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|Touring New Zealand 2012 part 8|
It was then on from Hokitika to Greymouth - a town seeming to offer little other than campsites in the correct place for an overnight stop. This time we stopped 6 km before the town to try out the South Beach Kiwi Holiday park. We rang both that and the Top Ten we had used before and the Kiwi was $10 cheaper and sounded much more friendly over the telephone. They had excellent central facilities and it was a reasonably large room with kettle and toaster included and a big table outside. With discount it was $45 which was not bad for such a cabin. We had found a voucher on the back of one our supermarket receipts for two large Domino Pizzas for $14.99 so we chose not to cook and had enough left over for the basis of a meal the following day.
In the morning we passed through Greymouth only briefly pausing to buy stamps. Our first proper stop was at arguably one of New Zealand's most important early industrial sites - the Brunner Mining Site, coal mining I should quickly add! There is a historic suspension bridge leading to the main site with many remaining artefacts and tunnels including the remains of a large group of coking ovens. The bridge has been restored and is now open, but only for pedestrians. The site is a Historic Places Trust site and well documented and with a short trail round the site and a longer one which we did which went as far as the Pig and Whistle Mine and the St Kilda drive. The Brunner mining area used to produce a high percentage of New Zealand's coal just before the turn of the century. The Brunner mine is however best know for New Zealand's worst mining disaster in 1896 when an explosion and poisonous fumes killed every single worker underground at the time, totally 58.
We continued and took a side road to see the small village of Blackball. There are also a set of information boards sited at the junction with the main road which cover the history of the village and local area back to the goldmining days and they also described some walks and tracks in the immediate area. Blackball would now qualify as a ghost town if it did not have the well known Blackball sausage, salami and black pudding works - not surprisingly we bough two half salamis when we got there. There is also an old hotel, the Blackball Hilton which is full of interesting pictures of past and present including a lot about the Pike River disaster a couple of years ago. We paid the price of viewing them with very indiferent fish and chips and a much better half of Miners dark ale. There is a small exhibition and boards next to the Blackball Hilton set up for the 100th anniversary of the crib strike of 1908 which led to the formation of the Labour party in New Zealand.
We tried one of the walks described on the boards - the Water Race track which starts at the old water tower. We followed the initial part OK although it was very overgrown but could not find the entry into the beech woods - we should have turned sharp left at the start of the steep descent but there was no obvious track. Perhaps we should have persevered more but the ground was very rough and invisible under vegitation. Blackball was founded round coal mining and we went a short distance up the road towards Roa where one can walk round the site of the major mine - the ventilation equipment is still present and some of the shafts .
As we had been approaching Blackball on the main road we had noticed what looked like one of the old Gold Dredges sitting in a paddock at the side of the river and we had paused to take some pictures. Whilst in the Blackball Hilton we enquired about it and were told that one could drive down the access road opposite to the road to Blackball and get a closer look. We drove down a rough road marked as public but unmaintained until we came to a choice of a deep ford or gated access to the site. We paused to talk to a member of the Dredge team who came to see us in a Ute. It was obvious we could not continue in the van and but he was very helpful and suggested we contacted the owner and boss of the operations, Allan Birchfield to see if we could arrange an official visit. We did some research in the evening and this what we found.
The dredge is the 'Kanieri', a 3,500 tonne gold dredger which is one of the few bucket-line gold dredges still operating in the world today and is the last of its kind on the West Coast. The 'Kanieri' has had a distinguished career since beeing built in 1938 for the Kaniere Gold Dredging Company. It was built on an existing pontoon but the superstructure was built by an Australian company, to the design of a leading American dredge designer. By 1953 the dredger had recovered 175,000 oz of gold from the Hokitika area after which it had been moved to the Taramakau River north of Hokitika where it had extracted a further 202,000 oz by the time it ceased operation in 1978. The 'Kanieri' was then laid up and a major refit was undertaken at a cost of NZ $30 million. Unfortunately after the refit the dredger did not work well and combined with unsatisfactory gold prices it meant that the Australian owners went out of business.
