By Luke East
Just over 70 years ago Joe and Tom Hughes opened the Hughes Bros Coal Mine in Pirongia.
With much of the nation’s towns still reliant on freight delivered by rail, coal was a very valuable commodity at this time.
Knowledge of the prevalence of coal deposits in Pirongia’s Okoko Valley is said to date as far back as the 1850s when the Armed Constabulary were based in the town. There had been plans as early as 1919 to begin mining in the area but it is unclear whether there was any active mining in the area until the Hughes brothers opened their mine in the 1950s.
The mine was bought in the 1960s by a subsidiary of the New Zealand Co-Operative Dairy Company and continued to operate until the mid-1990s.
In its time the mine provided not only a reliable form of energy and heating to local businesses and homes but also created many local jobs.
Today there are only two coal mines in the Waikato still operating and just 18 in the country, compared to 216 in 1953. Despite the rise of renewable energy, coal use in New Zealand has risen in recent years with almost half of Genesis’ electricity being generated from coal as of March 2021.