An enraged hobby mine operator drove through a line of about 20 protesters in the hills of Hikuai in the Coromandel yesterday after they blockaded a public road for an hour.
The quiet demonstration almost turned nasty as protesters refused to move so they could speak to participants of an Australasian mining institute conference who had been visiting the small Broken Hills Historic Mine on Department of Conservation (DoC) land.
Protesters blocked the only road in and out of the Coromandel Forest Park with their cars and told the group they wanted a clear message sent back to industry that mining was not welcome on conservation land on the Coromandel.
"He's the Trojan horse for the mining industry," said Catherine Delahunty, a former Green Party MP among the protesters, who were mostly residents of Hikuai, Tairua and Whangamata.
"We want you to hear what we all have to say," said Keryn Drummond of Tairua.
"We understand this is a small mine. This land has been set aside for conservation. We don't want any more mining."
Mine owners Stuart and Miranda Rabone were hosting about 20 visitors from the Australasian Institute of Mining and Metallurgy.
Their son Vic drove through the line of protesters when they refused to move out of the way, and a brief scuffle ensued.
Dr Stuart Rabone said his family had preserved the mine which was operating it responsibly under a Department of Conservation permit which was drafted by DoC staff themselves 20 years ago.
The area is a popular walking and swimming spot for locals and tourists and has a DoC campground near numerous walks featuring relics of 19th Century mining days.
Exploration permits are active throughout nearby mountain ranges including Whangamata, where mining company Oceana Gold says the Wharekirauponga (WKP) prospect was early in the exploration process but presents "an exciting target".
The company website says it commenced exploration of this area in August 2017 and by the end of July 2018 had drilled approximately 8000 metres.
A spokesman for Oceana Gold in Waihi, Kit Wilson, said the lobby group Coromandel Watchdog were aware that a big conference was happening from Sunday to Tuesday in Tauranga with visiting delegates on the field trip to Puketui Valley and this is what had led to the protest.
Rabone said the historic broken hills mine was "a postage stamp surrounded by a huge envelope of Oceana".
"We've been civil and dignified and when it came to the DOC access arrangement 20 years ago and I was getting nowhere, I said 'why don't you fellas write the access agreement, and I'll sign it, and they did. If you are polite to people, you might make progress."
He said he and his family were conservationists at heart.
"We do have to mine it because that's our core business but we only mine it to generate a certain amount of revenue and no more.
"We have preserved a mine that was falling into decay, and this is a mine that has a proud history going back to 1895 through to World War I. A lot of the men went to the New Zealand Tunnelling Company to the Western Front in France."
Among the protesters was Catherine Thompson who had protested with her husband and other locals 30 years ago to stop mining in the area.
Yesterday she was joined by her grandson and granddaughter and said the threat of mining had made her life in the peaceful valley stressful.
"We're just sick of it. It's in a forest park and it's not the right place. We just shouldn't have to be going through this again."
"We don't want them here," said Hikuai resident Anita Prescott, before directing comments to Rabone.
"You are so lucky to have this but we believe DoC land should be for conservation and you can tell them back at the conference we don't want mining here."