In 1990 the 'Kanieri' was bought by Allan Birchfield and the main mechanical parts were salavaged and rebuilt onto a new 'pontoon using New Zealand expertise and incorporating modern electronic technology. After this major refit it worked successfully for twelve years at Ngahere before once again being laid up in 2004 as it was not economical to opperate with the gold prices at the time. As gold prices rose above US$ 1,000 per oz level the viability of dredging for gold was once more positive and the 'Kanieri' was again put to work in 2009 after another refit partially paid for Development West Coast through a business loan to Birchfield Minerals Ltd. The loan of $2.2 million saw the upgrade of the mechanical and electrical systems of the dredge enabling dredging of the wide gold-bearing gravel flats of the Grey River near Ngahere to recommence in 2009. The dredge was then moved to the north western side of the Grey River where it is now mining the area near where the Blackball Creek and Ford Creek join the river. The estimates were a producion of 7,800 fine ounces of gold annually. Recently the Mining Permit (41933) has been increased in size from 873 hectares to 1032 hectares due to an extension of acreage on the north eastern bank of the Grey River near Blackball and at the southern end of the permit towards Stillwater. The recoverable reserve of the new expanded permit area is about 200,000 oz of gold compared with 170,000 oz for the previous area. Fully operational, the dredge employs 18 people over 2 shifts, plus sub contractors, and injects nearly $10 million annually into the West Coast economy at today’s price of NZ$1,200 per ounce. For how long the 'Kanieri' can keep operating depends on the price of gold, the costs of maintaining the dredge and politics.
The latest situation depends on who one speaks to - the staff on the site say it is undergoing maintenance. However reports in the papers imply that various inappropriate regulations are being brought to bear to halt operation despite the outlay DWC put into it. Apparently the council have chosen to designated the dredge as a "building" and demanded its owners apply for a new resource consent, including a clause about limiting noise emissions. Grey District Mayor Tony Kokshoorn said it was sad to see the dredge close but it was not the district council's fault as the council had a duty to ensure all activities complied with the Act. Perhaps it is because the firm is New Zealand owned whilst all other major goldmining operations have foreign ownership and have more clout and know how to play the game by paying into all the local charities etc. One trusts they will apply the same rules to the dredges keeping there river open and free of floods. Perhaps they will do the same to cruise ships visiting NZ, some of those could be confused with buildings.
Back from our aside on the Kanieri dredge, we next passed the end of the Moonlight Creek which was dredged at the very start of the 1900s. Last time we came this way we attempted to go up Moonlight Road alongside the Moonlight Creek to Middletown past an area of gold workings initially found by George Moonlight in 1865. The goldfield was initially very prolific and known for large nuggets then continued on steadily - gold bearing reefs were found in the area and a stamper was installed in 1868 with little success. However sluicing kept the fields operating and as late as 1916 a 87.5 oz nugget found. We found the road was very narrow and not well formed and the area where dredging was supposed to have taken place was heavily overgrown so after about 5 kms we turned back. We later found we should have continued a little further to a parking and picnic area 6 kms from the road - Middletown would have been an additional 4 kms making 10 from the main road. This time we paused at the junction to the main road where there was a picnic area and an old hydraulic monitor on display.
We next made the side trip (18km each way) to visit Waiuta, now a ghost town but the site of the last and richest gold discovery in South Island. 4 prospectors found the 'Birthday Reef' on Edward VII's birthday in November 1905 and sold it to a speculator for 2000 pounds, he spent a little more proving its potential and sold it to the London based Consolidated Goldfield Company for 30,000 pounds and it took three years until it was fully operational - a big difference to the rushes in Otago where thousands of people would arrive in days of a new discovery and move on within months, or even weeks, to the next find. It was a huge operation continuing till 1951 and over 730,000 oz of gold was extracted from about 1,500,000 tons of quartz ore.
A complete model mining village was set up at Waiuta (Maori for Blackwater) to support the operation with a population of 600, hospital, school, post office, churches, bowling green, library, hotel, clubs and police station in addition to a wide range of shops. Even so it could be a boring life and the row of houses between the hospital and the school containing many of the young families became know as Incubator Alley - at one point five families living there had 54 children between them. Many of the roads were made from mullock and if not paved with gold are at least flecked with it.
