Day 112: Boom, Bust and Beyond…

I think we’ve had the best of the weather today. The mountains behind our hotel are shrouded in cloud and raindrops like marbles are bouncing off the tarmac.

In this morning’s sunshine, we joined Barbara and her dog Winnie for a guided history walk around Coromandel Town.

Boom, Bust and Beyond is a walk, through the town’s logging and gold mining history, led by local people.

Prompted by the occasional small bark from Winnie, Barbara told engaging stories – from Captain Cook failing to spot the large natural harbour of the Town through various fires to the present day.

Winnie pays close attention to correct any mistakes… or maybe she was just hoping for treats.

I’d had a taste of the area’s history a couple of days ago when I walked the Coastal Walkway and this tour provided more detail and a Coromandel Town focused aspect.

The Peninsula was named after the ship HMS Coromandel which came to the bay (it had since been noticed, after Cook’s voyage) to collect a load of kauri timber to take back to England.

The trees, and especially the kauri, would soon disappear from the hills and the mountains around what would become the town as the forests were cleared by logging.

This was Coromandel’s first boom.

Logging continued from the 1790s until the 1970s.

Winnie marches us to the next stop on the route.

The first gold in The Coromandel and therefore New Zealand was discovered in 1852, giving rise to the peninsula’s second boom and the founding of the Town in 1862.

This row of shops dates back to the 1870s and the laundromat has held various roles as dressmaker, green grocer and newspaper office.

Most of the Town’s main street looks like this. Not all of the buildings are original but the overall design has largely been adhered to… with the notable exception of the former post office.

It was designed at the same time as a new building for Whitianga where a less colonial style and more utilitarian style was required – in order to be in keeping with the style of buildings there.

As I learned in Moscow (where legend has it that the circle line on the Metro system is a result of Stalin putting a wet coffee cup down on the plans), urban design doesn’t always go according to plan.

The two post office plans were mixed up and the two towns both have buildings that failed to match the rest of their main street’s design.

It almost feels like a way of town twinning.

At the end of the block of 1870s ships is the former Assay Building where gold miners would bring their fins for weighing and payment.

Barbara told us that the building, though looking as though it’s built of stone, is actually wooden. If several cars had not gone past at that moment we would probably have dashed across the road to knock on the walls to check.

Yes, if there is a ‘wet paint‘ warning I am indeed tempted to touch the paintwork to check that it’s true.

The Star and Garter isn’t the original hotel which was actually a few blocks further along the road and burned down in 1895.

The Great Fire destroyed a great deal of the Town and everything up the road, towards the mountains, from the Star and Garter was built afterwards.

The pub itself, originally a drapers and a general store for miners, was built in 1901 and the main bar retains the original counter, while the men’s toilets have the safe where the gold used to be stored.

There is definitely none there now. We checked when we had dinner there the other night.

The Administration Centre (inc magistrates court) for the gold fields was built in 1873 and is now the council offices.

Three Maori figure, stand in front of the building, carved and erected by representatives of the three iwi (Maori nations) that lived on the Peninsula when Europeans first arrived.

The three trees behind them were the ‘big three’ of the New Zealand logging industry, obviously including the kauri.

The Town also has several churches and places of worship. The Citizens’ Hall was originally the old Catholic school and has recently been beautifully restored – the wooden floor is made from reclaimed wood, matai.

This is the oldest church in Coromandel Town, a Methodist church. Apparently the cooker wasn’t an original feature.

This part of town is mostly residential and some of the cottages are the original miners’ cottages while others are later versions.

These houses can be seen all over New Zealand as when the gold boom ended and people moved away, they or the mining companies often took their houses with them.

Moving house is quite a literal thing here.

It’s a beautiful part of town and how would you fancy walking uphill, home to this view each evening?

At 20 NZD for a 1.5hr guided walk, this was a very informative walk through Coromandel Town’s history.

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