The Hauraki Triplets
We beat the TomTom and it's, 'after 300metres turn right...' No we are not in France but are heading for the Hauraki Plains, south of Auckland and taking the opportunity to try out a 'TomTom' GPS lent by a kind friend. We are keen to discover if there are any benefits over our revered paper maps.
The Hauraki Plains are towards the east coast, on the way to Coromandel and are rich dairy country with many hectares of good green grass, dotted about with black & white, plus some soft brown dairy cows, all grazing quietly. The Plains, in themselves, unless you are a dairy farmer, are actually quite boring but do harbour 2 or 3 good secrets.
Running down the southern motorway on cruise control, the mind wanders a bit until Ms TomTom calls you to attention. 'After 600 metres take the exit', yes ma'am, then when we are almost upon the exit she reminds 'take the exit'. So we do and are on SH2 in the Thames/Coromandel direction. So far, so good, but then I knew how to get here anyway! Highway 2 is now mainly a 90kph stretch due to the amount of fatal accidents through the area in recent years. There are a few dual carriageway sections where you can pass the slower vehicles or maybe a few large curtainsider trucks, although these do seem able to travel at the maximum speed or just beyond, making the pass quite a dangerous manoeuvre, especially in the wet. Today is fine and we are managing good progress. The road forks a little way on, 25 in the Coromandel direction and 27, continuing south towards Matamata. This used to be a seriously difficult intersection, particularly during holiday periods with Coromandel traffic attempting the right turn towards Auckland, but now, with major roadworks well underway, a massive roundabout will be much safer and keep the traffic moving. Strategically located here, just beyond the roundabout on 25 is the CornerStone cafe, a great place for a break, coffee and a muffin or something sweet with a full lunch menu available for that time of day. We have not been disappointed at the CornerStone.
We stay on 27 intending to take a left quite soon, but not until Ms TomTom makes the call. The day is struggling to stay fine with the sky greying ominously to the south. The forcast predicts rain tonight and we hope this is accurate but being closer to the Coromandel range the wet may come sooner. 'After 600 metres turn left' - not having heard from Ms TomTom for a while you are inclined to forget about her as she says nothing when no turns are imminent. As instructed, turned left at Tatuanui which points us east with a 15kms run to TeAroha.
TeAroha is nestled in on the foothills of the Kaimai Range with Mt TeAroha (952m) offering wide 360 degree views from it's summit. But this is a taxing 21/2 hour walk each way. Gold was the main reason for the dramatic population increase during the mid to late 19th century, then the community dwindled when mining proved uneconomic. Today dairying and other grassland farming are the mainstays of the region. The township is entered from the west on Stanley, through an avenue of some mature copper beech, an appealing spectacle in shiny auburn spring leaf, and has many attractive buildings with a good number of period structures well preserved. The Domain, from where many of the local walking tracks start is beautifully maintained and well worth a leisurely wander. The town is obviously well-to-do with no empty shops and several cafe/restaurants to choose from. Ironique, in the main street suits us very well. People we all know, who came from TeAroha include; Peter Snell, Don Clarke and David Cunliffe.
Lunch over, we take a photographic wander, passing the WWII memorial and the traditional Anglican church just up the hill beyond. A most beautiful blossom tree on the church front lawn is doing it's best to alleviate the awfulness of the carporty porch stuck onto the left side of the main building. Surely the most basic designer could have done better? The TeAroha Community centre delights with an intricately mosaic tiled side wall and just across the road is a well maintained C1900 2 storey villa, now most likely a boarding house or backpacker hostel. The view back down the small side road towards the main street sets up the original TeAroha Post Office directly ahead, with the lattice block work of the Community Centre on the left for a good shot. The old Grand Hotel, now tavern, at the southern end of the main street is generally well preserved, but the Countdown building next door, deserves no mention at all, except that it has no right to be alongside The Grand. A farming town gem is next in the form of Williams - the hardware, come general store. These stores haven't survived in every farming town, but where they have, a browse and possible purchase of some hard to find item is essential. A patchwork shop across the road is a 'mustsee'.
Time to move on now and trundle the 20 or so kms northeast to Paeroa. Not according to Ms TomTom, who due to our resetting neglect thinks we are still in TeAroha so her focus is on returning us there. Resisting her call to turn left at every available road along the way we eventually make the final call and cut the power. We obviously haven't fully grasped TomTom's many capabilities just yet, so definitely more research needed, but for the moment - blessed silence.
Immediately apparent is that Paeroa is the larger town and in the modern day, a farming service centre but without the Te Aroha charm. Rundown and shabby are the words to describe with a larger percentage of 'hot-light' fast food outlets and poor quality 2nd hand. A substantial building duo in the middle of town catch my photographer's eye but other opportunities elude me. One of the better presented and organised 2nd hand stores yields a 1960s bargain in the form of a designer model hat in nearly mint condition.
Paeroa is well known in New Zealand for the 'Lemon & Paeroa' soft drink developed here with lemons and water from the local mineral hot springs, but now manufactured in Auckland by CocaCola, losing the essence of the original.
Situated at the northern end of the Karangahake Gorge which was considered at that time to be gold ground zero, Paeroa soon became a thriving goldfields service town. The gold was there alright, but locked in hard quartz veins requiring heavy equipment to crush and extract. Largish vessels able to transport this heavy gear could access Paeroa on the Waihou River hence the construction of the historic Kopu swing bridge, now over a century and a half later thankfully replaced by an attractive, modern 2 way span.
Thames is our last destination for the day, arriving about 3:30pm after the 32km run from Paeroa. A relatively scenic drive with the Coromandel Range on the right and, at times, the muddy brown Waihou River visible to the left. Still dairy country with smaller blocks on the Coromandel foothills. Thames is located at the southern end of the Firth of Thames, a very large tidal estuary, always a muddy greengrey at the Thames end, blueing as it widens out into the Hauraki Gulf. Thames is double the size of Paeroa and formed in 1874 from the merger of Grahamstown and Shortland. Gold discoveries and production made Thames a major population centre by the end of the 19th century, however over 100 years on the major industries are vehicle refurbishment at Toyota and engineering at A&G Price. Thames, being close to Coromandel Peninsula holiday beaches, benefits greatly from tourism which has seen the establishment of several quality restaurants and cafes, one noteable being the Melbourne Depot at the northern end of the main street. Some well known Thames people include; Sir Graham Liggins (medicine), Sir Keith Park (WW2 Air Commander) and Kylie Bax (model).
Many 19th century buildings are still in use and well preserved, overall giving the town a prosperous tone. A waterside walk is very pleasant in good weather and includes an interesting bird watching hide from where the various seabirds which frequent this coast can be closely observed. Alongside this walk, near the tennis courts is the skeletal metal outline of an eternal tennis player. The Grahamstown miniature railway operates on weekends alongside the walk.
After an excellent coffee and danish pastry - heated in the oven, not the microwave - at the Melbourne Depot we take SH25, SH2 and onto SH1 back to Auckland, eventually home about 7pm after the usual southern motorway holdup. A longish day 9:30am - 7:00pm and about 280kms round trip, but, take the time, take a look - the Hauraki Triplets are worth a visit.
Oh and by the way, Ms TomTom is a definite on our neartime shopping list, but the redundancy axe has not fallen on our paper maps just yet.