The company’s statement to the Australian stock exchange earlier this month details results from drilling at four sites within the wider 272sq km Bengido-Ophir gold prospect, about 10km from Tarras.
The Rise and Shine site is the most promising. Come In Time, Shreks and Shreks-East sites have also been drilled.
The combined total of gold resource was 2.9million ounces in January 2023, which was confirmed by infill drilling last year.
An update on the total resource is expected soon.
Just a small part of the prospect has been drilled and studied so far. In December, the mining permit was extended for another five years by New Zealand Petroleum and Minerals, and Santana is preparing to extend research to the wider site.
Arrowtown-based chief executive Damian Spring said, when contacted by the Wānaka Sun this week, he believed "a project of this size needs the label of a project of national significance".
New Zealand’s largest active gold mines, Macraes in the South Island and Waihi in the north, had also had humble beginnings, he said.
Activities during 2023 had focused on increasing the density of drill sites from 80m by 60m to 40m by 30m, as drillers looked to confirm previous results.
"This increased our confidence of that [January 2023 mineral resource] estimate ... All our announcements to the ASX have been about the results from that drilling, how consistent that’s been in thickness and grade. That is an achievement in its own right," Mr Spring said.
Meanwhile, baseline environmental studies have either been completed or are under way, helping the company know what sort of environment it could be working in down the track, he said.
Water flow and quality has been monitored for two years. Dust monitors and weather stations have been installed. Geological studies have been done.
Ecological studies were under way, taking in plants, bats, skinks, geckos, invertebrates, moths and pests.
An environmental manager is being recruited to produce an assessment of environmental effects for resource consent applications, which Mr Spring hoped would be lodged later this year with the Central Otago District Council and the Otago Regional Council.
Santana Minerals’ ASX statement says there is a clear pathway to permitting a mine, now a pro-mining government was in place.
Mr Spring said the December repeal of the Natural and Built Environment Act meant the process reverted to known processes under the Resource Management Act, providing certainty for the company to move forward.
Mr Spring said financial metrics were not yet available. The company still needed to work out what the mine could look like, how much it would cost and the value it would produce.
He had previously engaged with mana whenua through the Aukaha consultancy and was looking forward to making arrangements to meet local runaka soon.
No formal community engagement has taken place yet, but school groups had visited to learn about what Santana Minerals was doing.