Since the first occupation of New Zealand in 800 – 900 AD, various
useful minerals, rocks, and energy resources have been identified and extracted.
The Maori prized greenstone for ornaments, tools, and weapons, used argillite
and obsidian for tools, and decorated their carvings and bodies with colours
made from clays, limonite, and vivianite. They were aware of coal (waro), but
are not known to have used it for fuel.
Before 1840, visiting whalers used coal from Shag Point to heat their
trypots. Mining activities got underway in the 1840s, with the finding of
manganese oxide deposits in the Bay of Islands, Kawau Island, Waiheke· Island,
and Taieri Mouth. Secondary copper ore was mined on Kawau Island (1846 – 1869),
and native sulphur was exported from White Island to Europe. The discovery of
gold at Coromandel in 1852 and a few years later in Northwest Nelson and Otago
opened the way to gold rushes in these areas and subsequently in Marlborough and
Westland. Mining of alluvial gold evolved through sluicing to the invention of
gold dredges; first (1863) was the simple spoon design, but later (1881) large
steam-powered bucket-ladder machines weighing around 3800 tonnes were built.
Most of the gold dredges had gone by the early 1960s, following a revival in the
1930s, but one large dredge operates today on the Grey River.
Other mining events included: underground mining of coal from 1849 and
underground mining of lode gold from 1863 in the Coromandel, Reefton, and Otago
fields. Most outcropping coal deposits had been discovered by 1870. Building
stones were used by the early settlers for construction of houses, churches,
banks, public buildings, and some universities from 1836. Aggregate for roads,
railway ballast, and concrete, and limestone for cement and fertiliser, and
clays for bricks and china have been quarried for many years.