The first gold was struck at Waingaro Forks in the 1850s, but 70 years later, a group of miners returned to the hills to see if anything had been left behind. During the Great Depression, the government’s gold prospecting subsidy scheme enabled unemployed men to return to old sites. In the early 1930s, about 40 miners lived at Waingaro Forks—remains of a dozen huts are scattered about the area, although only one remains today, built by brothers Bang and Choggy Mason from pit-sawn beech weatherboards.
Waingaro Forks Hut is 18.7 kilometres from the road end at Uruwhenua in Golden Bay, a walk of six to eight hours on a pack track constructed in the 1890s. At first, the track switchbacks about 60 times up a 700-metre climb, following an exposed ridgeline, as views of Takaka unfold.
Two other historic gold-mining huts are located along the way—Tin Hut, a corrugated-iron one-room shelter, and Riordans Hut, built in 1926 by brothers Laurie and Fred Riordan for use while mustering their 2000 wethers.
By 2003, Waingaro Forks Hut was dilapidated and scheduled for removal, but a historic assessment saved it, and the Department of Conservation decided to restore all three huts according to historically accurate building practices. Timber was foraged from windfall or dead standing trees and cut by hand. At Waingaro Forks, the outer beech cladding on the walls was replaced, preserving the 1930s graffiti on the inner walls.
Today, Waingaro Forks Hut has four bunk beds and is free to use. Mountain bikes are allowed as far as the hut, but not past it, while trampers can continue on through the Stanley Valley on the Anatoki Track, past a number of former prospecting sites.