When the Caledonian mining industry is mentioned today, it is of course nickel that comes to mind. How different things once were! In the early 20th century, chrome mining in the Tiebaghi massif considerably changed the face of the region, the world’s top producer of the mineral at the time!

The discovery of chrome deposits in Tiebaghi is shrouded in several legends. And you will no doubt enjoy hearing them if you visit this ex-mining village! The only thing that is known for sure is that the discovery was made between 1875 and 1877. Nonetheless, no mining work was started before 1901. 
The situation then began to change rapidly. Chrome became a sought-after raw material for the manufacture of special forms of steel. Finally, the Caledonian chrome adventure could begin! And all the more so, given the importance of building up stocks in preparation for the 1st World War…

Chrome mining

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  • Tiebaghi mine in Koumac

    In 1905, Tiebaghi was the world leader in chrome production!

    Initially (up until 1928), mining in Tiebaghi was carried out under the open sky. Blocks of the mineral were obtained with a pickaxe and carried away on men’s backs to the Néhoué plain. From there, the material was transported by cattle cart to the port where the chrome was loaded onto sailing ships leaving for Europe. In 1905, Tiebaghi was even briefly the world’s major chrome-producing mine! At that time, the deposits were found at the base of a huge crater at the summit of the massif. The excavation funnel gradually took on gigantic proportions and reached 100 meters’ depth. Until 1929, Tiebaghi was firing on all cylinders and gradually shifted towards underground mining.

  • Tiebaghi town in Koumac

    An isolated mining village, newly restored

    1929’s great economic depression followed by the Second World War made it difficult to transport the mineral to Europe or the United States, with significant impact on the mine’s activity. It was not until the Korean war that the activity started up again in earnest. At that time, Tiebaghi employed almost 700 people. The scant developed infrastructure was in service of the mine. It was thus not until 1943 that a road was opened as far as Paagoumène. At that time, the workers and their families lived close to the enormous crater. However, driven forward by the then director, the site was modernized and facilities were set up in the village. Nonetheless, the instability of the global market and the accelerated aging of the facilities lead to the mine’s closure in May 1964 due to a lack of competitiveness.

  • Tiebaghi town in Koumac

    The “thunder mountain”

    However, we had not heard the last of the “thunder mountain” (translation of Tiebaghi in the Kanak language)! The site was bought over by Canadian group INCO in 1967, leading to a brief re-opening in 1976. Furthermore, not far from the historic site, in 1965 vast nickel deposits were discovered, which would provide a new mining lease of life for the region! Later, forming part of the region’s historic heritage, the ex-mining village would delight tourists thanks to the outstanding restoration and reconstitution work carried out by a local association!