The mine became the deepest in New Zealand and 17 levels were opened up first from The Blackwater shaft and latter operations were switched to the nearby Prohibition shaft. The final depth was 879 metres, more than a third below sea level. For most of the mines life the quartz was taken from the main shaft along an adit to the banks of the Snowy River where a huge water wheel powered battery of stamps extracted the gold. The pulverised ore was washed over copper tables covered with mercury and large vats of cyanide were used to extract gold missed in the initial processing - all very healthy activities as was breathing quartz dust from drilling for the explosives to be inserted. Once the main activity had shifted to the Prohibition shaft a new and modern extraction plant was built at Prohibition, the most advanced at the time in New Zealand. This used Ball Mills to grind the ore instead of Stamper batteries and an oil flotation system to save fine gold. The overall extraction efficiency reached 98%.
In 1951 there was still enough rich quartz to continue operation for many years however production was forced to stop when the Blackwater shaft suddenly collapsed. It was not in use for materials or personel but was a vital part of the ventilation and pumping system and water and poisonous gasses rapidly entered and spread to the Prohibition workings. The closure of the mine also quickly led to the end of the model mining town at Waiuta and most of the buildings, as well as the equipment, were rapidly removed. Today only 5 cottages remain along with countless relics at Waiuta, the Snowy Battery and the Prohibition Mine and Ball Mill site.
The remains of the Waiuta township, Blackwater Mine and the Prohibition Mine are all adjacent and easily accessible. There are many walking tracks in the area. It merits several hours to fully investigated the township which has many display boards showing how it used to. Much has disappeared but there are, for examples a flat patch on the top of the mullock tip where the bowling green used to exist - the private hedge is now high tress and the steps and base of the veranda of the pavilion remain along with the fireplaces and chimney breasts. The remains of the boilers and chimney stand but the engines and Poppet head are no more. It is however possible to find traces most of the buildings.
Having walked round Waiuta township we drove on out to the Prohibition Mine and Ball Mill - a 3km narrow and rough road. There are many more artefacts however much of the area is now fenced off as there are traces of all sorts of noxcious chemicals left over from the processing plant. There are more boards revealing fascinating insights into the operations although we could not find the ones on, for example the lifting engines which must ahve been inside the fenced off area. The lifting engines had all sorts of safety features and control on the winding gear when men were being hauled up or down but operation with ore was 4 times faster when they were over-ridden which was done on a regular basis for ore. The power came from an AC-DC converter with a huge flywheel capable of storing sufficient energy for two complete 'lifts'. The generator and flywheel took 40 minutes to come up to speed and 'liquid' rheostats were used during running up - plates were slowly lowered into large underground electrolyte tanks, a technology I have never met before.
All the drilling used compressed air tools and one of the enormous riveted pressure tanks is still present. Before the Ball mill was installed the ore was sent to the Snowy River Stamper Battery using an arial ropeway and there were pictures of it in operation. We have saved the tramp to the Snowy Battery for a future trip but it is reputed to have even more artefacts and in a better condition.
We continued to Reefton, a town steeped in Gold Mining History as well as being the first town in New Zealand to have electric lighting. We have previously done the short Power Station loop walk over a swing bridge and along the water race and examined the site of the power generation station - this was one of the earliest use of hydroelectric power. Initially a Pelton Wheel was installed to drive a 70 hp turbine fed from a water race from upstream driving a 20 Kwatt generator supplying 500 lights during the evenings with an extension to the supply on Tuesday mornings to allow electric irons to be used.
We stayed in a simple cabin in the camp site on the local domain. The facilities were adequate but old and we only paid $45 for the cabin for the two of us for the night, they will probably rise when the updates are complete. Once we were installed we went down to the information centre and picked up a few extra leaflets to supplement our already large collection from previous visits. Reefton and its information centre is a good place to start a look at the Goldmining activities in the West Coast area. They have a collection of books, maps on information boards showing the walking tracks, a simulated Quartz mining operation and a restored and Holman Steam Winding Engine circa 1895 which served in several local mines including the Wealth of Nations Gold Mine ended its working life in the Surprise Coal Mine. The winding engines were used to lower and raise men and equipment and raise the quartz ore and 'mullock' the waste rock.
