Exploring the industrial ruins of Karangahake Historic Gorge, Coromandel stuff nation

Popular ruins like Machu Picchu and Stonehenge are sectioned off. Here, it's free to play.
TOMMY WALKER

Popular ruins like Machu Picchu and Stonehenge are sectioned off. Here, it's free to play.

When we hear the word "ruins" mentioned it would be easy for us to think of some far-fetched South American country with ancient civilisations having once lived there thousands of years earlier.

Yet, as we found on a rainy day in Coromandel, the ruins of Woodstock Battery that can be explored are of a different nature.  

Karangahake Historic Gorge not too long ago, was once the location rich for gold mining. Beginning in the mid 1800s, the turn of the century saw it prosper before its end some 70 years ago.

The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway follows the old railway line between Paeroa and Waihi.
TOMMY WALKER

The Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway follows the old railway line between Paeroa and Waihi.

What is left behind however, are the remnants of the industrial apparatus that once made up Woodstock Battery.

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As any traveller will tell you, exploring forgotten memories of history are as exciting as any.

You can access impressive remains from the mining and railway eras.
TOMMY WALKER

You can access impressive remains from the mining and railway eras.

Yet, many popular ruins in the world such as Machu Picchu in Peru or Stonehenge in the UK have sections completely cornered off, here at the Karangahake Historic Gorge, it's a free field to play in. 

The gorge itself is a windy, peaceful place, a contrary to what work would have been carried out here back in the gold mining days.

As you walk down the walkways or onto the railway tracks, the beauty of the gorge takes you back, almost as if it has been untouched since the mining trade here came to an end.

The industrial ruins of Karangahake Historic Gorge, Coromandel.
TOMMY WALKER

The industrial ruins of Karangahake Historic Gorge, Coromandel.

Opening out alongside the Ohinemuri River, you almost forget about the dusty industrial machinery and practices that would have been everyday life here. Yet, given the beauty of the setting, taking your work break here would have been one like no other. 

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For us, the pouring rain created more of a sense of adventure, and kept the tourists away. We felt almost privileged to have such a place to ourselves, wandering aimlessly along Windows Walkway, and if we got too wet, drying out in the tramway tunnels, pitch black just like they would have been years ago.

Propped up by wooden infrastructures in some parts, the mine cart track tunnels will take you high up into the cliffs interior. You may not see much in front of you as you trail but as you peer out at the odd window of light, you'll notice how far (and high) you've came.

For a little more adventure, you can even push, sit in and 'ride' the mine carts that are still assigned to the railways.

Eerily left alone, I felt I was in my own version of a adventure-puzzle video game, perhaps like the Uncharted series, using tools and movable objects that hadn't been touched since properly used.

As you continue on Windows Walkaway, the setting will become more rural, not before you clamber across a caved-in mining hole and steel gate. It looks very precarious, as the majority of the inner walls have collapsed, whilst hanging off the gate bars at the time, was an old mining boot and glove perhaps from the workers who once grafted here.

Getting from one side of the gorge to another is possible as steel truss bridges are still present and standing. As industrial as ever, they wobble as you cross across the streams and Ohinemuri River and add a more industrial visual to the exterior of Karanghake. 

As we played around with no particular route or itinerary, we soon discovered that they're a couple of routes and walkways to consider.

The Rail Tunnel Loop takes a total of 2.5km and begins from the Crown Battery, to Western Portal Bridge, over the river and takes you into the former rail tunnel, where mining goods would be transported to and from.

This is over a 1km distance, but unlike the other narrow gauge tunnels by the gorge, this is well lit. Still, it has that eerie feeling with a couple of dark spots, and the sound of your own echo only adds to the journey. From here you can head back to Karangahake or continue on the next route available up to Waikino.

The Historic Walkway to Waikino is a little more a journey, totalling over 4km. This walk includes Owhoara Falls that will be perfect for a break and maybe snack.

Continuing on is Victoria Battery, one of the most prominent facilities of its type in New Zealand at the end of the 1800's. Fill your time up here with several ruins and remnants of the battery, before your last and final stop will be Waikino Station. 

I called this the industrial 19th century Kiwi version of Machu Picchu. Yet unlike the famous ruins in Peru, Karanghake is often left alone.

You won't find mass groups or queues here all at the time and that makes the place more special. Some people who only find gold claim it to be treasure, but in reality, all treasure reflects is the remains of the past. In this case, Woodstock Battery ruins are the evidence of workers mining colony for only a short time in history, but represent the effort and intelligence that went in parallel with making that happen.

Whether it was trying to find gold or stones, the remains show us a time in history that is now gone forever. Part of why travelling is so beautiful is that we can bring these places back to life, in our own minds and perceptions.

Without any expectation, we can go into a new place and build up its history again. This was Karanghake for me, and I was still astonished I didn't see more travellers there. It just goes to show that some of the coolest places we can explore in this world aren't always written or talked about.

 - Stuff

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