Discovering Waihi in the North Island, New Zealand

Oh how things go in circles.

Growing up we lived on a dairy farm.  I certainly didn’t get involved too heavily in farm life.  I enjoyed huts made in the hayshed, jungle adventures in a small patch of bush, island adventures involving our para pool, numerous hours playing house, restaurant and shop, helping feed calves, helping feed out, washing down the yard but avoiding the cowshed when the cows were there.

At the age of 12 we left the farm and became “townies”.  This life I could relate to with shops and NO cows!

Fast forward 25 years and I am now married and we have children of our own.  For a family holiday what do we do? – Go and stay with friends on a dairy farm!!  What is really crazy is my husband Campbell and son Alex, nearly 10, love the farm life-style.  Daughter Kate (13) and myself are townies through and through.

The major bonus of this farm is – it is in Waihi.  There is so much to see and do around the area that I thought I would let you know what we have discovered.

The most beautiful place I love is Whiritoa.  Only 20 minutes drive from Waihi on the road to Whangamata, our friends took us to a lovely lagoon.  The golden sand was a major for our Taranaki bred children as we only have black sand.  All around the Waihi area we couldn’t get over the amount of shells.

One of the days we went, the water was quite warm and just the right temperature for me.  I usually stress about being on holiday and Campbell was quite surprised that I was cool, calm and collected and really relaxed!  Lying in warmish water with the sound of the waves crashing nearby and beautiful bush on one side and golden sand on the other – who wouldn’t be calm and relaxed.  It was definitely my paradise.

On our most recent trip we found out from another local that the lagoon is actually man made. They come in with a digger and let the water flow through and then block it off again.  It is a delightful place to spend the afternoon and really safe for the children.  We took the children’s bogey boards and they had great fun paddling around.

There’s a signposted walk you can do from the lagoon up and over a rocky incline to another bay.  The local said if you were to do the walk it would take about an hour round trip.  We enjoyed the lagoon so much we opted to stay there and swim.

This trip we discovered Waihi Beach.  It was a scorching hot day and unfortunately they had a surf club carnival on.  We decided to drive by and head to Bowentown headland at the southern end of the beach.

Anzac Bay, Bowentown
Anzac Bay, Bowentown

At Anzac Bay we discovered huge pohutakawa trees to park under for shade, a boat ramp, people fishing and a toilet block.  The calm, clear water was wonderful and heaps of people were enjoying the day. 

While we were having a picnic lunch under the trees we noticed a sign about a track leading up to a lookout.  We decided it was way too hot to go exploring but quite a few other families were heading off.

Once lunch was packed away Alex and I rushed down to the water and were amazed at how many shells there were.  After Alex had enough swimming time we used his bogey board to collect shells.  We now have a lovely wooden bowl sitting on our dining table and have treasures from our various holidays in it.

Whilst we were exploring Cam, Kate and our dog Oscar all enjoyed some relaxing time in the shade of the trees.  It was a very successful day out.  What a terrific spot!

A popular place to visit is the Goldfields Railway and Waikino Station Café.  We decided to catch the train from the Waikino Station in the Karangahake Gorge.  We later found out that you can board at the Waihi Station.  The return trip takes 1 hour and 15 minutes.  It passes over farmland, rail bridges and spends time running alongside the main road.  The children had fun waving at the cars and seeing who would toot back.  The Café has some history about the area and information on walks as well as yummy food and drinks.

The Karangahake Gorge is full of walkways and mining diggings.  Essential for this area is a torch, sneakers, drink and snacks.  We walked over huge swing bridges which Campbell and Alex delighted in jumping up and down on whilst Kate and I were trying to cross.

Tunnel heading towards Karangahake carpark.  The dot of daylight is the other end of the tunnel 1,000 metres away.
Tunnel heading towards Karangahake carpark. The dot of daylight is the other end of the tunnel 1,000 metres away.

