The township of Thames, with a present day population of around 7,500, sits at the base of the majestic Coromandel Ranges and is only a short 13 km drive from the Department of Conservation’s Visitor Centre in the Kauaeranga Valley. The Visitor Centre is the starting point for many popular day and overnight tramps in the stunning Coromandel Forest Park, a protected wilderness area.
The ‘Pinnacles’ walk, tracing an historic pack-horse trail that kauri loggers used last century, is rated as one of New Zealand’s most popular overnight tramps with spectacular views from the highest vantage point and an 80 bed DoC hut to stay in for the night. It pays to book your stay well ahead of time. Visit www.doc.govt.nz.
Back in Thames township, there are several museums celebrating our regions history and early gold-rush beginnings, none better than the well preserved Thames School of Mines on Cochrane Street. A category 1 heritage site run by Heritage New Zealand, the School of Mines building is open to the public (Wed–Sun) for a small entry fee. It provides an authentic window into Thames’s gold-mining past with original artifacts, including an extensive mineralogical collection, perfectly preserved in-situ from the 1880s when the school was first established as a training facility for geologists and gold miners.
If you wish to immerse yourself further in the rich gold-mining history of Thames we recommend you visit the Goldmine Experience at the north end of town. This was once a real working goldmine, the Caledonian, and for a time produced phenomenal wealth. You’ll be able to take a tour underground and see for yourself the conditions the miners worked under as well as see a genuine stamper battery and other goldmining technology from the period. The opening hours vary over the year so check their website first http://www.goldmine-experience.co.nz
Directly across from the Junction Hotel stands the magnificent St James church. An outstanding example of gothic architecture, this category 1 historic building was constructed in 1897 for the princely sum of 2000 pounds. Built from the ground up using hand sawn kauri timber for the structure, inside the same timber has been used as elaborate decorative panelling that compliments the rare and beautiful stain glass in the lancet windows. The church interior is open for public viewing on Saturday mornings and for combined Presbyterian/Methodist services on Sundays.
Saturday’s are when the historic heart of Thames really starts beating and the weekly Thames Market comes to life in Grahamstown. Step out the Junction Hotel’s front door and you’ll find yourself immersed in the colourful atmosphere and aromas of a local open-air market with produce and craft stalls stretching the length of Pollen Street’s heritage precinct in Grahamstown. Running for more than 20 years, the Thames Market is a social occasion for locals and visitors that intrinsically showcases our Coromandel way of life.
The Firth of Thames has been the home for and habitat of tens of thousands of endemic and migratory wading shorebirds for eons. If you’re looking for birdlife closer to Thames, a few minutes north of the town will often see flocks of Pied Oystercatchers roosting at Kuranui Bay, right beside the scenic highway.
But if you want to experience nature at its best, 20 minutes away, on the Pūkorokoro/Miranda coastline of the Firth, sits one of the finest examples of an active shell and sand chenier plain anywhere in the world. This provides the stage set for an abundance of wildlife as thousands upon thousands of shorebirds feed in the intertidal mudflats.
Flocks of Arctic breeding species like Bar tailed Godwits return here each spring, making a non-stop journey from Siberia and Alaska. At other times Pied Stilts, Royal Spoonbill, Variable Oystercatchers and the endangered Dotterel, amongst many others, can be seen around the shores of the Firth of Thames. An hour either side of high tide is best to get a closer view from the bird hide, while the Miranda Shorebird Centre on East Coast Rd, near Kaiaua, provides loads of information about the areas wildlife.
After getting close to nature, why not then take a dip in the Miranda Hot Pools, a few minutes drive from the Shorebird Centre. These are 100% natural mineral hot water pools that have been used since pre-European times with modern facilities added over the years.
One of the newest, and by far the gentlest, of the national cycle trails across New Zealand is the recently opened Hauraki Rail Trail. It is a comfortable cycle ride between the towns of Thames, Paeroa and Waihi or Te Aroha, usually spread over several days riding. The trail takes you along what was once a railway line through pleasant rural Waikato countryside before entering the spectacular Karangahake gorge.
On reaching Waikino, cyclists have the option of catching a steam train to the terminus at Waihi. Another option is to return to Paeroa and cycle the alternate leg of the trail to the spa resort town of Te Aroha and relax tired muscles in the town’s mineral hot pools. Bicycles can be hired in Thames to make the journey and guided tours with organised shuttles can collect cyclists from various points along the trail and return you to Thames. Visit http://www.haurakirailtrail.co.nz for more information.
The Coromandel is well known as a desirable region for artists and crafts-people to set up studios and create from within and Thames has a number of boutique galleries stocking locally produced artworks, from painting and sculpture to ceramics and jewelry, within short walking distance from the Junction Hotel.
Thames township is centrally located around 1.5 hours drive from three of New Zealand’s largest cities, Auckland, Hamilton and Tauranga, in the Bay of Plenty. We are only about an hour from the Auckland International Airport, with private shuttle companies providing airport transfers and daily intercity bus services connecting to other parts of the Coromandel and the rest of New Zealand, making Thames an ideal location to base your stay and explore out from. There are a wide range of shopping choices in our retail district and the town prides itself on our friendly welcoming attitude and service to visitors. Come and find out for yourself.
Last, but not least, is our close proximity to the sparkling waters of the Hauraki Gulf. Picturesque bays and open sandy beaches dot their way along the scenic Thames Coast, one of the most attractive and photogenic drives in New Zealand, where the road hugs the shoreline along the western seaboard of the Coromandel Peninsula. Take a leisurely day trip along it to the quaintly alternative township of Coromandel, an hour and half drive north of Thames, stopping occasionally to cool off in the inviting water.
The fishing’s not bad either from the rocks, if you find the right spot, or you can join a charter and be guided to where the snapper are biting by an experienced local skipper. If the mood suits you, just find your own bit of paradise and stretch out on the sand in the shade of a pohutukawa tree with a good book, settling in to the relaxed Coromandel lifestyle the way we locals like to do. A word of warning: you may find it very hard to leave!
So these are just a few things you might find time to do on a visit to Thames. Once you’ve settled in at the Junction Hotel Accommodation and Grahamstown Bar & Diner, we’d be only too happy to recommend plenty more options for other things to experience during your stay.