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Your first port of call along the way is Thames, a town rich in goldmining history. Indeed, the entire peninsula yielded much wealth to the pioneers. Back in the early 1800s, they were initially drawn by the timber of the plentiful kauri. Having exhausted this source of wealth, more was to be had and the loggers were followed by gum diggers and miners. Gold-bearing quartz was first found in 1867 and brought a shortlived boom to the area. Mining continued steadily for another 15 years or so until it tapered off and had totally finished by 1915.
The Thames Gold Mine and Stamper Battery on Pollen Str., provides the opportunity to see how gold mining operations took place and the conditions under which these hard people struggled. During the tour, the old machines of the battery are kicked into gear. The noise produced is literally deafening and it comes as no surprise to hear that a loss of hearing came hand in hand with the job. First, the machines crush the quartz and proceed to the separating process. Then, the particles are transported by water to a vibrating table which separates the minerals by their weight with gold weighing in the heaviest. The tour of the mine is conducted by local descendants of the original Cornish miners. The old mine was cut out by hand with a necessary economy of labour which just about provides standing room. Sound effects and models further recreate the working lives of the miners.
The geologically inclined can further the mining experience with a trip to the Mineralogical Museum which is home to a wide range of quartz, rocks, crystals and fossils. You'll find it on the corner of Cochrane and Brown Street. Open from 11 a.m-3p.m. Entry $2.50.
You'll see signs to the Karaka Bird Hide on the corner of Cochran and Brown Streets. If you're here between October and February you may get to see migratory birds like godwits, terns, shags and knots in the mangroves. It's best to go at high tide.
Head up to the Totara Pa for good photo opportunities and a wee bit of history. The lookout is at the southern end of town by the Totara Cemetery. You'll be standing on the very site where the infamous Hongi Hika outwitted the Ngati Maru Iwi or tribe to victory. In 1821, Hongi Hika led his 2,000 warriors to attack the stronghold. He then retreated or seemed to and caught his opponents offguard when he unexpectedly reattacked.