SH25 and SH2 meet at the southernmost town on the Coromandel Peninsula, WAIHI, 30km south from Whangamata. The small town merits a quick stop to sample its gold mining, both past and present.
Gold was first discovered here in a reef of quartz in 1878, but it wasn’t until 1894 that a boom began with the first successful trials in extracting gold using cyanide solution. Workers flocked, but disputes over union and non-union labour ensued, and the violent Waihi Strike of 1912 helped galvanize the labour movement and led to the creation of the Labour Party.
Although underground mining stopped in 1952, extraction was cranked up again in 1987 in the open-cast but well-hidden Martha Mine. As the open-cast mine slowly winds down (possibly closing around 2020), recent finds of deep veins have re-focused mining minds on tunnel mining. Current proposals to mine right under the town are likely to be challenged in the Environment Court by concerned residents.