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Coromandel Thames

2nd March 2012

A Walk in a Gold Mine in the Gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula

Shags Taking Over the Rocks by the Firth of Thames
    Despite my good intentions to set off early this morning, I was still chatting in the communal kitchen with Richard and Sue until past 11am. The couple hailed from Hamilton, and had been to Coromandel many times before. "We came up for this weekend since I am taking part in a fishing competition. I would normally bring my own boat up, but since the weather is meant to go downhill, I will use a charter boat instead," Richard told me.
    The couple were interested to find out where I had visited in my three months, and I had the dreaded expected question, "What was the best place you visited?" "All the places I visited had their own unique "sweet spot" in my mind, though perhaps Invercargill was a little disappointing," is the best answer I offer.
Stamper Battery in Operation
    Sue stated, "The South Island is friendlier than the North island," to which I responded, "I found them equally friendly. People have time for each other here. The South Island is perhaps more laid back. If you are in a shop queue down there, you have to be prepared to patiently wait until shop keeper and customer finish their conversation about Mrs Brady's hens. That wouldn't go down well in the UK."
    Richard's theory on why all Kiwis have time for each other was along the lines New Zealand was a brand new country 150 years ago, and the class barriers that are encountered in Europe didn't exist or develop. In his capacity as a rep in the meat packaging industry, he had travelled widely, including within the UK. He became very aware of a class structure in a Liverpool company when he spent some time there.
    "You can tell Britain was covered in glaciers during the ice ages, it is all gently rounded, unlike the vast mountain ranges you get here," he said. "That's not strictly true. We had mountainous areas in Britain, the heights of which poked through the ice, and hence were not rounded. If you had visited the Pennines, Scottish Highlands, Snowdonia or the Lake District, you would have received a different perspective," I asserted.
Peleton Wheel
    The couple planned to visit Europe together, and Sue would dearly love to spend 6 months travelling, but she ran a business and 6 weeks would have to be the limit. She loved history and wanted to immerse herself in it, but their dilemma was via what means. Being driven around in a coach where a guide spoon feeds them with history is one avenue open to them, but like me, if they found somewhere interesting, they might want to spend 5 hours there, and it would be tough if the coach itinerary just allocated 5 minutes.
    The road down to Thames snaked along the grey, rocky shoreline of the "Pohutukawa Coast", passing a multitude of tiny, pretty, sandy bays and rocky beaches, with the occasional clutch of houses or campsite. Sea birds abounded everywhere, and isolated rocks in the sea were often magnets for shags. If I had been travelling along this route a couple of months earlier it would have been crimson when the pohutukawa blooms; often referred to as the New Zealand Christmas tree.
Thames Sense of Humour
    Hemmed in between the Firth of Thames and the Coromandel Range, I entered the coastal strip where Thames marked the base of the Coromandel Peninsula. When Cook arrived here in 1769, he noted that the Waihou River bore some resemblance to the Thames, and the name was adopted for the town.
    Thames was initially built during a gold rush. William Hunt made the first major discovery of gold on August 10th, 1867, in the Kuranui Stream at the north end of Thames. The subsequent mine produced more than 102 thousand ounces bullion and was known as the Shotover. The era from 1868 to 1871 were the bonanza years for the town with gold production topping one million pounds sterling at its peak. Official figures for production of the Thames Mines recorded a yield of 2.3 million ounces bullion with the value at $845 million. The three richest fields were the Manukau, Golden Crown and Caledonian mines but many others yielded near equivalent amounts. Towards the end of the last century Thames was the largest centre of population in New Zealand, with 18,000 inhabitants and well over 100 hotels and three theatres. For a while it was thought it would replace Auckland as the major town in the area.
    Grahamstown, situated at the northern end of the township of Thames, was established in 1868 when James Mackay, the Land Commissioner, sanctioned the leasing of a large block of the northern end of Thames flat to Mr Robert Graham as a township. It was connected to the Southern township of Shortland by Pollen Street, named after Dr Daniel Pollen, deputy superintendent of the Auckland Provincial Council.
A Panoramic View of Thames, The Hauraki Plains, and War Monument      (please use scroll bar)

    Between 1869-1871 Grahamstown became important commercially and politically, largely as a consequence of being close to the most productive mines. By 1871 Grahamstown was made up of a combination of numerous mine heads, associated structures and other commercial businesses established to service the mining industry.
    By 1874, Shortland with its wharf, had merged with the burgeoning Grahamstown, and together they form Thames. The town also benefited from a period of extensive kauri logging in the surrounding ranges around the same time. However, as the gold began to diminish, so did the number of inhabitants, and although Thames never shrank, it has never grown much either.
    To learn more of the town's mining history I visited the Goldmine Experience, run by members of the Hauraki Prospectors' Association. A guided tour led me and a few others along a narrow drift in the Golden Crown mine, originally tunnelled by Cornish miners. The guide spun a good yarn about the history of the mine. He said it had proved not to be as productive as hoped, and some shrewd investors in Auckland bought the stake and that of the Caledonian mine behind it for a song. The latter mine proved to be an El Dorado. The experience also included a demonstration from a thundering stamper battery for crushing the ore, with the subsequent vibrating table for the separation of the gold bearing ore from the rock. Apparently thousands of such stampers operated in the area, and when they stopped for any reason, people would be woken up by the silence. There was no escaping the noise.
    At the northern end of the town I hiked up to the War Memorial Monument Lookout, where I was treated to glorious views across the Firth of Thames and the Hauraki Plains.
A Panoramic View of Kauaeranga River      (please use scroll bar)

    At the southern end of town, I had a short walk along the wharf. The chocolate brown Kauaeranga River meandered its way past into the Firth of Thames. On its banks, the bush marched straight to the water's edge, almost resembling a mangrove swamp. In the distance by a bend in the river, boats were moored in what appeared to be a saltings. This was a far cry from the crystal clear waters I had witnessed around the rest of the peninsula.
    I didn't venture far in the evening. There were severe weather warnings for the North Island with two lows coming in from different directions at the same time, and winds exceeding 100km/hour were predicted. Even the Civil Defence teams were on standby. By 8pm sheets of water were coming down, and by 10pm there was a roaring gale howling through the trees, and the car was rocking about. This should be an interesting night I thought.

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Coromandel Thames

Uploaded from Quadrant Hotel, Auckland on 4th March at 16:45

Last updated 4.3.2012