The Coromandel’s gateway and main service hub, the historic former gold town of THAMES is packed into a narrow strip between the Firth of Thames and the Coromandel Range. It retains a refreshingly down-to-earth sense of community, and its range of accommodation, eateries, transport connections and generally lower prices make it a good starting point for forays further north.
Its gold legacy forms the basis of the town’s appeal and you can spend half a day visiting the several museums, though they’re all volunteer-run and, frustratingly, open at different times – summer weekends work out best.
Fans of Victorian architecture can spend a happy couple of hours wandering the streets aided by the maps in two free leaflets – Historic Grahamstown and Historic Shortland & Tararu.
Inland, the industrial heritage is all about kauri logging in the Kauaeranga Valley, a popular destination for hikers visiting the Coromandel Forest Park and easily accessible from town.
Thames initially evolved as two towns: Grahamstown to the north, and Shortland to the south. The first big discovery of gold-bearing quartz was made in a creek-bed in 1867, and by 1871 Grahamstown had become the largest town in New Zealand with a population of around 20,000 and over 120 pubs, only a handful of which remain today. Due to the reliance on machinery (rather than less costly gold-panning), gold mining tailed off during the 1880s and had mostly finished by 1913. Little of significance has happened since, leaving a well-preserved streetscape.