A bitter stand-off between a local community and miners has emerged after a significant seam of gold was found on protected conservation land in New Zealand’s North Island.
Last week New Talisman Gold Mines reported they had found a large vein of gold in the Karangahake Gorge in the North Island; 8,500kg of highest quality gold which put it in the top five percent of deposits worldwide when ranked on grade, according to the company.
The find is believed to be worth tens of millions of New Zealand dollars.
Talisman’s general manager of operations Wayne Chowles said the company planned to begin extracting small amounts of gold early next year, but locals in opposition to the scheme have sprung into action, saying the mining project threatens the “peace and harmony” of their “sacred” mountain and community.
The Karangahake Gorge lies on protected department of conservation land in the Coromandel peninsula and is a popular destination for tourists and locals alike. Located one and a half hour’s drive from Auckland and 55 minutes from Hobbiton, the scenic gorge is famed for its rich history and lush natural beauty.
But now the mining company and walkers are forced to share one narrow access road to the mountain.
|Protestors at Karangahake Gorge in New Zealand|
“We do not believe that our activities have, or will, significantly disrupt the peace and beauty of the gorge.” he said.
But some locals stridently disagree. Ruby Jane Powell is a member of the protest group Protect Karangahake. The group has been opposing any mining action in the gorge for a number of years, but have “doubled their efforts” this week to protect the land, sending dozens of protestors to block the access road, or slow down prospecting efforts by sending “very slow walkers” to clog up the road and prevent vehicle access.
“We don’t want to take direct action but we are left with no choice, the government and the department of conservation have failed to protect this treasured land,” said Powell.
“It is a really popular recreation area, and the local water source is taken down-stream from the mine. In general our culture and economy is really interlinked with the eco-tourism and outdoor aspect of life in the Coromandel, and mining threatens that,” said Powell.
The government and the department of conservation have failed to protect this treasured land
Ruby Jane PowellPowell said communication between the community and New Talisman had broken down.
“The reality is that gold-mining makes money for a few people, but we are the ones that pay the cost, we will have to live with a degraded environment and an altered sense of peace in the mountain.”
Green Party MP Catherine Delahunty said industrial scale gold mining on Karangahake mountain would “turn a beautiful recreational park and sacred mountain into an industrial zone”.
“This is public land which has been set aside to protect its ecological values and for recreation. It is a sacred mountain to the indigenous people of the area and local residents are actively and peacefully opposing the initial development of the mining activity on the mountain.
“The New Zealand Government is also hell bent on opening up conservation areas to mining but they do not have a mandate to destroy our precious places “
New Talisman were granted a 25-year mining permit to prospect and mine on conservation land in Karangahake in 2009, using an existing underground mine that has been in operation at various times between 1892 and 1992.
It is legal to mine on conservation land in New Zealand if the government and local council grant a permit and if land access is given from the department of conservation.
As of May there were 43 active mines on conservation land in New Zealand, according to the ministry of business, innovation and employment.
New Talisman have all the consents they need and the government insists mining activity won’t affect the historic gorge. The only thing standing in their path is local opposition.
Powell has vowed to keep up the fight. “We will continue to put our bodies on the line to stop New Talisman working in the mountain,” she said.