Waihi Mill Stream Heritage
(Reproduced courtesy of Waihi Walkways)
The area traversed by Mill Stream Walkway was extensively modified over the period of the activity of the Waihi Mill - from 1888 to its closure c.1913. The stream, which sourced its waters from the flanks of Pukewa (Martha Hill) had gathered into a small gully, then wound its way, most likely through bush, to meet the Ohinemuri River near the bottom of Clark Street.
When the Ohinemuri District was opened as a goldfield in 1875 the subsequent gold recovery practices and techniques were heavily reliant on water – as a source of power and for various processing requirements. Water races, dams and flumes were built to capture water and bring it to site; channels and drains were excavated to capture and divert it away. The Ohinemuri River was the ultimate recipient of battery tailings.
Some of the features to be found along Mill Stream Walkway are subtle ground contour requiring close observation; others are easily identifiable and most are part of the role the area played in its juxtaposition to the Waihi Mill on the side of Union Hill.
We invite you to study the maps, photos and script carefully to gain understanding of the area, and, of course, to make an on-site visit.
The base of Union Hill was the site of the "Waihi Battery" or "Waihi Mill", constructed by the Waihi Gold Mining Company in 1888. In 1890 it started processing ore from Martha Mine. At 90 stamps in 1894 it was the largest in New Zealand at the time.
Much of the foundations of the stamper buildings and engine house still exist.
The hill itself has been extensively mined by a succession of mining concerns.
At the time of the Waihi Mill, our modern Eastern Stream was known as "Mill Stream". The stream was dammed just below Barry Rd, then channelled and flumed, first to the Waihi Mill, then the Cassel plant, and later back to the Waihi Mill. The remaining water (if any) and surface run off further down the valley, was caught in diversion channels (or cut-off drains), to keep the water out of three large impoundments which the Waihi Gold Mining Company had established to save their tailings.
Sections of Mill Stream Walkway make use of this diversion channel, and the walkway crosses over, or through, all three tailings embankments.
Mill Stream has been shifted from its original course over virtually the entire length of the Mill Stream Walkway.
Where the stream now runs between Barry Road and Clarke Street is largely hand cut, sometime since the closure of the Waihi Mill in 1913. Where the stream originally ran is now difficult to see, but early maps put the lower section of stream in the small valley in the paddock below Union Hill, where the new tailrace entered it, and the upper section to the west of Speak's Quarry.
Additionally, the area became host to three power pylons bringing electricity to Martha Mine from Horahora. This was the first hydro-electric dam on the Waikato River and a significant forerunner of the development of hydro-electric power throughout New Zealand.
Waihi Walkways began the development of Mill Stream Walkway for enjoyment of the natural ambience of the area. It is only subsequently, through detailed research, that we have discovered the "hidden meaning" behind some of the more unusual features, eg the Cascades, the Gorge, the drains.
The walkway traverses land administered by Department of Conservation, a portion by Hauraki District Council, and a small portion per favour of Waihi Sport (Tennis and Squash Clubs).
Waihi Walkways is committed to ongoing environmental rehabilitation of the area which had lain abandoned for many years. The area had become overwhelmed by many invasive weed species; the stream was severely congested with logs and inorganic rubbish. Many hundreds of volunteered hours have already been donated to this area – more will be.
We wish to acknowledge PowerCo and Valder Ohinemuri Charitable Trust for their kind sponsorship to enable research and interpretation of the area.
The complete story, with maps and photographs, is available at: http://www.waihiwalkways.org.nz/heritage/millstream/introduction.htm.
Don't forget the brochure (pdf, 526kb).