Conservationists are alarmed with the growing reach of mining giant Newmont in the Coromandel after it was granted a further two years to search for gold and silver in a "sensitive" part of the peninsula.
Newmont Waihi Gold's request to extend its prospecting permit in a patch of forest park that adjoins the Kopu-Hikuai Rd, east of Thames, was approved last week.
The original permit, which was consented in 2011, covered about 13 square kilometres but has been scaled back to about 6 square kilometres.
However, that hasn't placated some conservationists in the area, who say communities are often powerless in the face of such operations and prospecting is the first step towards a potentially "toxic legacy".
Greens mining spokesperson Catherine Delahunty said prospecting was the "canary in the coalmine".
"My concern is that once you allow these companies to establish that there is gold in the area, it is very hard for residents to put a stop to that [exploration]."
Renée Annan, a co-ordinator at Coromandel Watchdog of Hauraki, said prospecting and exploration in sensitive conservation areas was "totally unacceptable".
"The extension of this permit near Neavesville highlights Newmont's unwillingness to accept that the Coromandel is not suitable for mining activities.
"The special nature of the peninsula is not appropriate for industrial activities such as underground or open-cast mining, let alone the toxic legacy that it leaves."
The area is classified as stewardship land - the part of the conservation estate with the weakest legal protection - and does not include "high conservation value" Schedule 4 land which cannot be mined.
Large areas to the north and north-west of Kopu-Hikuai Rd are in Schedule 4, but areas south of the road are not.
But Ms Delahunty said the forest park north of Thames is often "very similar" to the forest park to the south. "I have contact with people who live around these areas who don't want mining, who moved there to live next to the forest park and use the forest park."
Newmont Waihi Gold spokesperson Kit Wilson said the company had no immediate work scheduled in the area and was instead concentrating on getting the Correnso Underground Mine up and running.
He said poor gold prices meant Newmont had "slowed down" prospecting and exploration work in the Coromandel, and downplayed the significance of the work.
"Prospecting is no different from somebody walking across the land and picking flowers.
"You pick a handful of soil and chip a couple of rocks and take a couple of plastic bags of stream sediment."
A prospecting permit allows for low impact assessment and could include geological mapping and hand sampling.
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