The Switzers Museum in Waikaia, northern Southland is small but is regarded widely as containing one of the best displays of memorabilia from the gold rushes of the 19th century.
Like most similar facilities, the fabric of the museum needs constant attention and a local gold mining company lent a hand towards that cost through an open day at its nearby Freshford Mine back in February. While the committee of the museum took care of security, parking and feeding the visitors, Waikaia Gold carried on a normal day’s operations.
Hundreds of people from all over the south attended the open day as it was the first time this mine had ever been open to the public. Visitors were treated to the sight of a working dredge, heavy machinery and trucks dealing with overburden and even had the chance to pan for gold in a specially erected trough.
Waikaia, or Switzers as it was previously known, has a long history of gold mining but the current operation conducted by Waikaia Gold is by far the most modern and most successful gold mining operation in the south for many years.
Waikaia Gold is a registered company owned largely by three cornerstone investors.
Opened in November 2013, the company has been moving about 240,000 square metres per month of overburden, silts and gravels. Another five million square metres of enriched gravels will be processed through the plant from which gold particles are being extracted.
Waikaia Gold estimates the mine at Freshford has a global resource of 140,000 ounces of gold, of which 110,000 ounces are mineable. At present Waikaia Gold expects to produce 16,000- 20,000 ounces of gold per year over the next six years.
The mining operation is being deveoped in four stages. Stages 1 and 2 are moving 4.5 kilometres up the Freshford Flats towards the township of Waikaia, just short of the Dome Burn. However, Stage 3 is on the west side of Freshford adjacent to the Garvie Burn (Muddy Creek) and Stage 4 is on the south side of the Waikaia River next to the Waiparu Bridge.
Currently, the plant at Freshford processes about 700,000 square metres annually. An 87-tonne digger feeds it, with every two cubic metre bucket load containing between 1200-2400 milligrams of gold. This works out to about $100 per bucket. The same plant also produces three to five ounces of gold per hour. At present, this is worth about $1650 per troy ounce.
The company’s sheet piler drives 12-14 metre piles with 105 tonnes of force. At present there are some 3000 sheet piles on the site. These are needed to keep most of the water out of the pit.
A Reefton West Coast company, Rosco Contracting, removes the overburden under contract. This company operates eight 40-50 tonne trucks with a 120-tonne digger and an 86-tonne digger. Usually, about 16 metres of overburden is removed by that method, with the plant processing the remaining four to five metres of gravel to the basement clay.
This operation is currently injecting a considerable amount of cash into the local northern and eastern Southland economies, using between 200,000 and 240,000 litres of diesel every month. This has to be seen in the context of the money spent in those local economies. About $15 million annually is spent locally through wages, goods and services to the project.
Waikaia Gold also pays all government and local authority taxes and levies, with the Crown deducting one percent of all gold recovered at the mine. At the same time, the landowner receives a monthly royalty and compensation from the company.