Major element geochemical exploration for epithermal deposits can extend the range of traditional pathfinder elements to a 1- to 10-km scale, and with knowledge of protolith composition, mass changes associated with hydrothermal alteration can be quantified. In the Hauraki goldfield of New Zealand, altered andesites and dacites host epithermal Au-Ag deposits and prospects. The major element compositions of equivalent unaltered rocks correlate with whole-rock Zr/TiO2, an immobile element ratio that is preserved during K metasomatism. We used this feature to estimate the initial composition and calculate a mass balance for veinless altered rocks in the Waitekauri area along a 3-km-wide section that extends from the central Waitekauri fault to the periphery of the alteration zone. The total transferred mass is equal to approximately 11 percent of rock mass in illite-dominated altered rocks, and 24 percent of rock mass in adularia-dominated altered rocks. On average mass losses exceed gains. Potassium was gained in most altered rocks, which contain illite and/or adularia as K-bearing hydrothermal minerals. Silica was gained in adularia-quartz–rich rocks close to the Waitekauri fault. Other major elements are preferentially lost (Ca, Na, Fe, Mg) or effectively immobile (Al, Ti). The greatest K and Si gains occur in adularia-rich rocks that surround Au deposits along the Waitekauri fault, whereas K gains are progressively lower and Si gains are mostly insignificant in deposits and prospects farther east where illite or interstratified illite-smectite is the dominant K-bearing mineral. In contrast, Na and Ca losses do not increase significantly from the periphery to the core of the Waitekauri area, because losses are commonly complete and therefore limited by the initial concentration. However, the K and Si gains correlate with other measures of K metasomatism including K/Sr and Rb/Sr values and molar (M) K/(K + Na + 2Ca) values, and together these parameters vector from the barren periphery to the orebody-hosting center of the Waitekauri area. In contrast to major element trends, the pathfinder elements As, Sb, and Hg define more local hydrothermal alteration cells within the larger Waitekauri area, some of which surround Au deposits.

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