Graham Reid spends a few days in a town which is world famous in New Zealand.

Oddly, the first person I spoke to in Paeroa was Greg Waite, whom I remembered from school. He owns an antiques shop, Antiques on Main, which is somewhat of a cliched profession in this antique-laden town.

Six years ago when Greg arrived in the town of some 4000, he believed it was a write-off. But now ... I'd heard from Auckland friends who travelled to Waihi Beach, Tauranga and the East Coast regularly that Paeroa was, if not going off, at least going ahead.

Everyone mentioned the antiques shops - I counted half a dozen on the main road and equally as many more properly junk shops and second-hand stores. My friend David added that Paeroa had an excellent playground for toddlers, very important if you have a three-year-old and go to Tauranga regularly.

We had no reason to go to Paeroa other than the chance circumstance of me bidding in a raffle and winning bed and breakfast, plus dinner the night before, at Kathy and Steve's place, just outside of town.


Dinner was country-sized servings of chicken and vegetables, and their generous hospitality and fund of good stories was typical of the friendliness we encountered in the three days we spent poking around antiques and junk shops, driving the back roads, taking a train trip from Waikino to Waihi, and spending a night in the old and enormous Paeroa Hotel.

This grand old pub - which bookends Paeroa with the Criterion Hotel at the Karangahake Gorge end of town - is one of those classic country hotels.

The rooms are clean but bare, the toilet and shower are down the hall, the bedlamps don't have bulbs, there is a television room with old books and magazines, and the price is a breathtakingly cheap $45 a night.

Of course, with late-night drinkers roaring it up in the smoking area outside below, where ashtrays are coffee tins, the chance of enjoying a good night's sleep in the comfy bed is only a remote possibility.

If you want that you might be better off at the Casa Mexicana Motel or at one of the bed and breakfast places in the nearby Karangahake Gorge.

But if you go there you'll miss out on hearing some good yarns about pig and deer hunting, many of which have been worn smooth by repetition.

There is, surprisingly, a good deal to do in and around Paeroa other than poking around the antiques shops.

The small but well-displayed Paeroa and District Museum is a model of how to present local history with attention to the detail of families and social history.

It displays everything from old razors and Maori artefacts to dozens of photos of local sports teams. It's a shame it is only open on weekdays between 10.30am and 3pm.

Paeroa was a once-thriving river-port town which was laid out in 1870, around the time gold was discovered in the nearby hills, which brought hundreds flocking to the area. Before that, the land was settled by Arawa and Tainui Maori.

These days it is a service centre for the surrounding farming areas, and increasingly a crossroads town between Auckland and the East Coast, the central North Island and the Coromandel.

As Greg pointed out, the sheer number of people buying and developing property on Coromandel and the coast means they need something to do on a wet day - and many of them come to Paeroa to shop for nice things for their new homes. He does very nicely, especially on wet days.

As the sign outside town says, "All roads lead to Paeroa".

The Paeroa Arts Centre also had some interesting work on display, notably some beautifully turned kauri bowls of vaguely Middle Eastern design by Arthur Liddington.

When it comes to places to eat you are almost spoiled for choice for simple but filling fare.

This is a town where the Coachman's Cafe is the home of the famous Coachman's pies; there are two Chinese restaurants-cum-takeaways; Kumars Something Special has a hilarious sari-draped mannequin with an upturned nose like a snout in the front window; and the Tui Coffee Lounge offers three slices of bacon, a couple of eggs and chips for $10.

Mykonos Pizza and Pasta looks popular, and we had an excellent lunch in the Mediterranean-styled Lazy Fish Cafe, Bar and Restaurant which has large and comfortable couches, footpath tables and an open fire.

Greg told me the best place in town was the Java Jive behind Fathers Tavern and opposite Golddiggers Liquor Warehouse. He was right. The wine list was short but well judged, the meals superb, the service friendly - and only one other patron was in the place on a Saturday night.

Greg and his wife Kate turned up later in the evening for dessert, and invited us to breakfast at their place the following morning. It's a friendly town.

We also had a leisurely lunch at the Ohinemuri Estate Winery and Cafe about 10 minutes out of town in the gorge, where the menu offered a huge Chatter Platter ($20), Thai chicken salad ($15.50), venison steaks ($20), and so on, plus a dessert list which included date pudding, chocolate hazelnut cheese cake, lemon curd tart, chocolate mousse and a cheese platter (all $9.50)

It was quiet in the hills and later we wandered down by the Ohinemuri River in time to see a guy haul a two-pound trout into his net.

One morning we drove to Waikino Station and took the 20-minute train trip through fields and alongside the highway, where we waved to people in cars, spent 20 minutes at Waihi station, then did the return trip.

It's hardly one of the great train journeys of the world, but if you have little kids - preschoolers travel free - then it rates highly. As does a brunch at Waikino Station Cafe, where the small kitchen does a nice line in soups, burgers, BLTs and chicken on focaccia bread.

We also wandered across the road - actually through a tunnel under the highway - to see the ruins of the Victoria Battery, the old gold-mining refinery.

Later we drove back to Paeroa via the Owharoa Falls and went to the hilltop war memorial to take in the town, stopped at the well-stocked information booth, checked out the Paeroa Cafe and the L&P memorabilia shop next door, and, of course, took a photo of that local icon.

Next year they must be planning a helluva party as it will be the centenary of the creation of that famous drink.

We had an unexpectedly interesting weekend in Paeroa. We poked around the old typewriters, leather-bound books and charming old furnishings.

We admired kauri tables, fragile crockery, ancient spectacles and binoculars, fishing rods and 19th-century paintings, rare New Zealand books and unusual pamphlets, and loud clocks with visible moving parts.

We dug through piles of chinaware, pots and pans, and at Scruffy Murphys - or was it Arkwrights and Teaks, or at Ma and Pa Kettles? - I caressed an old gramophone.

Lots of lovely antiques. Even the computer store had old decanter sets with shot glasses set in models of vintage cars in its front window. And I found a real treasure at Greg's - the rare La De Das' EP Stu-pid-i-ty from 1966 in excellent condition.

That's my kinda antique.

Where to stay: The old Criterion and Paeroa hotels (07) 862 7983 and (07) 862 7099 respectively, have cheap rooms but they can be noisy. Alternatives include the Racecourse Motel (07) 862 7145, the Paeroa Motel (07) 862 8475 and the Casa Mexicana Motel (07) 862 8216.

Bed and breakfast places include Ohinemuri Estate Winery (07) 862 8874, Gold 'n Views (07) 862 6905) and Goose Farm Cottage (07) 863 7944.

There is also Golden Owl Backpackers (07) 862 7994 and the Karangahake River Lodge & Campervan Park (07) 862 8481.

Things to do: Spend an hour in the Paeroa and District Museum on Main St (open 10.30am-3pm, Monday to Friday), explore the walking trails in the nearby Karangahake Gorge (brochures at the information centre), and take a train trip through the old goldfields. Buy antiques. And have your photo taken by the big bottle at the end of town.