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Broken Hills, as the name suggests, was formerly a thriving goldfield. Following the discovery of gold in 1893, the Broken Hills Goldmining Company acquired various claims. The legacy of these past operations is still in evidence, and is easily accessible via a network of walking tracks.
The area contains many old adits (horizontal mining tunnels), including the 500 metre Collins Drive Tunnel. Broken Hills offers frequent opportunities to cast the imagination back to a time when the hills were mined. It also provides a poignant reminder that human exploitation of natural resources is transient, and once human activities cease, natural processes are always there to claim back the remains.
A water-powered stamper battery began crushing ore in 1899. It produced 51,000 ounces of gold, worth (at 2011 bullion prices) around NZ$100 million! Sixty people were employed at peak production. The rusting ironmongery seen on the path was once the blacksmith’s shop. The track continues past the mine to connect with the walking track to Golden Hills Battery.
Access to Broken Hills is via Morrisons Road, which starts from opposite the Pauanui turnoff at the Hikuai service station (19 km south of Tairua and 27 km north of Whangamata). After 1 km, just before crossing the Tairua River, turn left onto Puketui Road. Broken Hills is 6 km along the unsealed road.
From the Bridge Carpark, access is on the left at the signposted junction, 5-minutes after the start of the Golden Hills Battery Walk. Alternatively, take the path to the right at the beginning of the Gem of the Boom Creek Walk.
Maps of the tracks are placed around the area as a guide. These should be closely referred to, as the track network can be complicated to decipher.
The path is wide, metalled, even and signposted. After approximately five minutes it bears sharp left and turns back on itself just before the battery site.
Between 1896 and 1914, the Broken Hills Mine produced over 50,000 ounces of gold. A water-powered stamper battery began operation in 1899 to crush the ore. The track follows the old tramway that transported the unprocessed ore.
Puketui Road heads inland from SH25, following the old road used to access the goldmines in the Broken Hills area. Above the green pastures of the valley floor, the regenerating vegetation draws a dark green hue over the precipitous hillsides. This is a hidden and enchanted valley, which glimpses the work of Coromandel’s fiery volcanic legacy. Bulbous hilltops contrast with the serrated Pinnacles, towering nearly 800 metres above you and piercing the skyline. Skeletons of kauri trunks stand ghost-like on the ridges and the low vegetation hides the ravages of previous logging.
Arriving at the DoC campground beside the idyllic Tairua River there is no hint that the chuckling waters were once drowned by the clang and clatter of heavy stampers crushing ore. Nor is there any immediate evidence of the battery buildings, tramways and mine workings. Further exploration along the extensive track network, however, tells a different story and hints at the naming of Broken Hills.
Perusing the details of goldmining at Broken Hills reads like a catalogue of frustration. Despite massive investment at the Broken Hills claim and the Golden Hills claim, little reward was ever accrued.
Claims were first pegged in 1895, two years after the discovery of gold in the vicinity. A sample of one ton of quartz was sent to the Thames School of Mines and yielded 57 ounces of bullion valued at £69. A London syndicate put up the capital to work the Broken Hills claim in 1896 and outlaid significant quantities of money to open up the mine, lay tramways and purchase a battery from England. But due to poor initial returns, it suspended operations before the battery had been constructed.
In 1899, the claim and plant were sold at auction to H.H. Adams, who bid on behalf of the Tairua Broken Hills Goldmining Company. They continued the efforts to establish the infrastructure and extended the low-level adit. Development work was also carried out on Blucher, Western Number 1 and Night Reefs. Their dwindling efforts were saved in 1901 when high grade ore was discovered, which kept operations profitable until 1909. The introduction of the cyanide process substantially increased returns, so by 1909 3,379 tons of ore had been processed for a return of around 51,012 ounces of bullion, valued at £89,036.
The Broken Hills Battery held 20 stamps, facilities for mercury amalgamation and a cyanide plant. The original work engine was powered by steam, but replaced after 1901 by a Pelton wheel. This was driven by a 3.3 km long water race sourced from a dam higher up the watershed.
The Golden Hills workings commenced around 1907, following the positive returns from the Broken Hills mine. The Tairua Golden Hills Goldmining Company formed and sought a profitable reef situated on an elevated hillside above the western flank of the Tairua River. Three horizontal tunnels (adits) were driven through the hillside, including the 500-metre-long Collins Drive tunnel. Eventually after crushing 4,670 tons of ore, around 3,671 ounces of bullion were recovered, valued at £6,495
A further battery was also constructed by the Tairua Triumph (Taniwha) Goldmining Company near the Third Branch, south of the main workings.
In 1920 J.M. Agnew resumed mining, but his efforts went largely unrewarded. Those of the Wealth of Nations Syndicate in the late 1920s followed a similar fate. Operations then ceased, apart from a misguided government project to construct a battery near Falls Creek in the hope of prospecting for more gold in the 1930s.
Descending from the lookout reaches the western entrance of the Collins Drive Tunnel, complete with the timber structures holding the ceiling solid. You will need a torch as this cross-cut tunnel is around 500 metres long. Near the eastern portal the boarded up accesses to other stopes show how the main tunnel was splintered to follow lucrative reefs. In this case, however, the task was fruitless and little payable ore was derived from this extensive construction project.
Near the eastern exit, the Third Branch Track heads right to piles of rusting machinery. The Water Race Track follows the line of the old water race, which fed the Pelton wheel at the Golden Hills Battery. The cuttings and tunnels would have been lined with wooden planks, derived from in situ timber. At the conclusion of the track, a short detour at Falls Creek shows the concrete pad that the Government Battery sat on.
Numerous old adits delve into the hillside close to the tracks and some can be explored for a short distance. Occasional breaks in the vegetation, especially by the tunnel exits on the Water Race Track, are suitable points to stop and imagine how the area teemed with activity as the hillsides were excavated in search of the buried treasure.
North Island ▷ Coromandel ▷ Tairua
Worth the effort.
Lovely little walk through the old goldmines, lots of cave wildlife weta and glowworms. Great lookout point at the top.
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Thomas and Sonja
A different kind of walk, eg loop through a 500m long tunnel.
Nice place, and the walk through the cave is really nice, however it needs more information about the different tracks available. (Don't forget to bring a light.)
Short walk with not too many remnants of the gold mining days. Nice enough bush walk all the same, good wide level paths.
Fantastic, easy walk . We had 3 small children with us (5 and under) and it was perfect for them (as well as a great adventure). Didn't take anywhere near the 20 mins shown on the signpost. It would be great if more historic information was provided on signposts as it really is a very interesting place.
Two hour walk with a lot of things to see, you need a torch - it is like an adventure.
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 😍