Waiuta. © Claudia Babirat

Tohu Whenua: Waiuta

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Waiuta is hands-down the West Coast’s best gold mining ghost town. The gravel road to get there may be long and winding, but once you emerge from the forest it’s like you’ve discovered a lost world.  

This remote landscape was once the Coast’s largest producer of gold. Its mines produced nearly 750,000 ounces of the precious yellow metal, which today would be worth $1.6 billion.

The Blackwater mine shaft with its associated chimney and winding room are the first obvious relics you’ll come across. But don’t stop there. Continue another five minutes to the top of Prohibition Hill. This is where the country’s deepest mine shaft is located. It’s mind-boggling to imagine that miners once willingly dropped almost 900m underground everyday, to pick at rock in near darkness. In fact, this shaft is so deep that the last 264m are below sea level.

In its heyday Waiuta housed almost 600 residents. Wander around the expansive town site and you’ll soon see that these people knew how to make their own fun.

You can spot the remains of an Olympic-size swimming pool, tennis courts, a rugby field with posts still intact, there’s even an overgrown dog racing track. 

But most of the houses have long gone. When the mine closed in the 1950s, the town folk simply packed them up with the rest of their belongings. The police lock-up, barber’s shop and a few private cottages remain. If you’re feeling energetic, a two and a half hour circuit leads you down to an impressive collection of cyanide tanks and machinery foundations on the banks of the Snowy River. 

Still haven’t had enough? Base yourself at Waiuta lodge (which can be booked through the Department of Conservation), put on your hiking boots or jump on your mountain bike to explore historic remains at nearby Big River Goldfields.  

Waiuta is recognised as a Tohu Whenua, one of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best heritage experiences. The site is proudly cared for by the Department of Conservation Te Papa Atawhai and the Friends of Waiuta.

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