To appreciate the sheer size of what must surely be New Zealand’s most dramatic hole, you need to head to Waihi on the Coromandel Peninsula, and start thinking in terms of football fields!
The open cast Martha pit mine, which sits dramatically at the edge of its quaintly wild-west-look host town, is totally deserving of a day trip – or even a night away. Prime yourself up for a visit by thinking of the hole’s dimensions like this: 10 football fields long, 6 wide, and over 2 deep – yes, you heard right! This is a seriously big dent in the earth, and what’s more, it’s totally ‘viewable’ thanks to a public walkway along its rim (those with vertigo will want to hold on to a companion while they take a peek!).
The mine, which began life in underground style, was named after a family member of its original owner William Nicholl, and dates back to the late 1800s. Significant for being one of the world’s most important gold and silver mines, activity there set Waihi fizzing – so much so that, in 1908, the town was the fastest growing centre in the country. The mine went from strength to strength, even during the depression, but when gold prices began to fall in the 1950’s, the struggle set in.
It wasn’t until the 70s and 80s, when gold prices began to rise again, that the concept of an open-pit mine was mooted, and in 1988 the hole began to take shape. Today, standing at the rim of the pit, the road ‘ledges’ which gave trucks and machinery access to the ever-deepening hole, are clearly visible. So too are the rock falls which eventually led to the close of the operation. The first (and more minor of the two) was in 2015, and was followed in 2016 by an even larger collapse of rock.
Although the closure of the mine also meant the decline of Waihi as a major centre, a visit to the town today is a step back in time. Start your journey by taking the short path to the rim of the hole to appreciate the sheer scale of the operation, then back track to the main street to check out the ‘Cornish Pumphouse’.
Designed to pump water out of the original underground mine, the Pumphouse was actually moved from its original site due to concerns about subsidence. Looking at the huge concrete structure today, it’s almost impossible to believe that all 1,840 tonnes of it was moved (along Teflon-coated beams) to its present position – and all so that future generations could marvel at it!
From the Pumphouse, follow your nose down Waihi’s gently sloping main street and breathe in the wild-west atmosphere created by old colonial buildings such as the Rob Roy Hotel with its stunning balconies, and the original wide-lumber-clad Public Library.
For an experience from a more recent era, pop into quaint Tutto Teas & Gifts , and enjoy the vintage furnishings and crockery while sip on an English Breakfast. It’s a great place to recharge the batteries before heading back to the Waihi Gold Discovery Centre (opposite the Pumphouse) for extra information, and possibly a tour.
However you do it, Waihi is a must-see!