A hugely atmospheric place, particularly when explored alone on a wet day, Waiuta was once a bustling gold mining town but it was abandoned in the 1950s. It’s about 40 minutes drive from Reefton, half of which is along an at times spooky dirt road.
Waiuta was home to the second biggest gold mine in New Zealand, exploiting a particularly rich and regular gold reef. It was in operation from 1906 to 1951, long enough to turn the motley collection of miners huts into a community of more than 600 people by 1936. There was a post office, school, shops, a swimming pool and a bowling green, used by one of the most diverse communities in New Zealand, with the gold attracting people from around the world.
Things ended suddenly in 1951 when the original Blackwater mine shaft collapsed and flooded. Post WW2 the mine had struggled and it wasn’t economical to fix it. More recently a mining company is tunnelling 3.5km from the side (rather than down) to exploit the remains of the gold reef. The mine was the only employer in town so much of the town was either dismantled and taken away or left to return to the bush.
DOC and the Ministry for the Environment spent $3m decontaminating Waiuta’s mines. The arsenic levels had been among the most toxic recorded anywhere in the world. It’s now a safe and fascinating place to explore, with information boards throughout the former town.
The former Police Station is the first building reached when visiting the town. It’s now a private residence, one of a handful in town.
This chimney and ruins in the distance looked suitable industrial, but when I reached it it turned out to be the former Bowling Pavilion.
There are extensive remains of the buildings that neighboured the Blackwater shaft. Between this and the nearby Prohibition shaft nearly 750,000 ounces of gold was extracted from 1.5 million tons of quartz.
The former Post Office / School had extensive information boards on the history of the town.
The Barbershop has been restored to it’s original state.
Which is quite a contrast with the neighbouring Rimu Cottage, another private residence now, which reminded me of abandoned buildings I’d seen in Chernobyl.
Jos Divis’ House is also in a poor state but is being restored. Jos Divis was originally from Prague and migrated to New Zealand in 1909 in his mid twenties. He spent much of his adult life at Waiuta as a miner and photographer, living there till 1967 before dying shortly after. He brilliantly documented Waiuta in the 1920s and 1930s, and is responsible for the vast majority of photos of the town.
Gills Cottage is also being restored, with the exterior much improved, but the interior clearly still requires some work.
The town even had a full size outdoor swimming pool.
The remains of the rugby pitch were evocative.
At the top of the 580m high hill by town is the Prohibition shaft, which at 879 metres is the deepest in the country. There are extensive industrial remains surrounding the shaft.
The road to Waiuta goes through the even smaller former mining community of Blackwater, now home to a few ramshackle houses and the historic Blackwater School.