Thames is Hauraki–Coromandel’s largest town and the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula. It had a 2013 population of 6,693, and is 115 km south-east of Auckland and 104 km north-east of Hamilton.
Thames came into existence when gold was discovered in 1867 in the lower Kauaeranga valley, at the south-east corner of the Firth of Thames. The goldfield lifted Auckland out of the economic depression that followed the withdrawal of imperial troops and transfer of the colony’s capital to Wellington in 1865.
The government chose Shortland, at the mouth of the Kauaeranga River, for the town. Meanwhile, many miners occupied Tookeys Flat on the Kuranui Stream, in order to be close to the gold workings. In 1868 Auckland entrepreneur Robert Graham purchased the land in between, which became Grahamstown. The three towns combined to form Thames. The town’s centre of gravity soon shifted from Shortland to Grahamstown, which had ‘Scrip Corner’ (where sharebrokers congregated), the wharves and foundries.
Tararū, a suburban area to the north of the town, was also first laid out in 1868. Tōtara pā cemetery, to the south of the town, is on the site of the fomer Te Tōtara pā.
Thames has retained a wealth of historical buildings from the gold-mining days thanks to limited pressures for development subsequently, and local pride in the town’s history. The Thames School of Mines, in existence between 1886 and 1953, and mineral museum are open to the public as a museum.
Until recently, Thames was the most highly industrialised town of its size in New Zealand.
Two foundries set up business in the town to supply the gold-mining and timber industries: Charles Judd in 1869 and A. & G. Price in 1870. They made stamper equipment, timber jacks and even bush locomotives.
Iron horses from Thames
By 1958 A. & G. Price had built 123 locomotives for the Railways Department, of which 106 were still in service.
Decline in these two industries and the completion of Thames’s rail link with the rest of the North Island in 1898 prompted A. & G. Price to start building locomotives for the Railways Department in 1905. They produced more locomotives for New Zealand than any other workshop, their last one being made in 1965. The company was still in business in 2010.
In 1964 motor-vehicle assembly began in Thames, providing up to 600 jobs. The plant turned out close to 250,000 vehicles before closing down in 1998.
A major catchment of the Coromandel Peninsula located inland from Thames. This part of Coromandel Forest Park is much used by school groups and summer visitors. It is an area of deep ravines and high peaks.
The kauri in the Kauaeranga valley was heavily worked by bushmen in the 1910s and 1920s. They built more than 50 dams on the river’s tributaries. Booms were located about halfway down the valley to protect farmland. From there an 18-km tramway bypassed the lower section of the river to Kōpū.
The remains of logging dams, tramways, trestle bridges and river booms from that era can still be seen.
The coast north of Thames is characterised by many pōhutukawa, which make a magnificent sight when they flower in December.
Significant areas of flat land are only found on the coast at the mouths of the Te Puru, Waiomu, Tapu and Waikawau streams.
Thornton Bay, 10 km north of Thames, is a beach settlement. Nearby Ngārimu Bay, is named after 2nd Lieutenant Moananui-a-Kiwa Ngārimu, who was posthumously awarded a Victoria Cross in 1943.
Te Puru, 12 km north of Thames on State Highway 25, was subdivided in the 1950s. It was built on stream-mouth alluvial deposits. Gold workings in the area were unsuccessful.
John Logan Campbell, who is best-known as an early Auckland settler, spent three months at Waiomu before he shifted to Waitematā. The Monowai quartz reef up the Waiomu Valley was mined until the 1930s. Waiomu is now known for its domain, with a reclining pōhutukawa, and a kauri-grove walk.
Tapu, 19 km north of Thames on State Highway 25, was the earliest coast township; 500 miners were digging in the Tapu valley by 1869. Much of the gold could be sluiced from hillsides, as it was not buried in quartz as elsewhere on the peninsula, but there was also quartz-reef mining.
The school dates from 1877 and the war memorial hall from 1948–49.
The Rapaura watergardens, developed since the 1960s, with both native and exotic plants, are 7 km from Tapu on the road to Coroglen. Maumaupaki (Camels Back), at 819 m, is a distinctive summit.