After we ate our picnic lunch, we decided to cross the river and walk up to the restored winding house, then on up the mountain to the old poppet head. Some of us had worn shoes rather than boots, so one man kindly let us ride across the river. Here we are loading up–several people clung to the running boards to get across!
We walked up the track on the other side to the old winding house, through dense bush. One place opened out into this little meadow cut through with several narrow creeks. I’ve never seen anything quite like this!
This is inside the winding house. This steam engine used to power a huge winch that pulled a cable which ran up the hill to the poppet head. From there, the cable dropped down underground in the the mine shaft. I think it went down about 600 meters–that’s around a quarter of a mile. The original winding house was vandalized after the mine was abandoned, but then rebuilt recently and the machinery restored to its present condition.
Next, we walked up another track to get to the poppet head. This is the foot of the pile of tailings that cascades down from the top. We walked around to the left on a foot path.
Along the way, we passed a drilling platform. A gold mining company based in Reefton is exploring for gold. They set up a drilling platform at likely locations and drill multiple holes for core samples, at all angles from this platform. The platform and all equipment was brought in and placed by helicopter, and it is resupplied by helicopter, as well. The men live in a hut down the mountain a little ways; they are able to drive to it and up to the base of the pile of tailings with a 4WD, and then walk to and from the platform. One man in our group works for that mining company, and on this particular Saturday he had to visit this platform to check on their core sample, so he was able to drive his family up to Big River with a company vehicle. He took off within a few minutes of arriving at the car park to do his job, and Simon went with him. Simon got to spend a couple of hours, before we got there, talking to the men doing the drilling and learning all about it. He happened to know the man in charge, so that was pretty exciting for him. Our friend snapped this photo on the drilling platform with his phone.
When we arrived, our friend (the man in the orange camo shirt) explained the entire process and brought up a box of core samples to show us. This hole had just passed 300 meters, so it was time to pull the drill out of it and start a new one.
The core samples are brought up three meters at a time, and laid out carefully in these boxes so that they can be reconstructed in the shed later. Our friend analyzes them to see what type of rock is present, looking for signs that gold might be present. The blue numbers on the samples represent the levels of arsenic–more arsenic means more likelihood of gold. The white streaks are quartz or fools gold, both of which indicate gold may be present.
Our next stop was at the top of the mountain, where the poppet head still stands over the old mine shaft. This tower used to be covered with boards to protect against the weather. The cable from the winding house came up here to a huge pulley, and then down into the shaft to pull men and rocks up, and lower supplies and men down.
The view from the top is incredible!
Our friend the geologist handed out cloth sample bags to the children and challenged them to find a rock with gold in it. They were each to find a likely-looking rock and give it to him, and he would analyze the rocks to see who was closest. The tailings contain a lot of gold-bearing rocks, since the technology at the time that this mine was in operation couldn’t recover nearly as much gold as we can today.
The children scrambled all over the mountain of tailings on their way down, searching for the perfect rock!
The rest of us carefully picked our way down this very steep slope, holding on to trees most of the way to keep our balance.
After we got off the mountain, we loaded up again and headed out the track, trying to get out before it got fully dark. We made it–just! Then, all except one family gathered at the home of the family who live in Reefton, and enjoyed fish and chips before going home. It was a great day!
Here is a short video I put together from several clips that Esther recorded. The parts of driving on the track were on the tamest stretches. If she had been recording on the worst parts, it would make you carsick to watch!