Television writer and director Kewana Duncan on the best things to do in the gateway to the Coromandel

Naturally nostalgic, Thames was once the second largest town in the country, bigger than Auckland. It's since settled into its place as the old-time gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula. Evidence of this can be found at the weekly Saturday markets, chock full of historic kitsch and heirloom produce preserves.

Surrounded by bush-clad hills, Thames has an enjoyably accessible natural environment. Just to the right of Goldfields Mall, there's a colourful boardwalk along the mangroves to a secluded bird-watching hide, or take a 10-minute drive to Thornton's Bay for shimmering views of Tikapa Moana. On hot summer days, my favourite place to be is with the whānau at local swimming spot, "the swingbridge". There's no better place to leap into the greenstone-coloured Kauaeranga River.

A busker at the Thames weekly market, Coromandel. Photo / Supplied
A busker at the Thames weekly market, Coromandel. Photo / Supplied

Thames has recently become the natural home for Steampunk enthusiasts. Every November there's a community-supported Steampunk festival that attracts retro-futuristic fans fascinated with the town's steam-powered heritage.

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Best coffee hands-down is to be found at friendly locally owned Sola Cafe and right next door is an art gallery with a difference. Arohart specialises in authentic Māori art. Its walls are adorned with original treasures from local artists as well as modern Hauraki-centric designs on T-shirts and hoodies. The gallery unofficially doubles as a kaupapa Māori hub with Māori language, weaving, and printing workshops creatively breathing new life into the town.

Arohart, Thames, specialises in authentic Maori art. Photo / Supplied
Arohart, Thames, specialises in authentic Maori art. Photo / Supplied

Fine dining may be a fairly elusive experience in this town, but finding a delicious big feed is easy. Fresh fish and seafood is the Thames way of life and the place to get it is the wholesale fisheries right on the wharf. You can sit at tables by the water and tuck into freshly battered or crumbed fish, although you'll notice the locals turning up their noses at "boring" snapper and going for a nice piece of gurnard or tarakihi.

An abundance of Hauraki charm spreads through every small town along the Coromandel coast, which is why we chose this area to film my telemovie, Toke.

Toke premieres on TV3 tomorrow, at 8.30pm.
For more New Zealand travel ideas and inspiration, go to newzealand.com/dosomethingnew