Wharekirauponga is notorious for being a 'gold rush that never was'. Extensive capital works were carried out by the Royal Standard company, including construction of an 8km tramway from the Otahu Inlet, near Whangamata, and the clearing and assembling of equipment for a battery site (which was never constructed) when senior management realised there was insufficient gold for the claim to be a commercial proposition, and it was abandoned.
From either Whangamata or Waihi, travel on SH25 to the junction of Parakiwai Quarry Rd at NZMG 634352 (approx 4km south of Whangamata). Travel west on Parakiwai Quarry Rd, to the parking area at the end of the road (approx 3 km). This is adjacent to the start of the track leading to the Wharekirauponga mining area. The track is well signposted and follows the route of an old tramway (some sleepers are still in place, but no rails). After approx 50 minutes easy walk, the area that contained mining infrastructure (including a battery site) and several mine adits is reached. See maps below.
The overall site includes a large area of the Wharekirauponga valley. It can be considered as having the following main components:
The history of the area is described by Moore and Ritchie (1996 122-125), Downey (2002 202-203) and Isdale (1984a, 1984b). There was prospecting in the area from 1893, but few claims were registered until 1895, when a considerable number of small claims were recorded. The Royal Standard Company of the UK bought and consolidated most of these small claims in 1896, into a single claim known as the Royal Standard Mine.
The company went about building an extensive tramway and made preparations (including clearing a site, purchasing equipment and transporting it to the site) to construct a large battery. A water race (to power the battery) and several houses were also constructed. According to Isdale (1984b), by April 1897, the company employed 197 men and: "New batteries scheduled included that at of the Royal Standard at Wharekirauponga, in construction, with 80 stamps, able to put through 2,400 tons in 24 days."
In February 1898 a new manager (a Mr Pascoe) arrived from England, who 'had with him F.P. Hobson of the Discovery Finance Corporation of England, to check up on things.'(Isdale 1984b). It was soon realised that the viability of the claim had not been demonstrated and, by April 1898, the new manager had called a halt to most activities. By this time, the company had spent many thousands of pounds:
"Chill winds were beginning to blow on the Royal Standard. The 'Waihi Miner' reported [7th April 1898]: 'The Royal Standard, which twelve months ago was looked upon by its advocates as likely to rival in a few years the famous Waihi mine, is not regarded as favourably as formerly. There has been expended on it something like £30,000 in the formation of tramways, water races, buildings, importation of machinery and preparation for a big battery. A proportion, but evidently a small proportion, of the money has been used in actual mining.'" (Isdale 1984b)
On 23rd May 1898, the 'Waihi Miner' noted the "discharge of nearly all hands, leaving only mine manager Pascoe and Assistant Superintendent Hobson, recently sent out from England." (Isdale 1984b)
A geological report on the Royal Standard claim stated: "the auriferous belt was confined to an area of little more than a third of a square mile while various kinds of quartz were present the best values got were evidently in soft, white, kaolinic material, the quartz being of poor grade. An inspection by the writer of a number of veins showed that they did not extend far in any direction, occurring more as floating lenses of quartz than anything else." (Downey 2002 234-235) One ounce of bullion per ton of quartz was the planning figure used to determine whether a mine was viable or not (Gavalas 2005 12) - the average production of all the Hauraki mines was 3 oz per ton (Moore and Ritchie 1996 40). Downey (2002 280) shows the total production from the Royal Standard claim as 90 oz of bullion from 79 tons of quartz - above the magic figure of 1 oz per ton. However, the total yield was likely to be low, due to the poor geology of the area. A fundamental tenet of mining had been disregarded - always determine the value of the field before investing significant amounts of capital in mining it!
In 1899, the claim was sold by public auction to a Captain Hodge of Coromandel, who had 14 tons of ore assayed at the Thames School of Mines. This produced a yield of 19 oz of bullion, again over the key figure of 1 oz per ton. Attempts were made to raise further capital to continue operations, but this did not eventuate. According to Downey (2002 234): "nothing of any consequence has since been done on the ground".