We got to walk through an amazing tunnel that was built 1903-1905 made entirely from bricks.  It is 1,000m long and has lights strategically placed throughout.  A lot of the time you are walking in the dark and it gives you a feeling of how it must have been like in the olden days.

On our second trip we took torches and it was really neat to check out the bricks and all the nooks and crannies within the tunnel.

When we came out the tunnel heading to the Karangahake Carpark and Hall, we crossed a wooden bridge that spans the road.  It was crazy to be above the traffic.  We waved at some cars and soon one tooted.  Next thing a small truck tooted and then a bigger truck.  A milk truck came along next and for the size of the truck it had a little beep.  We were all laughing when we got a really big fright as a big truck let his air horn off right under our feet.  It seemed the whole bridge was shaking.  It certainly gave us something to talk about!

Alex in one of the Windows' walk tunnels.
Alex in one of the Windows’ walk tunnels.

The Windows walk was spectacular.  The main tunnel, cut through solid rock is about 100 metres long.  Crosscuts run off at right angles to the main tunnel and where the two intersect suddenly these “windows” in the rock walls gave spectacular views of the Waitawheta Gorge about 35 metres below.  These windows were used to dump waste rock into the river.  Considering these shafts were all cut out by hand and measured 2.5 metres wide by 2.5 metres high and were 5 to 10 metres inside the cliff face, it was amazing experience to be exploring them.  We have only explored a very small section and have planned more trips on our future visits.

The Martha Gold Mine
The Martha Gold Mine

The Martha Gold Mine is huge.  We stood beside the dump truck near the mine and had our photos taken.  When we looked down into the mine from the lookout platform the huge trucks looked like match-box trucks.

One of the mining trucks that gives you some perspective of how big they are.
One of the mining trucks that gives you some perspective of how big they are.

The Golden Legacy Centre and Education Centre re-opened in 2003 on its new site beside the mine. It is a purpose-built classroom available for use by educational and special interest groups.  Guided tours of the Martha Mine are conducted for school groups as well as general public tours. It is essential to book for these.

This trip we discovered the Waihi Gold Mining Museum and Art Gallery.  This was really interesting.  The children loved the idea of the interactive displays.  They saw how the Cornish Pumphouse worked and a crushing mill.  We spent quite a bit of time wandering around and learning the history of the area.  It was fascinating to see all the minerals and crystals that have been found.  One disgusting thing was jars with men’s thumbs in them.  Some miners would deliberately chop of their thumbs for monetary compensation!

In between all of these adventures we spent time exploring our friends farm.  There is an old woolshed and I convinced the children to climb over a crumbling wall and got some superb portraits.

Cam really enjoys the farm lifestyle and what’s good for Dad is good for son.  We bought Alex some overalls at the local RD1 store and he thought he was great.   Alex was bounding around the house at ridiculous hours of the morning (anything between 5:00 – 5:30am) rearing to go to the shed.  The boys woke early every morning and went milking.  The girls on the other hand, rolled over and went back to sleep.

When I did get up, I spent time just listening.  It was wonderful to listen to the birds and not to hear the cars roaring by.  I loved the sounds of the country and took many photos of the cows, hills and trees.

When Campbell was going to and from the shed he heard some baby birds.  He saw a kingfisher go into the nest.  I took the children down and we quietly peeped into the hole in the bank and were able to see four featherless babies.  It was wonderful.

They have two enormous trees on their front lawn.  It would be amazing to know how old they would be.  The previous owners had put a rope swing up and Kate and Alex had fun swinging on it.

We drove to the back of the farm in their twin cab truck and were amazed at the beautiful views they had.  The farm drops suddenly into steep cliff faces down into the ocean.  We could see up the coast past Whangamata and out to sea we saw Mayor Island.

All in all we each got some great memories of our family holiday in Waihi.

This article was published in Kids Friendly NZ March 2007 on-line edition. Follow this link for more Kids Friendly NZ

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