When exploring New Zealand’s conservation areas it is often easy to be absorbed by the beauty of the forest and (hopefully) the tunes of native birds. We often forget that even the most remote pieces of bush often have a component of human history.
Coppermine Creek is one of these areas. Located in the south eastern reaches of the Ruahine Forest Park, the Coppermine Creek roadend is only 20 minutes drive from Dannevirke or 45 minutes drive from Palmerston North.
Early European settlement in the area was based around farming. Copper was first found in the creek in 1887 when settlers found traces in the creek bed while searching the bush for lost cattle.
Attempts were made to prospect copper on and off for the next 100 years, however extraction was never enough to make it commercially viable.
Still in existence from those days is the magazine shaft used for storing explosives and other mining equipment, and this makes for an interesting destination to walk to.
Recently myself and three other intrepid adventurers explored Coppermine Creek.
It takes an hour or so from the roadend to reach the magazine shaft.
The first 30-40 minutes of the Coppermine Creek Track was wide and well-graded making for easy walking. The track travelled through lowland podocarp forest and several tall totara and rimu could be seen towering above the lower canopy.
At one point we passed through a grove of yellow leaved poplars (planted for erosion control in the mid 20th century). It was strange to see deciduous exotics amongst the green native forest.
Halfway to the magazine shaft the track crosses another track. To the right is a track that crosses the creek and continues up the ridge to complete a loop back out to the car park via the ridge. This track provides a more strenuous option for returning to their cars than the Coppermine Creek Track.
On the left is a boggy track called the Wharite Peak Track. It climbs steeply to the windswept leatherwood tops and along to Wharite Road, the southern tip of the Ruahine Range. On a clear day there are magnificent views, but it is recommended for experienced trampers only.
However, to get to the magazine we continued straight on.
The path became a little rougher in places, with a detour around a washout before crossing the creek and passing the site of an historic work and accommodation base for mining work done in the 1920’s.
Soon after this the track joined the creek and from here we rock hopped up the creek bed for some distance. This route would not be safe after heavy rain.
We reached the site of the magazine in just over an hour from the roadend. There are several interpretation panels along the route, and one at this site.
After a bit of scouting around we discovered the actual magazine across the creek from the interpretation panel. The magazine was excavated in 1930, and as well as storing mining equipment was used to store munitions during World War II.
Turning on our torches we ventured into the low shaft. It was impossible to stand straight and was very wet underfoot.
The shaft was about 15 metres long and we were fascinated by the huge spiders and beautiful cave weta. At the far end of the shaft was a large group of cave weta clinging to the roof of the magazine. This was definitely a highlight of the trip.
From the magazine area the track continued up the hill and after 20 minutes we reached the site of the original mineshaft. Unfortunately the original mineshaft is no longer visible as it was in-filled in the 1990’s and is now just a slope.
Retracing our steps we headed back towards the car park. When the tracks crossed, we chose to take the loop track up over the ridge and out via the farmland, taking about 2 hours from the intersection.
It is quite a strenuous climb for the first 40 minutes or so, but well worth the effort for those looking for a more energetic outing. There are views across southern Hawke’s Bay from the top portion of track, which passes through private farmland.
The weather suddenly changed on us—it rained, it got cold, and I was pleased to have my coat, my gloves, and my warm jacket—all the gear you need to take, just in case!
Please note, if you choose to take this route please respect the privilege of walking across private land, avoid stock and leave gates as you find them.
Coppermine Creek offers something for all, a great family trip—to the magazine and back—or the longer loop back to the car park. Either choice gives you a great chance to get back to nature while enjoying part of New Zealand’s fascinating pioneering history.