The Goldmining activities which surround Reefton were largely quartz mining and extraction of gold from the quartz ore. Some initial alluvial (free) gold started rushes to the area but mostly it the gold was found in veins of quartz, some very long lived and deep. These could clearly not be extracted by single miners or even small teams and the development was later than that in alluvial fields and continued much longer. It is worth noting that the West Coast also has many coal mines allowing plentiful fuel for steam engines to power the Stamper batteries whilst other Gold Fields depended more on water powered equipment using Pelton wheels or simple water wheels.
We continued with a visit to the old school of mines at Reefton. It is opened on demand by a local volunteer who will, if available, open it up for you and show you round- we asked in the information centre and were sent to the Bakery and after an hour round town met up with our guide who owns the bakery and also had an impressive knowledge of the contents It is much as it was when finally closed down, the classrooms where supervising staff were taught in night school, the books still on the shelves and the papers on the shelves in the supervisors office. As was normal there was also a small assay laboratory. last time we were shown round by Bill Saywer who also had a wealth of local knowledge. He recommended a book, written by a local pharmacist, on Gold Mining in the area - it was fortunately still in print and we obtained a copy from the information centre. "The Golden Reefs" by Darrell Laytham, Nikau Press ISBN-908568-12-6 - An account of the great days of Quartz-mining at Reefton, Waiuta and the Lyell. Unfortunately it was now back in the UK.
We continued to the Black Point Museum a couple of kilometres outside Reefton - this is open Wednesday to Sunday 1300-1600 and 0900-1200 the same days excepting Saturday and again is run by volunteers. It has recently been emptied for repainting and has been a little reorganised. It also now has a research room and an excellent air conditioned archive for the more valuable information.It is full of every manner of exhibit covering the Reefton area including Goldmining and there are a lot of panels of original pictures from the mining era as well as folders of additional information. Well worthy of a visit for the museum alone but there is also an adjacent five head Quartz crushing battery and Berdan on the site of the former Golden Fleece Battery.
It is all working and powered by a Pelton Wheel recovered from the Golden Lead Mine site in Deep Creek. Bill Wells whose father Colin Wells who had constructed the battery was only too happy to take us round and run it up after we had looked round the museum. It is one of a very small number of places where original equipment can still be seen in operation. The leaflet says it is only operated Wednesday and Sunday afternoons but it seems as if the volunteers who can operate the battery are happy to open it up and run it if they are quiet and you are interested.
The site is also the start of a number of walks into the Murray Creek Gold Field area. The look very interesting but the best is circa five hours and we will have to come back to do it. we did do a very short stroll up to the dam which provides water for the pelon wheels which drive the stamper battery and provide power at 45v DC for the building. The information sheets on the various walks are available in the information centre for a dollar and contain a great deal of background information so are worth buying even if you do not have the time for the walks.
We had already booked one of the old PWD (Public Works Department) cabins at the campsite in Murchison for the night. The camp began as a NZ Electricity Board camp providing living quarters for the managers and single men working in the 1970s on the pylon line taking power from the hydroelectric schemes in South Island to the consumers in North Island. We had seen the end of the line earlier at Benmore. When the pylon line was complete the camp was left intact and transfered to the administration of the Tasman District Council as a motor camp. 29 of the original cabins remain. Looking at the layout it seems each had a small stove for heating as well as very basic accommodation for a couple of people - marks on the floor and new wood indicated ours had been changed from a single or bunk bed to have a double bed. A lot of those who stay are"paddlers" canoeing on the Buller river which ran past the site. There was a slip and a big deep swimming hole formed behind a natural breakwater.
This time there were no sand flies in evidence although they can be a problem in the area down by the river - the write-up from 2003 notes that "one could see the sand flies being marshalled into squadrons and wings stacked into sun ready for the first person to emerge from the water". This year we hardly saw any until dusk so we cooked our venison on the stove in the back of the van. Although as I write this in the morning one has just flown past and and another has bbbiiitttteeeennnnn my ankle so an early morning dip looks less appealing.
It was a steady drive north towards the coast at Tasman Bay and it is worth giving a brief introduction to the area where we will spend the next few days. Golden Bay and Tasman Bay are on the North East tip of South Island and have the best and most sheltered beaches on South Island. They are separated by the high ground of the Abel Tasman National Park which is best known for the famous Abel Tasman Coastal walk, one of the Great Walks series. For those less energetic there are boat trips like one we took a few years ago which took us up to Totaranui at the far end then dropped us in one bay before being picked up a few bays further along several hourss later. The Abel Tasman also has many opportunities for Kayaking in the relatively sheltered waters which we would like to explore some time.
