The gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula, Thames, is a pleasant provincial town of 8,000 people.
In its 1870’s heyday this booming gold-mining and kauri-milling town was larger than Auckland and boasted 100 hotels, streets crowded with shops, restaurants and 20,000 inhabitants. Only six hotels of that era remain.
Thames today fulfils its function as a rural service centre for the Hauraki Plains and glories in the surviving examples of Victorian architecture along Queen Street. The modern gold rush is tourism, an important component of the Thames economy. Some 150,000 visitors come to the Coromandel Peninsula each year, many passing through Thames.
To get acquainted with the town’s gold-mining past, visit the Goldmine Experience on Tararu Road. You can join an informative tour through the old stamper battery. The noisy drop heads and flapping pulley belts are music to the ears of mechanical blokes and the ladies are enthralled as grains of pure gold drop into a collection box under the vibrating separation table. The tour takes you underground where you are bound to shudder at the working conditions of yesteryear’s gold miners.
The Thames Historical Museum, housed in an old church just back from the main street, is worth a visit to see how the pioneers lived. Interestingly Captain James Cook named the Firth of Thames in 1769, because it resembled the similarly muddy brown river flowing through London.
The principal outdoor activities around Thames are; fishing for snapper, kahwai and flounder in the shallows of the Firth and tramping in the rugged Coromandel Forest Park behind the town. Nearby Kauaeranga Valley offers a host of historic walking tracks including The Pinnacles, Billygoat Landing, Edward’s Lookout, Wainora Track and the Kauri Trail. North of Thames at Waiomu, on the picturesque pohutukawa-lined coast road, is the Coast to Kauri walk.
Thames is well provided with hotel, motel, B&B, backpacker and camping accommodation. The main street has some modern coffee lounges, restaurants and takeaways. The evening entertainment is mainly centred on the popular pubs.