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.

Walking New Zealand - - Contents - By Keith and Judy Hitch­cock

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.

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