Thames: Small town charms

By Libby Nicholson-Moon

With so much to see and do in Thames Libby Nicholson-Moon vows to return soon to take it all in.

Cherie McGregor, owner of Coco Espresso, Thames. Photo / Bruce Nicholson
Cherie McGregor, owner of Coco Espresso, Thames. Photo / Bruce Nicholson

With the unpredictable autumn weather in full swing, my husband and I decided to plan a mostly indoor-orientated Saturday sojourn to historic Thames.

It was bucketing down in Auckland as we headed east, but a little over an hour and a half later, as we arrived at our destination, the sun broke through the clouds, and shone brilliantly across the Firth of Thames.

We headed down Pollen St to the Grahamstown markets. These markets are held every Saturday from 8am till 12pm, and the main street is lined with stalls offering local produce, including home baking, crafts, plants, bread, seafood, olive oil, and various other artisan products and curios.

The mood is great, with locals and visitors mingling and enjoying the hospitality and small town charm. There are also stallholders from further afield, who have taken the opportunity to integrate into the small town atmosphere.

After ambling though the markets, sampling baklava, hummus, olive oil, organic apple juice, and cheese, chatting with the locals, and generally rummaging around, we decided it was time for coffee.

Funnily enough, we bump into our neighbours who are also daytripping and we all head to Coco Espresso. Local artists exhibit here, the supreme coffee blend is superb, and the food, fresh and delicious.

Locals Cherie and Tony McGregor opened Coco's three years ago, and their warmth and friendliness is genuinely welcoming. In fact everyone we meet is friendly, helpful, and passionate about Thames and what it has to offer.

Coffee and sustenance done and dusted, we decide to check out the shops and first up is Bounty. This contemporary design store and gallery, which is housed in a 114-year-old building, is owned by Coromandel born and bred Fiona Cameron and her partner Steven Shakespeare. They opened the store two-and-a-half years ago to showcase local and NZ artists. The shop displays a vast selection of this artwork, including photography, jewellery, weaving, textiles, glass, and sculpture.

The lovely Rosalind Spratt, who works at Bounty, briefs us on what else we should check out while in Thames and first off we head two doors down to Antiques in Thames. This 30-year-old business is owned and operated by John Callaway, who imports most of his collection from Europe. When asked if he was a local, John laughs and reckons after 30 years, he might just about qualify.

Time is moving on, with many shops closing at noon or 1pm. So we visit The Little Book Store, the Organic Co-op, and Pete's Collectables Ltd, where among various 1950s-1970s knick-knacks, is a great selection of the iconic Crown Lynn dinnerware.

The photographer is feeling peckish, so we stop in at the long-established Sola vegetarian cafe to replenish ourselves with their yummy wholesome food, before heading off to the Thames School of Mines and Mineral Museum.

The school was inaugurated in 1885 for the study of mining and extraction techniques, although one of the buildings dates back to the 1860s. This is a must-do, and absolutely fascinating. We don't have time to visit The Museum of Technology this time, but we will most certainly be back to check it out.

The weather is closing in, so we race the rain clouds, and visit the War Memorial overlooking the township to pay our respects, and take in the view, then head five minutes up the road, to Tararu Bay, to New Zealand's first and only indoor tropical Butterfly and Orchid Garden.

This garden is full of stunning orchids, waterlillies and other exotic flowers, birds, and beautiful moths and butterflies. Apparently it's good luck if a butterfly lands on you, but no such luck for us today.

The afternoon has slipped away, and we decide on an early dinner back in Thames Township, at The Junction Hotel. Built in 1869 this recently renovated hotel offers affordable accommodation, great food and warm hospitality. My oven baked tarakihi with a herb and cashew nut crust, served on a creamy prawn and pea risotto, and complemented by a delicious sauvignon blanc, was the perfect end to a great day.

As we speed away into the sunset, we both agree we'd like to come back soon, as there is so much this charming town has to offer.

FURTHER INFORMATION

Things to do:

Grahamstown Markets: Pollen St, every Saturday, 8am-12pm.

Bounty: 644 Pollen St, Monday-Saturday, 9am-4pm, ph (07) 868 8988, email: info@bountystore.co.nz.

Antiques in Thames: 638 Pollen St, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, Saturday, 9am-1pm, ph (07) 868 7541, email: sales@antiquesinthames.co.nz.

Pete's Collectables: 756 Pollen St, Saturday, 8am-1pm, Monday- Friday, 9am-4.30pm, ph (07) 868 3066.

The Little Book Store: 720 Pollen St, Saturday 9am-1pm, Wed-Fri 1pm-4pm, (07) 868 7024.

The School of Mines and Mineral Museum: 101 Cochrane St, Wednesday-Sunday, 11am-3pm, adults $5, children $2, ph (07) 868 6227.

Butterfly and Orchid Garden: Within Dickson Holiday Park, Victoria St, Tararu Bay, open 7 days, ph (07) 868 8080.

Where to eat:

Coco Espresso: 661 Pollen St, Saturday 8am- 12pm, Monday 8am-12pm, Tuesday-Friday 8am-3pm, ph (07) 868 8616.

The Organic Co-op: 736 Pollen Street, Saturday, 9am-12pm, Monday-Friday, 9am-5pm, ph (07) 868 8797.

Sola Cafe & Restaurant: 720 Pollen St, Monday-Sunday, 8.30am-4pm, ph (07) 868 8781.

The Junction Hotel: 700 Pollen St, ph (07) 868 6008.

- NZ Herald

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