Gold was first found in the Waikakaho in 1888. A gold rush ensued and this track explores the remains of those days.
Access is tricky after or during rain (see below)
From Picton follow Queen Charlotte Drive 21 km to Linkwater. Cullensville Road and the Waikakaho Walkway are signposted to the left. The unsealed road continues 2.5 km across a ford to an information panel at the start of the track.
From Waikakaho head to Tuamarina on SH1, 20 km south of Picton and 9 km north of Blenheim. Turn into Bush Road on the north bank of the Wairau. After 500 metres this bears left into Kaituna Tuamarina Road. After 5.5 km Waikakaho Road (Waikakaho Walkway is signposted) is on the right.
This unsealed road leads 9.5 km to a DoC sign, which explains that the public access to the walkway is over a legal road, but unmaintained. We would not trust your average family car on this road, especially after rain. If you want to play safe, park at the first gate and walk the 2 km to the signpost at the final carpark. This will add 30 minutes extra each way to the above time, but avoids the embarrassment of having to ask the farmer to haul you out. He has better things to do and would prefer his deer not to be disturbed in any case.
To start the track you will need to cross the bridge and follow the sign to the left through the gate.
If attempting the walk one way only, choose to start from the Waikakaho side, as this walk is through native forest and more scenic. This is also a mountain bike track, so be vigilant.
From Waikakaho the start of the track proper is also the start of the steady ascent. The old goldminers track initially follows the eastern face of the spur, crosses to the west then follows the ridge. It’s mainly red beech and kamahi forest with crown ferns on the floor. Occasional patches of tea-tree show where land was once cleared. Look for the stumps of trees felled by the miners to build the cableway.
After around 1 hour is a large bluff. Many a miners billy would have been brewed in the shelter. 20 minutes on is a signpost, on the left, to the Tower Site, a pit where the cableway tower foundations would have been. 15 minutes on a signpost on the left leads to the Loading Site, where there’s some unidentifiable remains. Further on, is the Level 3 adit entrance to the Southern Cross Mine. Back on the main track it’s around 10 minutes to the Village Clearing with stone chimneys and a collection of rusty artefacts. The grassy clearing is your best lunch spot. 10 minutes on is the upper level mine entrance. You have to veer right at the hairpin. The tunnels are dangerous to enter, unless you want to risk entombment and very wet feet.
The saddle is a further 20 minutes. Look for the stone culverts in the track.
The descent can be slippery.
From Cullensville, There’s a fascinating information panel with the story of Cullensville and some evocative black and white photos of the goldmining days. Wooden signs indicate the position of the town with landmarks such as the Theatre Royal, Grand National Hotel and post office.
The initial track section is over private farmland. Cross Cullen Creek - wet feet are avoidable with use of the stepping stones at low flow. The track passes through a gate and starts to climb an old goldminers trail, excavated between 1888 and 1893. In places it’s cut into the side of bluffs, with steep drop offs yawning below. Look ahead at the zigzags on the hillside way above, as this is where you’re headed.
After 30 minutes the track crosses Falls Creek then continues to climb to Whalers Creek. It’s mostly pine forest but views behind you eventually spy Linkwater and Grove Arm of Queen Charlotte Sound. Sometimes you can see and hear goats, effortlessly negotiating the steep rock faces and munching the native plants on the far side of the valley. Poles mark the two crossings of the unmetalled forestry road.
Higher up the watershed the track steepens and zigzags up the spur. It’s around 2 hours from the carpark to reach the native forest, a canopy of silver beech rustling in the wind. The track in now marked with orange triangles and 15 minutes later enters Mount Richmond Forest Park. Look for the red beech with buttressed roots a few minutes after the forest park sign.
15 minutes on is a small grass clearing with the remains of a stone chimney at the top. It’s 30 minutes sidling the ridge to reach the Waikakaho Saddle, with mountain cabbage trees in abundance. From the saddle, descend 20 minutes to the Village Clearing and stone chimney.
Gold was first found in the Waikakaho in 1888 by John Hart. As more discoveries were announced an almost constant string of claims led from the Waikakaho over the hill into Mahakipawa, later named Cullensville.
In 1891 the Ravenscliffe Company of London began the significant investments needed to mine and process the quartz ore, by constructing a 10-20 stamp battery in the Waikakaho. The machinery was driven by two Pelton wheels.
As most claims were up in the high hills, an aerial ropeway with numerous pylons conveyed buckets of ore down the valley. It was said to be the longest construction of its kind in the country.
Other newcomers started businesses to service the burgeoning population. A 26-room hotel, store and drapery provided services and the Ravencliffe School looked after the kids.
The rush however was short-lived any by 1894 the battery ceased operating.
On the other side of the hill at Cullensville, there was a similar story. Named after William Cullen, the first farmer in the valley in 1857, gold also put the place on the map. Following the discovery by Charlie Jackson and others in 1888, over 1,000 miners flocked to the town. Many claims proved profitable, including the King Solomon, Wairarapa and the Eureka.
Cullensville was a buzzing town with three hotels, five stores, Literary Institute, bank, courthouse, three bakers and a cordial factory. The Grand National and the Mahakipawa Central, known as the ‘Piggery’, were the main entertainment, along with cricket and football clubs, a shooting gallery and a bowling alley. Travelling entertainers realised there was good dollar to be made by touring here and one even arrived with a dancing bear. Cullensville also held an annual race meeting.
By 1889 over 40 claims were registered, but the rush was again short-lived. Although work continued intermittently until 1939, most activity had ceased by 1899.
South Island ▷ Marlborough ▷ Havelock
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Thanks to all the good people working for the NZ Department of Conservation - for all your hard work - making NZ more beautiful, accessable and healthy! Cheers 😍