Beyond the Abel Tasman is Golden Bay and at the furthermost tip there is an enormous sand spit - Farewell Spit - stretching 35 kms out to sea sheltering the bay which is about 45 kms in diameter. You could just drive the whole way from Nelson through Tasman Bay past the Abel Tasman Nation Park and on up through Golden Bay to the end in half a day. This makes the area an ideal end point for a trip to South Island (or starting point from the Ferry at Picton which is another 2 hours from Nelson). The pictures were taken from near the Abel Tasman Memorial on an earlier trip.
We stopped near Richmond for lunch at Seifried's Winery. First we had a tasting as we were very early - we will not write at length about the wines as we have done so several times before but just say that the tasting reinforced our views about their quality and we bought several bottle including the syrah we have thought highly of in the pastand an excellent 2003 riesling, very much like a German spatlese or even auslase. They also produce very fine Gerwurztraminners and Pete had the chance to compare their normal and reserve . We had, of course, in the first place come for lunch as have had some of our best winery meals in South Island at Seifried - this was no exception. We ate outside at one of the many tables, all with sunshades, set in trees and surrounded by the vineyard. Many of their meals now come on platters made from the staves of barrels.
We continued down the road past Seifried to Rabbit Island where we recovered on the beach but we had too much to eat and the surf was too rough for a serious swim.
We stayed at the McKee Reserve camping area which is right by the beach and very good value at $6 each for the night. This was our second visit and there seem to be more facilities block than we recall and they have now some showers but only with cold water. We put up the small tent as we did not intend to stay for more than a day. We had a pitch between two huge caravans next to the sea. Unike last time we did not have a direct view from the tent as they have built up the dunes slightly following the winter flooding but that did make it a bit more sheltered and the beach access was only a few metres away. It was very hot and we sat in the shade of the van for a while before setting the tent up. Pete had a swim but it was very shallow and when he finally got in far enough to swim he found another 'bar' which was very rocky when one banged ones feet on it. We cooked supper on the Red Devil and had a relaxing morning with no rush to get the tent down by 1000 as there is in commercial camp sites.
We then had a couple of days at Kaiterteri which is always very busy as it has lovely deep gold sandy beaches. The camp site is huge and there are pitches almost on the beach but behind a thick tall metal fence - one wonders who is in the zoo? We got a reasonably quiet and large pitch at the back of the site with a power hook up so we set up the big tent for a couple of days - a real luxury and we could even turn on the fan heater we had bought as a bargain in the Sally Army Op shop for $8. Once we found the hidden controls we discover it had all sorts of settings and thermostats making it an even better bargain. We had the Red Devil set up for barbeques and the stove for kettles and cooking so we did not need to use the kitchens other than to make washing up easy although they were big, clean and well equiped. We found they had some excellent large fully equiped cabins with kitchens and en suite for only $75 which we would think of in the future although they were booked up for several weeks even out the main season.
We explored some of the nearby area the next day including the famous Split Apple Rock - an eight km very windy drive to car park and a 15 minute walk down to the beach on a well made track w ith a lot of boardwalks to lovely beach with golden sands. The beach was empty when we got there with only two paddlers in sight beside the rock which is about twenty feet in diameter and split in half. Pete planned on a swim and also went to the rocks at the end of the beach where there were lots of mussels, mostly the blue mussels which are smaller but bettter tasting and also found some green lip mussels. We picked enough for a good sized starter - probably about 50 so we were well under the bag limit of 50 per day per person. The sea was still cold but much better than at the McKee Reserve. We then had a look at Marahau which is where many of the water taxis depart for the various parts of the Abel Tasman walkway although some also pick up from Kaiteriteri. Late in the afternoon we took a walk up to the viewpoint on the little hill overlooking Kaiteriteri and found a route down to the next beach round the corner.
The next day would take us over Takaka hill to Golden Bay for Takaka, Collingwood, Nelson and on to Te Mahia in the Sounds