Wednesday, April 20, 2011

O is for Open-cast Gold Mine

Ever stop to think where the gold on your finger came from? Well today I went to visit an open-cast gold mine in a small town called Waihi in the north island of New Zealand. Waihi has a long history of gold-mining. Yes, there was a gold rush in New Zealand. Yes, settlers came from Europe and Australia in search of the precious rock that contained their hopes and dreams... but that was a long time ago.

In Waihi, gold was discovered on Martha Hill in 1878 and this mine became one of the most important in the world for production of gold and silver. It was closed in 1952 and re-opened as an open-cast mine in 1987.

This modern gold mine is in a landscaped setting and billed as a tourist attraction.

What there is to see is a great big HOLE in the ground. A hole of ENORMOUS dimensions that would be a huge blot on the landscape except for the sympathetic plantings of native shrubs and trees around the perimeter which disguise the working environment.  So big is the hole that when you stand at the rim, the trucks and diggers working around the terraced sides look like worker ants.

Martha and Favona mines produce 100,000 ounces of gold and 750,000 ounces of silver annually. But it takes 9 million tonnes of waste and ore to recover 209,000 ounces of gold. You do the maths, then take a look at the gold rings on your fingers.

The surrounding countryside, in stark contrast to the mine, is beautiful. Farming and mining have co-existed in this region for over a hundred years. The old pump house to the original underground Martha Mine stands as a stark reminder to the hardships men endure in the search for precious metals.

As for the open-cast Martha Mine, this huge blot on the landscape will be erased and transformed into a vast park when the mine company move out and the landscapers move in. Work is already under way. Thousands of native shrubs and trees have been planted and pathways laid.  The hole will become a lake,  filled with water diverted from stormwater drains and the diversion of a river. It's estimated that it will take six years to fill.

That's all very commendable and will be a huge amenity for the small town of Waihi. The experts say there's still more gold in the area and mining continues, hopefully, with more sensitivity to the natural environment. But, as is the way with entrepreneurs, they have their sights set on other areas as well.

'There's gold in them thar hills' they say, as they cast more than a passing glance at the Coromandel Peninsula,  an area that already feels it's been done over... first to harvest its precious Kauri trees and then for gold, gum and minerals. With native forest already being replaced by pine, and other areas eaten away as developments encroach, the Coromandel Peninsula is a jewel itself and needs no gold to enhance its beauty. It needs protection.

(I use this photograph a lot because I love it so much. This is what I see on my drive to the nearest big supermarket. These hills are called The Pinnacles... and, as such,  could become my P day for the A to Z challenge. But I think I'll give it a rest and look for other inspiration.)

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