Evolution Mining says its decision to abandon its exploration activities at Puhipuhi was based on the result of tests showing insufficient reason to continue, but opponents reckon there was more to it than that.
Evolution's withdrawal has been claimed as a major success for Ngati Hau and community organisations that have opposed moves towards gold mining at Puhipuhi for three years, and since 2012 have challenged the government's 'opening up of Northland' for mining.
Evolution, a well-financed, relatively new Australian company that they say had been aggressively buying up other companies but had no experience of starting up a new minefield from scratch, was just the latest of a string of mining companies that had had their eyes on Puhipuhi, according to the Action Coordination Group.
Opposition to mining attempts at Puhipuhi had begun with Ngati Hau in the 1980s, and later with Forest & Bird and others, such as the Puhipuhi Mining Action Group.
Action Coordination organised public protests, pickets, hikoi, filming, the occupation of drill rigs, road blockades and more, to the consternation of Evolution and its investors.
MineWatch Northland spokesman Tim Howard said Evolution had pulled out because of strong tangata whenua and community opposition.
"It was the public actions that managed to shake their tree, disrupting both their operations and especially their investors," he said.
"They reacted immediately to our occupation of the nearest subsidiary bank of Evolution's main investor CitiGroup (in downtown Auckland in December last year). The sight of kaumatua, kuia, children, Maori and Pakeha, occupying their 11th floor offices really shocked Evolution and their investors.
"This Australian company has tended to operate secretively, right up until now. Their lame excuses for withdrawing aren't transparent; they even had to be forced to admit they were leaving."
"Evolution sneaked into our rohe by the back door, and now they have been trying to sneak out the back door, like rats. Ngati Hau hapu are glad to see the back of them," Ngati Hau Anti Mining Group spokesman Vaughan Potter said.
"Puhipuhi mountain, and any minerals that are part of it, are ours to protect. We'll not stand by and let it be damaged. That's our warning to them and to others."
Evolution had not only been looking at Puhipuhi, but at Russell Forest next door, according to Ngati Hau Resource Management Unit spokesman Allan Halliday.
"We were disappointed that the Department of Conservation did not oppose Evolution, a mining company with no knowledge of the enormous environmental risks to the fragile Russell Forest, getting an exploration permit to drill in that forest," he said.
"It has been left to Ngati Hau and eight other hapu, not DOC, to enact a 20-year health plan for this forest.
Meanwhile the Action Coordination Group made several demands of Evolution before it "totally disappeared". These include:
* Handing in all three exploratory permits it held in Taitokerau (at Puhipuhi, Russell Forest and Waiare Valley/Te Mata Block);
* Completely rehabilitating areas they had been drilling, to the satisfaction of the Northland Regional Council and DOC;
* Apologising for the unnecessary divisions it had created in the communities around Whakapara.
Assurances are also sought from the NRC, DOC, Northland Inc and NZP&M (MBIE) that they will focus on protecting the environment and listen to the kaitiaki and local people, rather than being swayed by corporate business.
"Should this mining company or any other return to Puhipuhi, they had better be prepared to battle it out," Mr Halliday said. "But we won't be alone. We have many good people to thank for helping us push Evolution out. People from all around Taitokerau, from the Coromandel and from the Standing Rock Sioux nation of North Dakota have all lent their support."