More than 30 years after its closure cast a pall over Waverley, the people associated with Waipipi Iron Sands are having a reunion.

The big day is October 12, based at Waverley Rugby Club, and will begin at 11am with the launch of a book about the iron sand mining venture. About 80 people from all around New Zealand are expected, author Laraine Sole said.

After the launch of Sole's book Black Gold: The story of Waipipi Iron Sands Ltd 1969-1988 there will be a lunch, a tour of what's left of the coastal Waverley mine site, then a dinner and dance with entertainment from Waverley's Frankie Stevens.

Waipipi Iron Sands' on-shore mining operation employed 160 people and ran night and day during its heyday. The crew even had their own rugby team.


It started in 1969 after the Government decided iron sand in the area was not a potential reserve for domestic steel manufacture, Sole said.

The Marcona Corporation was granted a licence to explore between the Tongaporutu and Whangaehu Rivers. A trial plant was set up on John Alexander's land in coastal Waverley.

It was successful and Waipipi Iron Sands was set up in 1971.

Three lives were lost during the mining operation. Captain Michael Ruffhead, Raymond Chenery and Mervyn Ericsson were drowned when Waipipi's service vessel Wairoa sank crossing the Whanganui River bar on July 5, 1978.

Two dredges work together at the former Waipipi Iron Sands operation. Photo / Supplied
Two dredges work together at the former Waipipi Iron Sands operation. Photo / Supplied

Bullocks of Whanganui were responsible for all the mine earthworks. Large ponds were made and sand was mixed with water to make a slurry and pumped to ships offshore. A total of 15.7 million tonnes was shipped to Japan before the operation closed in 1987-88.

Its closure, combined with the closure of the Patea meatworks, put a huge pall over the two small towns, Sole said. People moved out or became unemployed, schools shrank, service clubs struggled for members and businesses suffered.

In June 2018 Waverley had another dark time when five local people were killed on the roads in the same week. Waverley's volunteer firefighters responded in their usual spectacular way, Sole said.

"There are some things that cannot be unseen or unheard and live in the psyche long after the event. Not everyone can deal with this. Our highly trained Fire Brigade volunteers are exceptional people."


Sole looked for something to put back into the community and decided to write the story of Waipipi Iron Sands. There would have been surprisingly little information to go on - except that the late Colin Pahl had saved every scrap of material about the mining, and his daughter had kept those records.

The book contains the names of 250 people who worked in the operation because Sole wanted to give everybody a voice.

She published 300 copies, which will sell for about $30 each. They are available at Paige's Book Gallery and H & A Print in Whanganui.

Proceeds from the sale will go to the firefighters to help raise funds for their support vehicle. Their Chief Fire Officer, Alan Hickford, worked at Waipipi Iron Sands from beginning to end.

Registrations for the reunion can be made by emailing