New Zealand Walk: Where there is a whim there is a dray
What is a whim? A flight of fancy? Quite right, but it is more. Read on.
On an overcast and drizzly day we were in the Reefton area looking to poke our nose into the many historical or scenic points of interest in the area renowned for its history of gold and coal mining.
We discovered the Murray Creek Track, which starts at Blacks Point, just 2km south of Reefton.
Unfortunately the highly regarded Blacks Point Museum and its nearby Morning Star Stamping Battery, which still works regularly, were closed during our visit but they would be worthwhile visiting.
The track begins by following an old dray road (where there’s a whim …) on a gentle ascent up the valley with the creek far below. How we marvel at the ingenuity and determination of our fore fathers who ventured into these parts and built the roads. The hillside is very steep and the country rugged but they persisted on, digging tunnels and shafts in the endless pursuit of gold.
An old open cast coal mine is passed on the first section of the track, before reaching Waitahu Junction. At this point the main track continues over the saddle into the valley beyond, whilst the circuit track we are on becomes a track rather than a road.
However, the track is in reasonably good condition and of a modest gradient – until the end. Along this section a number of old gold mining battery sites are passed, some requiring a detour of more strenuous effort. Informative notices inform you of the history of the area and the sites in particular.
One of the shafts, the Ajax Mine Shaft, was begun in 1872 eventually reaching a depth of an unbelievable 548 metres. Can you imagine how that was achieved in those times with the tools available?
This mine eventually ceased operations in 1911 after producing almost 90,000 ounces of gold.
Relics of the batteries abound, giant boilers and turbines lying rusty in the surrounding bush.
One of the challenges faced by the miners
in this rugged terrain was getting coal from the valleys to fuel these batteries. This is where the whims come into play. Yes, horse whims were used to haul coal up from the valleys to the tops and then down to the waiting trams or drays.
A whim is a device similar to a windlass used in mining for hauling materials to the surface. It comprises a capstan or a wide drum with a vertical axle.
A rope is wound around the drum, with both ends traversing several pulleys. As the drum is turned around by horses, one end of the rope is lowered, carrying an empty bucket, while the other one is raised, carrying a full load.
The final section of the track involves a steep descent for around 30 minutes through a pine forest, the fallen needles making it wonderfully soft underfoot.
For a moderate walk involving much history and lovely bush, this one is recommended. The sign board says to allow five hours, but we achieved it comfortably well inside that.
Above: A dense forest can be seen from the track. Below left: The old boiler and turbine at the Inglewood mine site. Below right: Judy at the site of the Ajax mine and its 548 metre deep pit.
Above left: A bridge crossing surrounded by trees. Above right: The entrance to the walk. Right: The track follows a gentle contour.