Thousands of visitors are attracted to the historic Karangahake walkway each year. There are many large pools in the Ohinemuri River which provide good swimming in summer. Enjoy the various picnic sites and fishing for trout. Canoeing is also possible on various sections of the river (lifejackets and helmets essential).
The walkways are well graded and are accessible by wheelchair in parts.
Karangahake Main Street (c.1910)
Development of the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway began when the Paeroa to Waihi railway line was closed in 1979. The walkway follows part of the old railway formation. The track passes several important historical features associated with the Karangahake gold fields.
The walkway is administered by the Department of Conservation.
Karangahake Gorge is situated between the townships of Paeroa and Waihi, with access via State Highway 2.
There are three points of entry to the walkway, each with carparks. These are located at Karangahake (across the Ohinemuri River at the Crown Battery site); Owharoa Falls, off Waitawheta Road; and the Waikino Historic Station and Visitor Centre.
The Visitor Centre has displays featuring the gold mining and timber history of the general area, as well as information on walks and other facilities in nearby parks and reserves.
From the Waikino car park the walkway passes under the highway and then via a footbridge over the Ohinemuri River to the Victoria Battery Site.
The walkway follows the old railway formation beside the Ohinemuri River to the Owharoa Falls – Taieri Stream confluence.
The walkway begins beside the foundation remains of the Crown Battery. From the lowest level of the battery site, a footbridge crosses the Ohinemuri River and SH 2 to the western portal of the former railway tunnel. This 1100 metre tunnel is electrically lit along its length.
At the eastern portal, the walkway crosses an old railway bridge, where there is a choice of continuing on to Owharoa Falls, or taking the Karangahake Loop Track.
(This section of the track is unsuitable for wheelchairs.)
From the eastern portal bridge, the track follows the Ohinemuri River and passes the Woodstock and Talisman battery remains, returning back to Karangahake.
GOLD MINING HISTORY
The goldfields of Coromandel and Thames opened in 1852 and 1867 respectively, but it was not until March 1875 that gold was mined from the Karangahake area.
The underground quartz lodes had to be mined, crushed and treated before the gold could be extracted. However, transport difficulties and lack of capital and gold in payable quantities led to the collapse of many early companies.
A major breakthrough occurred in 1889 with the introduction of the McArthur – Forrest cyanide process for extracting gold from quartz, which enabled a dramatic increase in gold recovery.
Three large batteries were built at Karangahake in the 1890s – the Crown, Talisman and Woodstock – for the treatment of ore taken from extensive mine networks inside Karangahake Mountain. The Victoria Battery was built at Waikino in 1897 to crush ore from the Waihi Martha mine. By 1903 it was the largest battery in New Zealand, with 200 stampers used to crush the gold-bearing quartz.
Output from the Karangahake quartz mines in 1909 made up 60% of the total gold produced in New Zealand. Between 1910 and 1920, however, many of the mines declined as costs of gold recovery began to outweigh profits. The main batteries at Karangahake closed down and were demolished. Only the Waihi operations carried on until 1952 when they too closed, and the Victoria Battery was gradually demolished.