The fertile Hauraki Plains stretch southeast from the Coromandel Peninsula forming a low-lying former swamp-turned-farming region which, in typically laconic Kiwi fashion, describes itself as “flat out and loving it”. The Firth of Thames, the final destination for a number of meandering rivers, borders it to the north.
The hub of the plains is Paeroa, not much in itself but handy for walks in the magnificent Karangahake Gorge, running almost to Waihi.
The real gem hereabouts is Te Aroha, a delightful Edwardian spa town (little more than a village) at the southern extremity of the plains, where you can hike Mount Te Aroha and soak afterwards in natural hot soda springs.Read More
PAEROA, 120km southeast of Auckland, is “World Famous in New Zealand” as the birthplace of Lemon and Paeroa (L&P), an iconic home-grown soft drink founded in 1907 using the local mineral water (though it is now made elsewhere by Coca-Cola). It’s pretty artificial-tasting but more lemony than Sprite and the likes. The L&P logo is emblazoned on shopfronts throughout town and there’s a giant brown L&P bottle at the junction of SH2 and SH26.
Karangahake Gorge was the scene of the Coromandel’s first gold rush, though in this leafy cleft it’s hard to envisage the frenetic activity that took place around the turn of the twentieth century. The steep-sided gorge snakes along SH2 as it traces the Ohinemuri River to Waihi.
The largest (though still tiny) settlement is Karangahake, where a car park marks the start of several excellent walks along the rivers and around old gold-mining ruins. They range from twenty minutes to several hours and are detailed in DOC’s Karangahake Gorge leaflet. Beyond, minuscule Waikino is the western terminus of the Goldfields Railway.
On the fringes of the Hauraki Plains, the small town of TE AROHA, 21km south of Paeroa, is home to New Zealand’s only intact Edwardian spa. In a quiet way it is a delightful spot, hunkered beneath the imposing bush-clad slopes of the Kaimai-Mamaku Forest Park. The 954m Mount Te Aroha rears up immediately behind the neat little town centre, providing a reasonably challenging goal for hikers.
Everything of interest – banks, post office, library – is on or close to Whitaker Street, its old-fashioned feel enhanced by an old air-raid siren which sounds daily at 8am, 1pm and 5pm: some people still measure their day by it.
The town was founded in 1880 at the furthest navigable extent of the Waihou River. A year later, rich deposits of gold were discovered on Mount Te Aroha, sparking a full-scale gold rush until 1921. Within a few months of settlement, the new townsfolk set out the attractive Hot Springs Domain, 44 acres of gardens and rose beds around a cluster of hot soda springs which, by the 1890s, had become New Zealand’s most popular mineral spa complex. Enclosures were erected for privacy, most rebuilt in grand style during the Edwardian years. The fine suite of original buildings has been restored and integrated with more modern pools fed by the springs and nearby Mokena Geyser.