Tarawera promised gold, silver and copper but those who tried to mine its riches walked away with nothing. Visit the only smelter site on Southland's public conservation land.

The Tarawera Silver Mine and Smelter is located in Isthmus Sound in Preservation Inlet. It was one of many failed ore extraction ventures in the Preservation area, and the only smelter site on public conservation land in Southland.

Failed attempts to mine Tarawera

The Tarawera Lode contained gold, silver, copper and lead. A company was formed to mine the reef, and in 1897 a drive was excavated eighty feet inland to a depth of fifty feet below sea level. In 1899 the shaft was enlarged, but blasting fractured the roof, causing it to fill with sea water. Although the company tried to make the mine operational by installing a pump, it was too great a task and the mine was abandoned.

Tarawera Mine and Smelter. Photo: S K F Ericksen.
Tarawera mine and smelter

In 1908 Donald McKenzie purchased the Tarawera mine, and a second attempt was made. The plan was to smelt the ore to extract precious metals additional to gold, in the hope this would make the venture more viable. Fifty tons of plant was unloaded from the SS Invercargill onto the beach at Isthmus Sound in six hours! The old mine shaft was pumped out and ore extraction resumed. Thirty five tons of ore was smelted, only to produce no returns. The venture had failed again, the company was liquidated in 1912, and the site abandoned.  No explanation has been found for the failure of the smelter.

In a report of a visit in January 1914 it is recorded that all the buildings were empty and "good equipment left idle".  Close proximity of the site to the water would have made salvage of materials and equipment very easy, and only the brick chimney and a steam boiler remain.

Special feature

The most prominent and significant feature of this historic place is the reclining brick chimney running up the hill from the smelter.

Getting there

Conservation volunteers after completing maintenance work at the smelter chimney. Photo: K Bradley.
Conservation volunteers working at the smelter chimney

The Tarawera Silver Mine and Smelter is located in Isthmus Sound in Preservation Inlet. You can only reach this site by boat - either by visiting with a tourist operator or in your own sea transportation.

Further reading

Begg, A.C., Begg, N. C. (1973) Port Preservation. (Reeds)

Hall-Jones, J. (1976) Fiordland Explored. (Reeds)

Hall-Jones, J., 1982. Goldfields of the South. (Craig)

Peat, N. ( 2007) New Zealand’s Fiord Heritage: A Guide to the Historic Sites of Coastal Fiordland. (Department of Conservation Southland Conservancy)

Watt, J.O.P. (1971) Preservation Inlet. (Southland Times)

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