Drive through the picturesque Karangahake Gorge and you will come across a peaceful town nestled under the southern flank of the Coromandel Ranges.
Waihi is a town worth exploring. Look for its fine historic buildings, bronze statues, museum, art gallery and modern cafes. Probe a little deeper and you’ll find a heart of gold. Beneath the town is a subterranean labyrinth of mining tunnels. Close to its orderly suburban streets, well hidden by a safety fence, is a prodigious hole in the ground. This is New Zealand’s largest opencast gold and silver mine, which yields 65,000 ounces of gold and 300,000 ounces of silver annually.
The Martha Mine makes Waihi famous as a gold town with an historic past, a booming present and unpredictable future (the gold reefs extend under the town). So when you explore this town be sure to walk up Moresby Avenue to the main viewing platform and peer down into the abyss. Heavily laden trucks will be labouring up the slope like miniature toys, dwarfed by the scale of the great mine. Their rumbling engine noise will seem distant and muted. The trucks feed a 2km long conveyor belt, which carries 30,000 tonnes of ore to the treatment plant every day. There are guided tours lasting 1½ hours that take you around the mine and processing areas.
Waihi is a Maori word meaning ‘rising water,’ which may relate to nearby rivers such as the scenic Ohinemuri, which runs through the gorge. Visitors have easy access to a fascinating variety of wilderness walks in the nearby Coromandel and Kaimai Ranges. The Karangahake Walkway is quite breathtaking. Other walks are the Talisman Battery Windows Walk, the Waitawheta Tramway, Waitekauri to Maratoto Walk and also Waihi’s Black Hill.
Want a journey back in time? If you are visiting Waihi in summer, board the Goldfields Vintage Train that chugs its way on a nostalgic journey to Waikino where you can enjoy a refreshment stop.
If you want even more exposure to heritage, the Gold Mining Museum and Art Gallery in Kenny Street has intricately detailed models on mining themes and superb working models of a gold stamper battery and Waihi’s old pump house.
The Waihi Waterlily Gardens on Pukekauri Road are a great attraction and makes a complete change of scene away from the allure of the bright, burnished metal. There is a cafe in a peaceful garden setting here. Another relaxing place to visit is Waihi Beach, 11km east of the town, great for summer surf, sand and sun.
Waihi has a variety of accommodation with hotels, motels, B&B’s, lodges, motor camps and holiday parks and there are good cafes, wine bars and restaurants.