It's a former coal mine which Huntly man, Murray Allen knows all too well, from when he was a youngster over 60 years ago.

"When it was an open cast pit, they uncovered the original Holland mine from the 1800s," he said. "The tunnels were at the bottom of the open cast pit and we used to play in them. Not knowing about any danger or anything like that."

Now he and his family want to flood the pit area, turning the giant open space into a lake.

"You get an idea of the scale of what's going to happen with the lake," Allen explains. "Up on the skyline is an orange buoy and that's the final lake level, so we'll be under water here when it's full."

The lake will be about 60m deep and 1.2km long when filled.


Murray and his wife, Jennifer have lived next to the mine for more than 30 years and their son, Greg farmed a neighbouring property.

The Allens bought the mine after it shut down last year when Solid Energy folded, and now the Allens wanted to make it into a recreational community hub for locals and visitors - once again providing employment for local people.

"Businesswise, Huntly has been good to us, giving us the funds to buy the farm and buy this mine," he said. "And we want to make it into a valuable asset for us. Not to sit on. It needs to be shared with the community."

Among some of the early ideas were a museum showcasing the town's mining history, shops, cafes, walking tracks and biking trails.

The lake itself would become a recreational area with wetlands and native planting, and able to host events in a natural amphitheatre.

"Here, because it is under a private management model, there's a chance to do things which you may not be able to do at other lakes - in a good way," Project Manager, Charlie Young said.

"We're looking at new recreational opportunities like sailing, waka ama, kayaking, stand up paddle boarding - those types of passive recreational activities."

At 79 years of age, Allen wants to see the restoration completed for future generations.


They have already started on the earthworks, clearing the land and planting the area. The lake was slowly filling too and Young said restoring the natural environment around the lake was a big part of the vision.

"Eventually the lake will reconnect itself with the Waikato River so the whole catchment needs comprehensive planting relating to not just the lake but connectivity to the lake and catchment itself," he said.

Allan was ambitious about the project, hoping to make the most of being in the "Golden Triangle" between three major population hubs.

"We've got over half the population of New Zealand and we've got the three cities - Hamilton, Tauranga and Auckland - a very easy commute especially with expressway and train links and we want to make it the playground for the cities."

Young hoped a new Huntly interchange for the Waikato Expressway could be constructed alongside the property.

"Before, I guess there were not enough reasons behind investing in [the interchange] because it is expensive.

"But now with this as a leading project, the motorway crosses this property line and the roading that is here makes sense for an interchange.

"If we can get an interchange, we have a train station that almost ensures the success of this project to get people in and out and the traffic flows correct."

Plans for the development were still before the council because a zone change was required for the vision to become a reality. But the Allens and their team were hopeful.

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