Linked by SH26, bounded by the Kaimai Ranges and Hauraki Plains, Paeroa and Te Aroha are often overlooked by visitors. ey are relaxing places to visit, a far cry from the days when they were busy settlements, swarming with gold miners and tourists.
Voyage back through time
European history in the Paeroa area dates back to 1769, when Captain Cook anchored the Endeavour near the mouth of the Waihou River – which he renamed the Thames – and a small party explored inland. After visiting a nearby pa, they continued for about 14 nautical miles. Here the party disembarked to explore the forest that grew beside the riverbanks. Cook was impressed by the size of some kahikatea; he measured the height of one and declared it to be ‘eighty-nine feet and as straight as an arrow’. is was the furthest inland that Cook would venture in New Zealand. His discovery of timber suitable for mast-building led to the arrival of many other ships and pioneering settlers.
Later, when gold was discovered in the Karangahake Gorge, the small town of Paeroa became a staging post for goods and machinery that were brought up the Waihou River to supply the ‘rush’. The river had a regular passenger and cargo service until 1947.
We learned all this and more as we explored the Paeroa Historical Maritime Park and Museum, at the site of the old Puke Wharf. This small museum is a treasure trove of information and artefacts related to the area, as well as boating in general. There were detailed models of yachts and ships – including the Endeavour, the Victory and the Cutty Sark – paintings, flags, nautical instruments and all manner of maritime memorabilia.
Outside, we contemplated the remains of the paddle steamer Kopu, salvaged after 40 years on the riverbed. Built in ames in 1896, the Kopu had an illustrious history with the Northern Steamship Company and it is hoped she can be restored one day.
Paeroa is synonymous with L&P, the much-loved zzy beverage. e town’s huge bottle is a Kiwi icon and everyone likes to get a photo beside it. Surprisingly, it was originally a space rocket, built for the Christmas celebrations in 1967 and subsequently developed into the big bottle we all know so well.
The Paeroa soda spring was well known to Maori and early settlers. Bubbling up from a paddock, it was not only thirstquenching, but was claimed to have health-giving properties. The miners used it as a hangover cure. After some enterprising people added slices of lemon to their water, Lemon & Paeroa was born.
Paeroa markets itself as the country’s ‘antiques capital’ and we always love browsing around the many stores. Although there was motorhome parking at the museum, we preferred to join the row of buses and vans parked beside the Hauraki Rail Trail, a few minutes’ walk from the town centre. Once settled, we headed for the antique shops and spent a long time surrounded by everything from china and glassware to vintage linen, toys, jewellery, clocks and much more.
There’s a whole block of antique shops, bounded by Granville’s at one end and Arkwrights at the other, and a smattering of stores on nearby streets. We headed back to our bus for coffee, intending to continue browsing later, but had run out of stamina. Ah well, there’s always next time.
Town of flowing love
The nearby town of Te Aroha is said to have been named by a Maori chief, who spied his home from the mountain, the highest point in the Kaimai Range, and declared, “Te Aroha-a-uta,” or in English, ‘love flowing inland’.
A township developed at the foot of the mountain when gold was discovered in 1880. The boom didn’t last long, but an area containing hot springs became a popular spot with miners as well as local Maori. After Ngati Rahiri chief Mokena Hau gifted the land to the government to be used as a public reserve, the Hot Springs Domain was developed as a spa. In its Victorian and Edwardian heyday the springs attracted thousands of visitors, but its popularity waned in the early 20th century.
Today the Hot Springs Domain is a picturesque example of an Edwardian spa complex. We always wander through the grounds and go for a soak at what’s now called Te Aroha Leisure Pools. The adjacent Number Two Bathhouse, the last remaining in the domain, has recently opened after a 13-year hiatus.
It has had an $188,000 refurbishment, and now boasts a glass wall at the end of the pool. Bathers can look down on the old piles and rocks where warm mineral water used to bubble up to heat the pool.
Unfortunately the 15-minute sessions at the bathhouse were booked out; we couldn’t get a slot for three days! Instead we took refuge in the Number 15 Spring and Shelter, a hot spa pool that overlooks the leisure pool. We usually visit in midsummer; now, in mid-winter clouds of steam billowed up into the cold, clear blue skies.
Te Aroha and lemon
You can spend several hours walking around the Domain. There’s an information office at the entry on Whitaker Street, where we picked up a brochure that lists 21 points of interest.
Number three on the list is the Mokena Geyser, named for the chief who gifted the land. The geyser was caused by drilling work which created the only hot soda water geyser in the country.
What was once called the Cadman Bath House is now the centrepiece of the Domain. Described in 1902 as the best appointed bathhouse in the southern hemisphere, it is now the Te Aroha & District Museum.
Inspecting exhibits here, we discovered that a drink called Te Aroha and Lemon was created 19 years before its more famous rival down the road in Paeroa. Launched in 1888, the fizzy drink was produced until the 1960s. Visitors to the spa not only bathed in the waters, they drank them too. Te Aroha’s mineral water was claimed to cure everything from bladder problems to gout.
For walkers there’s plenty of choice in Te Aroha. Starting beside the Mokena Geyser, there’s a track up to the summit of Mount Te Aroha. Malcolm and I walked for about 45 minutes up this track to the Whakapipi Lookout, from where we had great views across the Hauraki Plains. From here I returned to Te Aroha to browse around the shops, while Malcolm continued on to the summit. At the top he looked down into the Bay of Plenty and right across the Waikato.
One summer’s evening we strolled around the Howarth memorial Wetlands. There’s a freedom camping area for self-contained vehicles at Spur Street, close beside the start of the track. It’s an hour’s easy loop-walk around the wetlands, on a formed track with areas of boardwalk. There’s a bird-watching point where you might spot king sher and heron, pied stilt, grey teal, black shag and pukeko. At one point the wetlands pass close to the Waihou River, where a group of youngsters were cooling off by jumping into the water from a handy tree.
Summer or winter, there’s plenty to explore in Te Aroha and Paeroa. We’re planning to revisit; we want to have a soak in the newly restored bathhouse in Te Aroha – and we definitely need to spend more time in Paeroa’s antique shops.
- There are a variety of places to stay in the area. Self-contained campers can stay at the Paeroa Maritime Park for $15 per night. In Paeroa the overnight parking is $5. Freedom camping is allowed at Spur Street, Te Aroha, for a maximum of four consecutive nights.
- Paeroa’s Information Centre is on Normanby Road; Te Aroha’s i-SITE is at the Domain entrance on Whitaker Street.
- Te Aroha’s Wetland Track is an easy one-hour loop; Te Aroha Summit Track is a tramping track and takes three hours one way.
- Useful websites: historicalmaritimepark.co.nz; tearohamineral spas.co.nz.