Central Otago Gold Mining – Modern Style
I don’t know what your thoughts are about large open cast mines but no matter what, their size and scale is impressive. A side trip at the end of our third day on the Otago Central Rail Trail was to visit the site of Oceana Gold’s Macraes mine. I have heard a bit about this operation over the years but had no clear idea about where the mine was or how it operated.
As you approach the mine area and the historic Macraes Flat village the first thing you see above town is large hills of mine tailings that have been groomed, grassed and grazed with sheep. It is only when you arrive at the viewing area for the modern mine that any sense of overall scale is observable. The gigantic Fraser’s open cast pit opens up before you, with giant mining machinery dwarfed by the sheer size.
The Macraes Gold Mine is some 80km north of Dunedin and the area has been known for its gold producing capacity since the 1860s gold rush. When the last of the small-scale miners left the area 100 years later Macraes Flat began a downward spiral – like a lot of rural New Zealand – until the new ‘rush’! The remaining gold is firmly locked inside solid rock, requiring considerable money, ingenuity and technology to prise it free.
The new mining operation by Oceana Gold works 24/7 and approximately 100 kg of gold is produced each week. The first gold of the modern mining operation was poured in 1990. As well as the large open cast pit, the company is developing an underground mine which we were told follows a gold seam some 26 km below the earth’s surface. It is expected that the life of the mine will be 25 – 30 years.
Near the open cast mine and within site of the modern smelter are the ruins of the historic Golden Point Mine where you can see old mining machinery, the manager’s house and three sod cottages used by miners.