I was driving from the Bay of Islands to Auckland in February 2020, and I called in at Hikurangi on the way south. Hikurangi is about ten miles (16 km to a New Zealander) north of Whangerei, the major city of the Northland, and is 2.5 hours drive from Auckland. It currently has a population of around 1600.
The Northland had a significant role as an early coal mining region in New Zealand so I decided to call at the local museum. See https://www.facebook.com/Hikurangi-Historical-Museum-108519390502906/about
Although it was theoretically closed, there were a couple of museum staff in the building. They welcomed me in, and I was shown around by Lisa and one of her colleagues, and they told me about the proud history of coal mining in Hikurangi.
Coal was discovered at Hikurangi in the 1860s, but the first mine didn’t open until 1889. Eventually there were three main mines, Waro, Wilsons, and the Great Northern Coal Company. There were also a number of small family enterprises. Total output over their lifetime was around 4.5 million tons. The mines in Hikurangi were in decline by the middle of the 20th century , and many of the miners in Hikurangi went to work in the nearby mines in north Whangerei. Limestone quarrying has continued despite the rise and fall of coal, and there is still an active quarry in the district, although now Hikurangi’s main source of prosperity is agriculture.
It’s a fascinating local museum, that is voluntarily run, rather than state funded, and many of its displays concentrate on the coal miners and their families. The collection of black and white photographs of the mines that are no longer there were striking given the agricultural landscape of today. There is a strong Scottish connection and one of the volunteers at the museum, Bill, worked in the Scottish industry before he emigrated to New Zealand. Shame I didn’t meet him.
Memories of the mining years also remain within the town, including a memorial and the Miners Rest cafe, where I sat outside with a coffee and pastry in the scorching New Zealand sunshine, before recommencing my journey south to Auckland.
The track of a horse drawn tramway survives nearby at Waro, shame I ran out of time to visit. See https://www.doc.govt.nz/documents/conservation/historic/by-region/northland/waro-horse-tramline-track-heritage-assessment.pdf
Steve July 2020