Waiuta: West Coast ghost town and gold mine

With heritage status and a new film promoting its history, the West Coast’s most well-known ghost town is coming to life once again.

On New Zealand’s West Coast, historic mining sites are a dime a dozen. But the sign off State Highway 7 — indicating the turnoff to a “historic gold town” — somewhat obscures what lies at the end of the road.

Waiuta isn’t just a gold town — it’s a ghost town.

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Hidden deep in Victoria Forest Park, Waiuta was once the company town for the South Island’s largest gold mine. From 1908 to 1951, the Blackwater Mine produced nearly 734,000 ounces of gold, worth about $1.6 billion by today’s standards. But when a mine shaft collapsed, production ceased and the town — which had a population of 600 at its peak — was abandoned virtually overnight.

Even before that, the writing was on the wall.

“This little town may be doomed,” wrote journalist J D McDonald in a 1949 Newsview article, when the price of gold was on the decline. “The little homes that womenfolk make in the most unpromising situations . . . the vast corrugated-iron treating plant, and the winding bewildered streets — all these may go back to second growth.”

McDonald’s prediction came true. Over the past 70 years, nature has reclaimed what it rightfully owns, but there’s still evidence of the once-vibrant community. There’s the Olympic-sized pool built by the miners, now empty save for moss. A flowering rhododendron towers beside where the Anglican church once stood. And scattered across the townsite are some 87 chimneys, yellow gorse blooming in their hearths. Headstones for houses, all that’s missing are the epitaphs: We Were Here.

The isolated site, managed by DoC with assistance from volunteer group Friends of Waiuta, is a testament to the resilience of Kiwis. Yet, it remains off the map for the majority of tourists.

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