A solid gold climb

Waiorongom­ai Valley offers myriad tramping tracks including the historic Butler’s Incline.

- Words and photograph­y Carolyn Enting

Step back in time and follow pack tracks and old tramlines from the Waikato’s gold mining days in Waiorongom­ai Valley. The former gold mining area, located in Kaimai Mamaku Conservati­on Park, offers up several tracks and walking options that interlink with one another, which means you can tailor the walk you choose to your fitness level and sense of adventure.

We chose to conquer Butler’s Incline, an old tramline that can be reached by following the Low Level Loop, a gentler ascent, or the Piako County Tramway. The bush was cleared to make way for gold mines after prospector Hone Werahiko discovered gold in the Waiorongom­ai Valley in 1881. The subsequent gold mining operation was described as “one long chapter of disaster” by a mines inspector in 1935. One reason for the lack of success was due to low yields from the unexpected­ly hard rock.

Since that time, native bush has reclaimed the valley and the forgotten rail tracks have been unearthed and restored into a series of trails that everyone can now enjoy.

Entering this forgotten world of broken dreams is an otherworld­ly experience. The hike up Butler’s Incline nods to past toil and sweat of the gold miners. At the equivalent of 845 steep steps, it is definitely a bit of a gut-buster for the modern hiker.

Allow 15-25 minutes to the top and on the ascent, make sure to take the time to stop and enjoy the view of where you have come from, and where you still have to go. It’s an impressive vista and you will be very pleased with yourself when you reach the top.

Butler’s Incline is part of the Piako County Tramway, New Zealand’s oldest known bush tramway.

Built in 1882-83, the original rail is still in place and Butler’s Incline is the second incline along the tramway. Here, carts full of ore once descended while empty carts ascended on a pulley system.

The difficulti­es and dangers involved in building the tramway are evident. In addition to all the muscle and sweat involved in removing the vegetation and laying the tracks, those using the incline had to ensure their timing was accurate in order to avoid horrendous accidents. Every day was fraught with risk for the brakeman operating the winch. Today, much of the old steelwork and rails have been salvaged and restored.

You can follow the Piako County Tramway back to the carpark from the bottom of Butler’s Incline, or walk it in reverse, starting on the High Level Track which joins the Piako County Tramway. This in turn joins the bottom of the Low Level Track at the bottom of Butler’s Incline.

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