put down a shaft between the roadside and the river bank and built a battery there. Some good ore was brought up and treated. Soon heavy water seepage occurred so they drove in to the hillside a little lower downstream, located the reef and sank a shaft in there. Over expense on this change and the end came for the "Sun". However they did have luck at first regarding water power, for their supply came along the opposite hillside from the Owharoa Falls down and across to the Battery. Later the "Golden Dawn Company" was formed and took over the mine, built a new treatment plant on the old site with the object in view of repairing and using the original supply of water from the Falls.

Objection to this use was made by the Waihi Martha Company [Waihi Gold Mining Company – E], who were eyeing them for additional supply to the Victoria Battery at Waikino, also in the process of enlargement.

So the "Dawn" lost out, and had to install electric power which, even in those days, was far too expensive. It was this, not lack of ore, that put an end to Owharoa mining [not sure about this – E].

Some may say, "But look into the Waihi Company's move into Hydro-electric Power, was it not profitable?"

Yes, of course it was to a Company which had such masses of ore right under its feet, so it built a Power Plant for itself at Hora Hora on the Waikato River.

That calls for another paper!