There is some conjecture as to whether the battery equipment was actually transported to the site and what happened to it. Moore and Ritchie (1996 122-123) state: "They also purchased all the machinery for a battery but never transported it to the site. (The few pieces of machinery there now are believed to date from the 1920s)." Downey (2002 234) states that the company purchased a battery and transported it to "the locality". (not specified whether this was the actual battery site or not). However, at some stage in the 1960s or early 1970s, Mr Glen Mayclair of Waihi wrote to Mr Bert McAra (the Inspector of Mines for the Hauraki District until 1973 - see McAra 1978 rear flap) about the possibility of removing battery equipment from the bush to set up on a private site. Mayclair (undated) describes the machinery at the Wharekirauponga site as follows:
"The battery was made by Bowes, Scott and Western. It is not assembled, in fact is scattered around the bush flat. There are three steel kingposts, various kingpost braces, a pile of stamps, two stamp boxes, cam shaft, Pelton wheel (Prices of Thames) and a host of small bits and pieces." NZ Forest Service granted clearance for Glen Mayclair to remove the equipment in the 1970s(Ritchie 2007). A site survey done by NZFS (c.1980) notes: "Presently there is no substantial plant remaining on the battery site. The last of the machinery was removed in the 1970s from this site and its vicinity by Glen Mayclair of Waihi." It appears that at least the majority of the battery machinery was transported to the site but not assembled, and that the main elements were removed some time around the 1970s. It was eventually returned to NZFS and was stored at the Victoria Battery site at Waikino. It is understood that the majority was illegally removed from that site and never recovered (Ritchie 2007).
Mayclair (undated) also notes that: "I also have an aerial photo taken in 1960, showing a bulldozed road going in to the battery site, this road leaving the back corner of Mr E.T. Anderson's farm and joining the main stream at the junction with Thompson Stream. It is about half a mile along the tramline to where the battery is at the junction with Adams Stream." This was probably the route used to remove the battery machinery.
The Royal Standard battery site was recorded as T12/681 in 1984. The wider Wharekirauponga site, including the battery, was re-surveyed during three one-day site visits over the period Jan - Apr 2007. As well as the author, participants included Neville Ritchie, Sean Sawyers & Ingrid Greenslade (all DoC), David Carley and Stephanie Green. Areas investigated included the main tramway from the Otahu inlet (now the main access route to the mining area), the clearing at WP 215 (apparently the site of mine houses and buildings), the battery site (WP 299), the lower tramway to the waterfall at NZMG 603300, and the upper tramway from the tramway tunnel at WP 298 to a slip at WP 315 (where it was decided that it was unsafe to proceed any further). For detailed sketch maps of the area, showing the tramways and mine workings, see Moore and Ritchie (1996). Numerous artefacts and mine workings were found - see the next section for details. Apparently DoC intends to upgrade the tracks in the area and provide interpretation - this is strongly supported, as the area is relatively easy to access and there are many features of historical and archaeological significance. The mine workings and tram tracks remaining on the upper tramway are considered to be of particular value. Groups of casual walkers encountered during the surveys were very interested to hear about the history of the area.
Downey, J. F. (2002). Gold-Mines of the Hauraki District, Cadsonbury Publications, Christchurch.
Gavalas, M. (2005). Coromandel Landmarks, Reed, Auckland.
Isdale, A. M. (1984a). Notes on Whangamata Area, Thames.
Isdale, A. M. (1984b). Notes on Wharekirauponga Area, Thames.
Lambert, G. (1985). Pottery in New Zealand, Heinemann, Auckland.
Mayclair, G. (undated). Letter to Mr B. McAra, Waihi.
McAra, J. B. (1978). Gold Mining at Waihi 1878-1952, Waihi Historical Society, Waihi.
Moore, P. and Ritchie, N. (1996). Coromandel Gold: A Guide to the Historic Goldfields of Coromandel Peninsula, Dunmore Press, Palmerston North.
NZ Forest Service (c.1980). Survey Report - Wharekirauponga Area.
Ritchie, N. (2007). Personal communication, Auckland.