Major miner Rio Tinto (ASX:RIO) today revealed a maiden resource — plus a surprise gold discovery — at the regionally defining Winu copper-gold project. No wonder everyone wants a piece of the Paterson Province.

Rio’s massive Winu copper-gold project – aka the worst kept secret in exploration – was discovered in 2018 in the Paterson Province of WA.

Subsequent confirmation of the Winu find by Rio and the discovery of Havieron by AIM-listed Greatland Gold in the same year only intensified the interest.

What followed was a pegging rush that has seen the majors and a host of smaller companies establish or increase landholdings in the region.

The maiden Winu resource announced today of 503 million tonnes at 0.45 per cent copper equivalent (CuEq) includes a high-grade section of 188 million tonnes at 0.68 per cent CuEq.

Still, they haven’t hit the edges yet. Drilling is ongoing “to refine the overall geometry of the system and controls”, Rio says.

The deposit keeps going at depth, as well as to the north and southeast.

Rio reckons the deposit (so far) supports development of a relatively shallow open pit mine, which it wants up and running by 2023. That’s a very quick development timeline.

Rio Tinto executive Stephen McIntosh says the company is working towards a small scale, start-up operation focused on Winu’s higher-grade core.

“We are also assessing options for future expansion in the Paterson region given the extent of mineralisation identified to date and our large land package,” he says.

Map of the Winu project and Ngapakarra.

Ngapakarra: a new gold discovery

A new gold discovery called Ngapakarra, about 2km from Winu, provides “further encouragement about the potential for the development of multiple ore bodies within one system”, the company says.

Early stage drilling at Ngapakarra identified shallow, thick high-grade gold which remains open in all directions and at depth.

One of the best hits to date includes 23m grading 4.53 grams per tonne (g/t) gold, 120m from surface.

Additional exploration will be conducted at Ngapakarra throughout 2020, Rio says.

But there’s more. Another hole drilled immediately east of the Winu resource has also hit substantial high-grade gold.

This drill hole pulled up an impressive 58m at 4.73g/t gold, 231m from surface.

This includes 10m at 11.5g/t from 243m, and 6m at 21.3g/t from 263m.

“The additional exploration results reported today support our view that there is potential to develop the Paterson region into a large-scale operation over time through both our 100 per cent owned tenements and joint ventures,” McIntosh says.

“We’ve so far carried out exploration activity in just 2 per cent of our tenements in the region and we’re building on this discovery at Winu with further encouraging results.”