Thames was born on the back of the gold rush in the 1860s but 150 years later locals are split on the role gold will play in the town's future. The Government's proposal to open up conservation land to mining has drawn fierce opposition on environmental grounds but at the same time the job market is drying up and some are looking to mining for the answer.
Carrick and Heather Cruickshank thought mining on the Coromandel Peninsular was a thing of the past but now that the Government is proposing to mine on conservation land, they feel threatened and angry.
The Cruickshanks have just signed up to Coromandel Watchdog - a Thames based environmental lobby group.
"We've seen some massive floods since we've arrived in this town and the Thames Hospital has built a flood wall to protect itself from it. If we get a mine up there, anything can happen," Mr Cruickshank said.
He said he and his wife live near one of the many rivers that flow into Thames and their insurance company has said that if a flood destroyed their home, it will not be rebuilt.
"That's the threat we're under, so just leave the land undisturbed up there," Mr Cruickshank said.
"We're trying to create a fishing industry and create more jobs in marine farming but if we get any pollution in the waterway, we're going to be right in the crap," he said.
The Government on Monday proposed that areas of land on the Coromandel Peninsula, West Coast of the South Island and Great Barrier Island be removed from the protection of schedule four of the Crown Minerals Act. That would allow mining to go ahead.
Prime Minister John Key has said that mining could provide more jobs and boost the local economy but Denis Tegg of Coromandel Watchdog said the one per cent royalties that the Government receives on gold is " pitifully low".
He said the Government needed to look at long-term sustainable development - not boom and bust mines.
"Meanwhile they have slashed the conservation department budget and somehow we are going to save the environment by digging it up," Mr Tegg said.
He said with low and medium grade deposits of gold in the area, the mining companies will be forced to use open caste mining.
Mr Tegg said that will only increase the risk of floods bringing down debris from the hills which would cause an " environmental disaster".
He said the hills behind Thames are home to kiwi and the endangered Hochsetter's Frog.
"Then you have its recreational value and it links into other parks further up the coast," Mr Tegg said.
But local geologist and former miner Carl Jensen said it was not mines that had deforested New Zealand but farming.
"We are living in a different world. At those times, forestry was going on and farming alone cleared about 80 per cent of the New Zealand bush," Mr Jensen said.
He said mining had the potential to make a positive economic and social impact on New Zealand.
Mr Jensen said the Government's $4m prospecting grant to mining companies would be enough to rekindle interest and while the return from oil to the Crown coffers was higher, gold and silver would help the economy.
"I see the talk is focused on the profits by the gold mining companies but what people tend to forget is the major part of the cost of doing it is 80 per cent of the value [of gold recovered]. Sometimes it is 100 per cent," he said.
Mr Jensen said while many mining companies are overseas owned, New Zealand farms were going the same way. He said primary industry, such as mining had a positive flow-on effect to the economy.
He said mines paid large amounts of income tax and GST that went to the Government.
Mr Jensen said mining in Thames would generate tourist trade and help to maintain access to walking tracks which bring in tourists from all over the world.
Auckland tramper Paul Smith had " gone bush" for two days when nzherald.co.nz caught up with him on the Pinnacles walking track, situated in Schedule Four land behind the Thames township.
Mr Smith was unaware of the Government's announcement and said it was sad, given all the work the Conservation Department had recently carried out on the 80 bed hut.
He said the Pinnacles track was a treasure and is only an hour and-a-half drive for Aucklanders keen to escape the big smoke.
"It's a steep trail with a lot of history," Mr Smith said, referring to the steps cut into the side of the hill in the 1920s to help packhorses bring down large kauri.
"I suppose there are places all over the country that have a million and one reasons why they shouldn't mine there but I would hate to see this place change in any way.
"I didn't find any gold sitting on the pathway," he said.
Thames-Coromandel District Council mayor Philippa Barriball said she wanted more information on environmental impacts and job opportunities before she makes a decision on mining.
She said it was unclear what deposits were still in the hill above Thames and that no one had been up to look for about 30 years.
"Until you know what is there, you're not going to know what the value is and until you know the value is, then is the time to actually sit down and think about what are the environmental impacts of this new style of surgical mining," she said.
Ms Barriball said open cast mining had to be ruled out and areas of the Coromandel had to be protected for its outstanding conservation value.
She said a public debate needed to be had in Thames, where the unemployment rate has climbed following the downgrade of the local Toyota plant, the closing of a Carter Holt Harvey plant and the local meatworks.
Ms Barriball said young people leaving Thames for their overseas experience but didn't seem to be coming back.
She said the mining issue - along with 1080 poisoning - was likely to be raised during local body elections later this year.
Thames has a rich gold mining history but Ms Barriball re-iterated that more information would be needed before the town could embrace mining as part of its future.
One local who knows all about Thames' mining history is Murray Taylor, a tour guide at the Golden Crown mine which was founded in 1867. The mine is the town's largest tourist attraction.
He said three years after Golden Crown was opened, there were 40 mines in the town and the population boomed to between 17,000 and 20,000. He said each mine had between 25 and 35 stampers - a machine used to crush rocks - and operated 24 hours a day, six days a week.
"On Sunday, the people of Thames couldn't sleep - it was too quiet," Mr Murray said.
Mr Murray said that by 1953, the cost of extracting the gold was more than the precious metal was worth and mine was closed. However, Mr Murray said the miners who worked at the Crown have assured him there is still gold in the hills.