It may not quite be the glory rush of when gold was first discovered but Waikaia is quietly basking in a golden glow.
Waikaia was born when gold was discovered in 1862, but farming soon became the backbone of the Northern Southland community.
Just down the road at Freshford, Waikaia Gold is giving the community another shot in the arm as it rapidly becomes the second largest goldmine in New Zealand, moving between 1.5-2 million cubic metres of soil and gravel in its first year of operation.
Last week it produced its 10,000th ounce.
"It's been a long time coming," said company director and onsite project director Sam March.
"From the very start of the project here, and getting resource consent and getting investors, to the start of mining took about four years.
"There was a bloody lot of work getting there."
The mine is on track to recover 16,000 to 20,000 ounces of gold annually but had been producing "slightly more than we thought", he said.
While the investment has paid off for Waikaia Gold and its shareholders, the wider community is also benefiting.
The company provides employment for 20 fulltime and three casual workers.
All but two were from the local area, while earthworks company Rosco Contracting of Reefton employed 15 staff, 90 per cent of whom were from Southland/Otago.
"They're from Clinton, Gore, Lumsden, Te Anau, Riversdale and Balfour and if they're not travelling to work daily they're living locally in Waikaia - there's quite a few that have moved here to work."
Some had moved from the West Coast to take up mining jobs.
"Our workers are experienced or semi-experienced heavy machinery operators, but there is quite a lot of indirect employment as well."
Waikaia Gold has a policy of using local companies where possible.
"The local engineers, hydraulics firms - there's quite a spinoff, it's surprising. All those businesses must have increased their turnover a fair bit since we've been here.
"We have an absolute policy of supporting them, even though sometimes you pay a bit more of a premium for them.
"We could go to Gore and get our stores and supplies but we choose to go to the Waikaia shop for all of that instead. It's an important focal point of the community and it's important that all of us living in the area support it.
"I'd guess this project on an annual basis pumps $15m into the local economy."
John and Jude Cresswell took over running the Waikaia Store, moving from Invercargill, 18 months ago as the mine gained resource consent.
"I don't look at it in money terms but it's brought people to the town. It's given the community a bit of confidence - it's another string to its bow," John Cresswell said.
"The cribbies [holiday home owners] are making money out of it and it keeps houses in better nick over winter when someone is in them rather than them sitting empty."
Rental prices for houses in Waikaia had increased from about $90 before the mine started to between $250 and $300 a week.
The Cresswells had added a cafe to the business since the mine opened.
"That was a turning point for us - it showed there was some development in the town and since we've met some great people really," he said.
Across the road at the Waikaia Hotel, publican Wendy-Jane Williamson agrees.
"We've definitely had more customers, especially last year when the engineers were here to build the dredge," she said.
"They've employed locally which has been good. The town is more vibrant and there are some more young people here now. It's been amazing to watch them turn a dream into reality."
While the life of the goldmine was expected to be seven years, the rush may not be over that soon for the Northern Southland community.
"There's the possibility of more - we have to do a lot more exploration yet," March says.
"We may well find more mineable resources closer to the town and we have identified and will be looking at other areas.
"We're only a temporary scar on the landscape. As a mining company, we have a significant resource here - the affected landowners here will have their best years of farming and they will get their land back in pristine condition which is something I am looking forward to seeing.
"The township has been so good to us. It's a great little town - it just grows on you, this place."
FACTS AND FIGURES
Waikaia Gold Ltd Founding directors: Brothers Sam and Buzz March, Warren Batt Group of other seed and cornerstone investors who invested about $15 million to get the project off the ground.
Employment: Waikaia Gold: 20 fulltime and three casual staff. Rosco Contracting: 15 staff.
Production rate: Estimated to be 16,000-20,000 ounces annually for seven years.
- The Southland Times
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