Kia ora: Thames

Elisabeth Easther finds a goldmine of flora and fauna on coastal walking tracks.

The town of Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo / Supplied
The town of Thames on the Coromandel Peninsula. Photo / Supplied

Origin of name: When Captain Cook navigated his way up the Waihou River, he renamed it Thames after the English waterway. And, when Grahamstown and Shortland (two early-settler towns) met in the middle and became one, the settlement was renamed Thames.

Population: 7500.

Where is it: At the southwestern end of the Coromandel Peninsula, on the Firth of Thames - 114km from Auckland or 105km to Hamilton.

Town slogan: Totally Thames.

Town mascot: The pohutukawa.

Historical curiosity: In 1868, Thames had the largest population in New Zealand with 18,000 inhabitants and more than 100 hotels, not to mention three theatres. For a while it was assumed it would overtake Auckland in importance. And, because Sunday was the only day the stamper battery stopped, Saturday nights were messy.

Most prominent industry: Farming and tourism. Another big employer is the Toyota plant. Until 1998 they assembled cars there, now they refurbish imported ones.

Major event: Heritage Week every March sees locals dress in heritage costumes and step back in time. There are talks, walks, plays, a market day, vintage cars, a fashion show, even a trolley derby.

Best reason to stop: The specialty shops, the market on Saturday mornings and the exquisite coast. The Hauraki Rail Trail also rocks.

Best places to take the kids: The Butterfly & Orchid Gardens (Butterfly.co.nz); the Small Gauge Railway (on Brown St); or take them for a spot of fishing on the rocks.

Best place for a drink: Grahamstown Bistro & Diner (or GBD) at the Junction - they do delicious meals, too.

Best food: The Matatoki Cheese Barn is worth a visit. For fine dining try the Bullion Bar and Restaurant - many visitors say it serves the best food they've ever eaten. Nakongtong for Thai is fabulous. Sola Cafe works wonders for vegetarians and The Wharf Coffee House, overlooking Kauaeranga River, is relaxing after cycling the Rail Trail.

Famous locals: Sir Keith Park, war hero and flying ace. Kylie Bax, supermodel.

Best flat white: Food for Thought is highly reliable, although the town is spoiled for talented baristas. Sola Cafe on Pollen St.

Best bakery: Food for Thought has won many awards for their pies. Also try Thames Bakery on Pollen St - their mini savories and lamingtons are alone worth the trip to Thames.

Best local website: Thamesinfo.co.nz or Thepeninsula.co.nz/thames

Best museums: Bella Street Pump House is filled with curiosities. Thames Historical museum (a settler museum) and the School of Mines are grand - and they're all staffed by passionate volunteers.

Best art gallery: The Thames Society of Arts, in Tararu Rd, provides an outlet for local crafts people to sell their wares.

Best walk: If you're feeling frisky, the Pinnacles in the Kauaeranga Forest Park is one of the great walks of New Zealand. For a more leisurely ramble, the coastal pathway from the wharf to Kuranui Bay is delightful with artwork to enjoy along the way.

Best view: Rocky's Goldmine Trail takes up to three hours to walk. It starts at Dickson Holiday Park on Victoria St and along the way you will have excellent views of the Firth of Thames, passing by plenty of regenerating native forest and swimming holes, too. Or go up to the War Memorial on Waiotahi Creek Rd for a sweeping township vista, which is especially good at sunset.

Best place to pull over: The entire Thames Coast Rd is a treasure, especially when the pohutukawa trees are flowering.

Best playground: The Queen St play area near Goldfields Shopping Centre is a magnet for kids. The boat, swings and climbing ropes have made it a winner for generations. Kuranui Bay and Waiomu, both on the water, are also goodies.

Best swim: Thornton Bay offers a lovely sea swim, or try the Thames Centennial Pool.

Best little B&B: Chartre Manor has million-dollar views from its deck, looking 270 degrees across to the Hunua Ranges, down to Waiheke and Rangitoto Islands, and over the township of Thames. And breakfast comes with free-range eggs, laid daily by the Chartre chooks.

If you like cycling: The Hauraki Rail Trail, which extends from Thames to Waihi, is wonderfully easy cycling.

Wildlife: The birdlife is a drawcard for many visitors. The eagle-eyed will spot kereru, tui, kaka, herons, fantail, morepork and numerous sea birds. The Karaka Bird Hide by the Goldfields Shopping Centre on Brown St is fun for twitchers. Take the boardwalk through the mangroves to the Hide; take a thermos, too, and sit and watch the birds to your heart's content.

Regional park: Kauaeranga Forest Park. Walking tracks, camp sites, waterways - paradise.

Locals take visitors from abroad to: Barry Brickell's Driving Creek Railway, which is a hoot with its narrow-gauge railway, artisan pottery and native bush. Quirky and filled with character.

Safety warnings: When driving the stunning coastal routes, keep your eyes on the road or pull over. Please.

Locals say: Tourists? They're little goldmines.

Visitors say: What a little goldmine.

Thank you to Pauline from Chartre Manor and the lovely ladies from the i-Site for sharing these secrets.

- NZ Herald

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