The New Zealand Goldrush Journal

Volume 3 (2019)


by Dave Wilton


During 2012, the author was contacted by Fiona Ellmers, a resident of a farm on the eastern shore of Lake Waikare, near Rangiriri, in the northern Waikato. She advised that they had several tunnels on their property, which were probably mine adits, and that she had become aware of a gold rush in the area in 1868, which may have been related to the tunnels.

A historical investigation was carried out; mainly using on-line sources such as AJHRs and Paperspast, and the existence of the 1868 gold rush to the Rangiriri area was verified. A search was conducted of about 10 probable adits in the area, during September 2012, and photos, GPS waypoints etc were collected. The site is now recorded as S13/151.

Thames Map
Figure 1: Waikato area showing general area of Lake Waikare adits.
Click to enlarge the photo.


The Waikare, or Rangiriri, Gold Rush, as it variously became known, appears to have been precipitated by a geological report of the northern Waikato produced by Captain F.W. Hutton, on contract to the NZGS, in 1867. Hutton stated:

As I wish to be clearly understood on this very important point, I will repeat that I think it possible, but not probable, that auriferous quartz veins will be found in the range running from behind Waikare Lake, through Pukemore, Rangiuru, Taupiri, Pukewhau, and Hakarimata, to Te Kapamahanga, but it is quite hopeless ever to expect to find any alluvial gold field in this district. (AJHR 1867 D-05)

Despite Hutton’s very careful wording, the major gold strike at Thames in August 1867 meant that gold fever was rife, and prospectors flocked to the Waikare area; greatly encouraged by hyperbole in the news media of the time. For example, the Daily Southern Cross, of 25 June 1868 reported:

We are glad to be able to inform our readers that at length there is every probability of the Waikato country contributing another addition to our present payable goldfields. For the last two or three years there have been intermittent rumours to the effect that gold had been found in several localities in the neighbourhood of Rangiriri but the reports invariably died away after occasioning the usual nine days' wonder. For the past two weeks the rumours have again been revived, gaining in force and circumstantiality [sic] day by day, until actual specimens of gold-bearing quartz were ultimately received in town, and duly exhibited to a favoured few, and the exact locality made known to be near Lake Waikare.

Note that Hutton’s words '…possible, but not probable' have been transformed to '…every probability'. Much was also made of the supposed close proximity to the Thames goldfield, and the similarity in the geology of the two areas. The same Daily Southern Cross article stated:

It is said that from the hills adjacent to the lake the smoke can be discerned from the crushing machines on the Thames goldfield, and that the town of Shortland itself can be distinguished, as well as the tents upon the ranges, which latter appear like white specks in the distance by the aid of the telescope. The distance of Shortland from Lake Waikare is about thirty miles as the crow flies, and the main line of reef at this latter place is said to run in the same direction as that borne by many of the best reefs at Shortland and Tapu Creek.

The Thames area would definitely not be visible from the tops of the hills immediately east of Lake Waikare – the Hapuakohe Ranges would be in the way. Also, the relevance of the reefs running in the same direction is not readily apparent, and the fact that Tapu is about 30 km from Shortland was obviously not appreciated by the reporter.

The actual number of prospectors and support people who reached the Waikare area and searched for gold varies from a couple of dozen, to hundreds, depending on the state of excitement of the various reporters. Various descriptions indicated that most of the prospecting activity took place in the area to the east of Lake Waikare, especially where the hills descend steeply to the lake shore (which includes the area of Ellmers’ farm). Quartz samples were transported to Auckland for assaying, but it appears the results were unfavorable, as nothing was heard of the outcome, and the rush petered out a few months after it started.

Under the Goldfields Act (1866) the Superintendent of the Auckland Province had the authority to declare the area a goldfield with the attendant provisions (miners’ licences, registration of claims etc) but it appears this was never done, so the Rangiriri/Waikare 'goldfield' actually wasn’t one. Nevertheless, it represents a significant episode in NZ gold mining and Waikato history, and the location of adits remaining from this period presented a good opportunity to record the site.

A summary of historical references located was attached to the SRF as a separate document.

Survey –2012

The author visited the Ellmers farm in Sept 2012, and was taken on a tour of about ten probable adits by Fiona Ellmers. These are spread along the side of the escarpment running down to the shore of Lake Waikare; mostly on the Ellmers farm, but with a couple on the property of their neighbours to the south. The longest adit (for which GPS waypoint 563 was recorded) is about 40m long, with a 1m-deep shaft in about the middle, with 1m adits off the sides of the shaft. The adit has a bend of about 30 degrees left, about 30m from the entrance.

While in the area, the opportunity was taken to visit S13/62, a pa site, on the lake shore approx 300m NNW of the Ellmers homestead. This was recorded by Tony Walton in 1981, based on a 1949 air photo. A walk-around was conducted, but no obvious signs of a defended pa site were located. It may have been a kainga site, however, as there were level areas that could have been garden terraces. There are also a number of loquat trees growing close to the lake shore. (Note: Fiona Ellmers later checked with a representative of the family that own the land the pa is recorded as being on, and she confirmed that it was a pa and burial site, although she wasn’t aware of the details. To be investigated further.)

Site Significance

As stated previously, there were no significant finds of gold, or any mineral, in the Rangiriri/Waikare area, so the value of the site is probably debatable. However, it was a significant event in local Waikato, and Auckland provincial, history, and should be regarded in that light. It is probably unfortunate that the remaining adits are on private property, or else a short loop walk, with interpretation, may have been appropriate.

Figure 2: Entrance to longest adit (WP563)
- approx 40m long.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Figure 3: Adit approx 5m long.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Figure 4: Adit approx 5-6m long.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Figure 5: TUMONZ topgraphical map showing
GPS waypoint and S13/62 pa site.
Click to enlarge the photo.
Farm Map
Figure 6: Google Earth showing Ellmers farm area. The outer red
line roughly bounds the area where the adits are located.
Click to enlarge the photo.

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