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Published: January 14th 2014
Saturday January 4th, 2014. Bay of Plenty and Drive to Coromandel, North Island, NZ
We awoke in Tauranga after a really good night's sleep. Tauranga means "safe anchorage or resting place" in Maori. It is the main town on the Bay of Plenty. The Maori originally voyaged here from Eastern Polynesia. In the late 13th or early 14th century 3 Waka (canoes) landed in the Bay of Plenty. They found a coastline richly resourced with seafood and forests with many birds an berries for food as well as timber for buildings. One of the 1st recorded European visitors was Captain Cook who sailed past Mt Maunganui in 1969. James Farrow was the first permanent trader who came here in 1829 to obtain flax fibre for Australian merchants. We didn't stick around as this was yet another travelling day.
We headed north towards Katikati where there was a Bird Garden that M wanted to visit. We found it easily. These tranquil gardens are set directly on the edge of the inner Tauranga Harbour. With water lilly ponds, mature trees from around the world, flower gardens and natural wetlands, the gardens are a delight. There were over 50 varieties of birds
- some roaming free and some in aviaries. We paid our entrance fee and M purchased a packet of bird food to feed the free roaming birds with. We had been inside about 5 minutes when the pesky sand flies descended on M. Lucky she had the roll on repellant with her! The bird gardens were created in 1976 by a local visionary called Chris Parker. With his botanical knowledge and the sites natural attributes such as fresh water springs, ponds and wetlands, he transformed the land into this beautiful place. There were dozens of birds from around the world. Those in the aviaries had signs explaining what they were. The wild ones you either knew or didn't. It was a really lovely visit an we spent over an hour in the gardens.
Next stop on M's itinerary was the 'Mural Town' of Katikati. The main street is bursting with colour and the town's artistic talent is on display for all to see. With its immaculate gardens, orchards and a local winery, it is fast becoming one of the Bay of Plenty's icons. The murals are absolutely fantastic, with each one telling a story, giving the town a really
vibrant feel. Some of the murals are historical, telling of the European settlement and struggle. Others are more political, like the one showing the USA consuming all the world's riches while the Africans starve. The artwork was amazing.
While we were here we visited the Haiku Pathway - the only one in the Southern Hemisphere. We followed the pathway, lined with boulders inscribed with poetry. This pathway was created as one of NZ's Millennium Projects. It winds along the tranquil Uretara Stream just behind the town centre. It was stunning, and together with the murals, it is easy to understand why Katikati is considered to be one of NZ's most beautiful towns.
We continued heading north an turned off the highway to visit Bowentown. This is at the southern end of Waihi Beach an is a 128 hectare headland reserve sporting lovely beaches an historic sites. We stopped at Anzac Bay and took some photos from the beach before driving up to the top of the headland for some more views.
We turned around (Bowentown is a dead end) and came to Waihi Beach. This is a superb 8 km stretch of sparkling sand and pristine surf
- a gem at the northernmost end of the Bay of Plenty. The weather was extremely iffy but we stopped and walked along the beach. Waihi is steeped in gold-mining history. We left the town and drove through the Karangahake Gorge (nowhere to stop for snaps) which was stunning. Located between Paeroa and Waihi on SH2, the Karangahake Gorge is the main link between the Waikato Region and the Bay of Plenty. It was the site of NZ's second most productive goldmine, started in 1875 beside the Waitawheta and Ohinemuri rivers.
We continued on towards the town of Thames. Thames is the known as the "Gateway to the Coromandel". European Settlers first arrived in Thames in the mid 19th century. On 27 July 1867, James Mackay, Civil Commissioner for the Hauraki District, concluded an agreement with the local Maori Chiefs securing mineral rights leading to the proclamation of The Thames Goldfield. That same month Mackay established the British settlement of Shortland. Shortland quickly became a compact town with government buildings, cottages, shops and 6 or 7 pubs and a wharf. It was soon realized that all the gold was a mile to the north around a place called Grahamstown.
By 1874 the two towns merged and the Borough of Thames was formed. There are many old buildings from the time still in evidence. We saw two pillar boxes (VR types) - there are 3 in the town. These 1869 cast pillar boses are the oldest still in service in NZ. The library is the most intact and original in NZ. Shortland Wharf is the only remaining functional wharf from those built in the gold rush era. The school (now Tarau Art Centre) built in 1877 reflects the importance placed on education by the society of the time. After visiting the town we headed up the Thames coast with trees in full flower and beautiful views down to the Firth of Thames (yes it is called that - really!).
We arrived at Coromandel Town which was our destination for tonight. This was YHA doubling up as a holiday park/camp. A bit basic and in the middle of nowhere. We had a cabin. We had a stir-fry for dinner and then to bed.
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