Gold, Tatare Tunnels
Mr Callery was the first person to find gold near the Franz Josef Glacier, quickly followed by German Harry (Harry Wolmer) in 1868. Harry had an epic journey from the East Coast climbing over Mounts Mueller and Burster, and descending into the Callery Gorge where he collected several ounces of gold. In mountaineering terms this was a “staggering” achievement even with today’s light weight equipment.
Characters like “Piggery Charlie” and “Wombat Jack” then established their well landscaped claims at the confluence of the Callery and on the Waiho riverbanks.“The Waiho Sluicing Company” was the first commercial enterprise in the area. They achieved a massive engineering feat by transporting water from the Tatare Gorge to the sluice face at the Waiho River via a 500 metre long tunnel system and 350 metres of water race. Pre-drilled sheets of steel and other materials were landed at Port Okarito, taken by horse drawn cart to be shipped down Lake Mapourika and then taken to the Waiho work site.
The tunnel were blasted through the cliff face high up the Tatare Gorge, “level at first then taking on a slight gradient to allow gravity to feed the pipeline and fluming. “ In 1907 three teams of workers were engaged around the clock. Without the aid of modern measuring equipment they took over a year to dig their way through and when they met the tunnels were within a few centimetres of exact alignment! Unfortunately, the gold recovered from the site did not cover the mining costs and the company closed down in 1908.
Today it is a forty minute walk to the Tatare Tunnels, take a torch so you can walk through them and see the glow worms. Warm socks and sturdy footwear are advised as ankle deep water runs through the tunnel all year round and mind your head in some places the tunnel ceiling is low.
You can also see the start of a seventy metre penstock near the tunnel entrance that once led to a hydroelectric power station. The plant originally supplied power to the local sawmill by day and then the Graham Hotel at night.
The operation ended when the power station was washed away in a massive flood event in 1982. Just another example of how Mother Nature has the last word on human endeavour, whether it is on recovering nonexistent gold or generating power in the face of a raging river.