Solid Energy New Zealand (SENZ) uses a 20+ year period for integrated planning of all its business activities. It has an ongoing program of coal resource assessment to optimise future mines within this 20 year period, using a six step resource and mine planning process. Desktop review and conceptual study at preliminary Levels 1 and 2 are based on general coal resource information. Further coal resource investigations are carried out for the more detailed evaluations in secondary assessment, prefeasibility study, feasibility study and detailed engineering from Levels 3 to 6. At Levels 1 and 2, completing conceptual planning, including preliminary resource evaluation and economic appraisal to the target cost uncertainty level of ±33 per cent, is challenging in New Zealand’s highly variable geological and geographical conditions. Where coal deposit geometries are relatively simple, approximate methods for determining pit limits using overburden strip ratios, seam thickness, physical boundaries, and quality cut-offs may be sufficient. Many New Zealand coalfields are however complicated structurally, with multiple seams and extensive folding and faulting. Coal seams are characterised by variable dip, thickness, and quality over relatively short distances. In the North Island’s Waikato coalfields, coal is typically overlain by weak sediments and clay rich strata that necessitate very flat cut and fill slope angles. The proximity of these deposits to major infrastructure (including towns, highways and rail lines), significant environmental features such as the Waikato river and lakes, and valuable dairy farmland, add further complexity. Traditional preliminary mine planning techniques applied in these conditions are insufficient. Pit optimisation software, widely used in the metalliferous mining industry since the 1980s, offers the ability to analyse many more specific factors affecting pit limits, mine layouts, and economics, with more rigour and for a much larger number of scenarios, than traditional methods allow. SENZ therefore decided to adapt and use ‘Whittle’ pit optimisation software for Level 2 analysis of several Waikato opencast prospects. This paper describes this work.