A blast from the past
As the name obliquely suggests, Broken Hills was formerly a thriving goldfield following the discovery of gold there in 1893. But despite massive investment,little reward was ever accrued.
However, the legacy of these past operations is still in evidence, including the 500m-long Collins Drive Tunnel. This was my raison d’etre for exploring the valley. But also because I like hidden spots, off the worn trails, where a human dimension to the landscape adds another level of discovery.
Before heading into the dense Coromandel forest, a luxuriant assemblage of broadleaves hung with supplejack, I studied the information panel and track network map, as it looked complicated to decipher.
First off were the Broken Hills Battery ruins at the end of the Broken Hills Battery Walk. The foundations are evident and the retaining walls show the tiers of the battery building’s architecture. An exploration along the informal tracks back towards the road revealed piles of rusting metal detritus, now overgrown by ferns and foliage.
The Golden Hills Battery ruins are situated at the conclusion of the Golden Hills Battery Walk. The metalled track follows the route of the old tramway and passes several mine entrances from which rusting tram rails retreat from the dark openings. The rails once carried trucks, transporting the ore to the battery site. Here, the brick and concrete foundations remain, but are eclipsed by the arched supports of the cyanide tanks directly below the battery ruins. Descending the steep bank, I caught a view of the masonry, which once supported a four-metre diameter cylinder.
From the road end car park, the tracks on the western side of the Tairua River are lengthier and climb the flanks of the hillsides. I followed the Golden Hills Mine Track in a loop and initially mounted the hill to a lookout along old packhorse tracks to the upper workings. A few small cuttings were incised alongside the track.
Descending from the lookout I reached the western entrance of the Collins Drive Tunnel, complete with the timber structures holding the ceiling solid. I had brought my head torch for this 500m cross-cut tunnel.
Near the eastern exit of the tunnel, the Third Branch Track heads right to piles of rusting machinery. The Water Race Track then follows the line of the old water race, which fed the Pelton wheel at the Golden Hills Battery. The cuttings and tunnels would have been lined with wooden planks, derived from in situ timber. At the conclusion of the track, a short detour at Falls Creek shows the concrete pad where the Government Battery sat.
Numerous old entrances delve into the hillside close to the tracks and some can be explored for a short distance. Occasional breaks in the vegetation, especially by the tunnel exits on the Water Race Track, are suitable points to stop and imagine how the area teemed with activity as the hillsides were excavated in search of the buried treasure.
Following abandonment, the area was slowly reclaimed by nature until the Department of Conservation took over administration in the late 1980s. The old tramway routes and packhorse tracks have been recut and metamorphosed into walking tracks, many of which use relics of the gold mining infrastructure to navigate around the hills.
The area provides a poignant reminder that human exploitation of natural resources is transient, and once activities cease, natural processes are always there to reclaim the remains.