Explore the Tartare Tunnels at Franz Josef

The Tartare Tunnels near Franz Josef village offer a unique Glacier Country adventure.

The Tartare Tunnels: Explore the remnants of the Franz Josef Glacier Goldrush

Mr Callery was the first person to find gold near the Franz Josef Glacier, quickly followed by German Harry (Harry Wolmer) in 1868. In his quest to find gold Harry undertook an epic journey from the East Coast climbing over Mounts Mueller and Burster, and finally descending into the Callery Gorge where he collected several ounces of gold. In mountaineering terms this represented a staggering achievement. Even with today’s lightweight equipment it would be no mean feat to accomplish this.

Characters like “Piggery Charlie” and “Wombat Jack” then established their well landscaped claims at the confluence of the Callery and on the Waiho riverbanks.“The Waiho Sluicing Company” was the first commercial enterprise in the area transporting water from the Tatare Gorge to the sluice face at the Waiho River via a 500 metre long tunnel system and 350 metres of water race. Pre-drilled sheets of steel and other materials were landed at Port Okarito and taken by horse drawn cart to be shipped down Lake Mapourika and then taken to the Waiho work site.

The tunnel were blasted through the cliff face high up the Tatare Gorge, “level at first then taking on a slight gradient to allow gravity to feed the pipeline and fluming. “  In 1907 three teams of workers were engaged around the clock. Without the aid of modern measuring equipment they took over a year to dig their way through and when they met the tunnels were within a few centimetres of exact alignment! Unfortunately, the gold recovered from the site did not cover the mining costs and the company closed down in 1908.

Today it is a forty minute walk to the Tatare Tunnels. Take a torch to light your way through the tunnels. You will  see the glow worms. Warm socks and sturdy footwear are advised as ankle deep water runs through the tunnel all year round and in some places the tunnel ceiling is low so be sure to mind your head.

You can also see the start of a seventy metre penstock near the tunnel entrance that once led to a hydroelectric power station. The plant originally supplied power to the local sawmill by day and then the Graham Hotel at night.The operation ended when the power station was washed away in a massive flood event in 1982. This is just another example of the forces of nature.

The trailhead in Franz Josef Glacier Village is at the cul-de-sac at the end of Cowan Street where you can also access the Callery-Waiho Walk.