North Island Visits & Day Trips – part 2

Next day trip was on my own to Paeroa, Karangahake and the Bay of Plenty. Paeroa is a town in the at the gateway to the Coromandel Peninsula where I had first thought of traveling, on the Waihou and Ohinemuri River close to the Firth of Thames. It originally was a railway and mining hub when gold was found in the Ohinemuri Goldfields but New Zealanders know it these day for its mineral springs, and the famous drink Lemon & Paeroa made from the springs waters. It is more commonly referred to as L&P (a sweet soft drink) created in 1907, and was traditionally made by combining lemon juice with carbonated mineral water. As one of its ad campaigns catch phrase was: “World famous in New Zealand” and what would lunch be without an L&P to go with it. When in Rome? and childhood memories.

From Paeroa I turned eastward towards the Bay of Plenty and the Karangahake Gorge – a sharply winding canyon formed by the Ohinemuri River and a nationally significant gold heritage site. The Karangahake Gorge was once a maze of bridges, tramways, water races and stamping batteries. The remains of the Talisman, Crown and Woodstock stamping batteries can be found at the lower end of the gorge, and are some of the most significant reminders of the time. Their location at the confluence of the Waitawheta River and the Ohinemuri River was chosen to make use of the available water power of the rivers to drive the batteries. Mining at the batteries occurred roughly from the 1880s to 1950s, with the most productive years around the turn of the century when the area produced 60 percent of the total gold from New Zealand. The batteries were used to release the the gold contained within the quartz by crushing the ore obtained from the tunnels in the steep mountainsides of the Waitawheta Gorge. Erected in 1897 to crush quartz, the Victoria Battery was considered the largest and most advanced facility of its type in New Zealand. The path follows the route of a bush tramway and passes by “windows” in the cliff face at the end of mining tunnels, which were used to tip the tailings down into the Waitawheta Gorge. In March 1875, opened a canvas tent town which grew to a population of around 1 600 people with about 20 stores and grog shops. The heavy machinery required for the hard quartz mining had to be brought via the Waihou River and up to Paeroa. The river was the only highway and hence Paeroa became a thriving transport and distribution centre for the goldfield.

Continuing to head east through the gorge and Kaimai Ranges I emerged out onto the open plains surrounding Waihi Beach and the beach side town of Athenree. The Waihi beach environs typify the opportunities Kiwis have for access to beaches and in establishing holiday homes by the sea up and down the country. The phenomenon of black sand beaches on the west coast of NZ are shown in the pics from Raglan and here the yellow sand beaches of the east coast can be seen on Waihi. The main beach is about 10 kilometres long and ends in the beautiful beach holiday town of Athenree at the northern entrance to the lagoon behind Matakana Island. The lagoon ends in the south 40 kms away with the entrance to Tauranga Harbour. Athenree is known for its thermal springs right on the on the beach front, a sign of the geothermal activity under the surface. Offshore you are able to get a good view of Mayor Island/Tuhua and further to the south is the infamous volcanic White Island/Whakaari. Whakaari exploded in 2019 while 47 tourists were on the island killing 22 and leaving 25 with life threatening third degree burns. Boats that had just departed were spared but recorded the scene as it developed and returned to help rescue those who were injured stranded. This type of activity and the major earthquakes that occur from time to time are a sober reminder to Kiwis that they are living in a land on the Pacific rim of fire that is constantly undergoing change.

Kiwifruit or as it is known in NZ as Chinese Gooseberry flourishes in the sub-tropical regions of the central North island particularly in the Bay of Plenty and Hawkes Bay region. Vines could be seen around the beach area. Originally from China it has become synonymous with NZ where it grows much more rampantly and has lead to a large export industry, hence the name Kiwifruit. Kiwifruit grow on vines and require both a male and female vine to produce fruit. Kiwifruit vines grow vigorously and need a lot of space to grow and can be found growing on fences or pergolas. These days it has been trademarked under the name Zespri to separate the name kiwifruit from our national symbol and flightless bird the Kiwi.

That reminds me of a story from when I first arrived in Sweden to start work. A colleague asked, “What are people from New Zealand called.” I replied, “Kiwis.” And to this she replied, “What? A bunch of fruits?” Thirty years later I still laugh when I think of it.

And just like that and my visit to NZ was over. Time to head to Auckland and make for Sydney Australia and Mike, Gustav & their fur babies.

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