Our noses lead us to Taharoa township, up a side road then back and up another until we came to the coast - and the Taharoa mine site which covers an area of 1,300 hectares. Huge - and ugly. Maybe even more ugly in the rain. Or maybe the rain dimmed the stark ugliness of it.
All I can say is I was surprised that the operation existed, I had no idea black sand was mined and exported to that extent. But it's been happening since 1972 and there is a commemoration sculpture on the other side of the road to testify to that.
The black sand is extracted from a pond by a floating dredge, then conveyed to an adjacent floating concentration plant for processing. The concentration plant produces between 200 and 300 tonnes of magnetic concentrate an hour. The concentrate is extracted from the raw sand in a series of separation processes, then pumped in slurry form to a stockpiling area two kilometres away.
The slurry is pumped via pipeline to an off-shore single buoy mooring where it is transferred to a bulk carrier fitted with special dewatering equipment. The delivery system to the mooring1 is capable of pumping 2,500 dry long tonnes per hour through two pipelines.
Back in the village we stopped at the tiny store to get a drink and a snack bar or whatever was on offer to sustain us and were surprised as we walked in the door by the smell of hot food. So we bought something to eat then proceeded to eat standing at the counter chatting to the lady behind the counter. What a privilege it was to spend time with someone so positive, cheerful and grateful for her life and her community. A life that I thought would be dull and dreary in such uninspiring surroundings is, in fact, full and eventful. If ever they need to attract more residents to the area, she is the lady for the job.
Some time later we came upon a sign and parking area at the Mangapuhoe Natural Bridge, which neither of us had heard of before. There was a Department of Conservation truck in the parking area but no other vehicle, the rain wasn't too heavy, and we figured the trees over the path might keep us from getting soaked.
What we found was the best sort of surprise. A path through the dense bush, a boarded walk beside the cliffs, across a swing bridge walkway and then a huge limestone archway, formed originally as a large cave which partially collapsed, leaving the Natural Bridge.
Excuse the rain spots
Looking up through a hole in the archway and steps to the top. Down below us on the left flows the Mangapohue Stream.
We carried on, eventually coming out on to SH3 at Waitomo, had a cuppa at the coffee shop located in the old railway station, then headed back out to the west coast.
During our last night the weather deteriorated even further with quite a strong wind springing up. Time to go home. And wouldn't you know it, the weather started to improve before we even left the coast.