The gateway to the Coromandel, Thames is a town with a golden past and as we discovered, a rosy future. We spent some time discovering a vibrant and innovative community with plenty to see, do and of course eat.
The main street of Thames has seen a resurgence in the last few years and Pollen Street is now probably not only the longest, at one mile long, but one of the most tenanted main streets in New Zealand.
In a majestic building that encapsulates Thames’s rich history is the Brian Boru Hotel. Once famous for murder mystery weekends that people would travel from all over New Zealand to be a part of, the hotel rooms have now sadly been turned into offices. What is left is a wonderful bar/cafe that focuses on great coffee, tea, beer and wine; hence the name Brew.
Owner, Sam Lamb a wine maker from Martinborough and the reason behind the great wine list, was lured to Thames by her late partner, local personality Bruce Oliver. Bruce was the reason Sam moved to Thames but she is now a proud member of the community revelling in everything the town has to offer. “It’s like a little seaside town that’s still affordable and so close to everywhere,” says Sam who is a big proponent of supporting local producers.
Partner Bruce was also the driving force behind the formation of Boiler House Brewery. During the gold rush Thames had at least four breweries and 112 licensed hotels and was the birthplace of brewing giants Lion. Boiler House Brewery have plans to bring the brewing of beer back to Thames, and their beer, which is currently being brewed in Matangi by Head Brewer Graeme Mahy, was launched last year. While plans for the brewery in Thames are well on the way, in the meantime you can get a pint of Boiler House Beer at Brew.
With the beverage side of things well taken care of you could be forgiven for thinking the food is an afterthought. Nothing could be further from the truth. Brew has a wonderful cabinet of cafe styled food along with an extensive menu and Kiwi inspired tapas at night. All the food is lovingly made on site with ingredients sourced locally wherever possible.
As you continue up Pollen Street you arrive in what is called Grahamstown. Here the wonderful old-fashioned shops and buildings harking back to the gold rush days are everywhere. If history is your thing there are many museums to visit where you’ll learn about the fascinating history of the area and mining back in the day.
Cnr Pollen and Richmond Streets, Thames
Ph. 07 868 5558
A recent development in Grahamstown is the Depot. This beautiful development, which would fit seamlessly in any big city, is the vision of Trish and Dave Malachy.
Twelve months fighting red tape and meticulously renovating the nearly 90-year-old building has resulted in a beautiful multipurpose space. Three and a half tonnes of food grade baking soda was used to strip the beautiful brick of the decades of accumulated paint. Huge steel beams were added to earthquake proof the building and then the space was divided into different tenancies.
At the front of The Depot is Cafe Melbourne, but delve further inside and you will discover a stunning communal courtyard and walkway with smaller retail spaces. Trish’s idea was to create flexible spaces for small local businesses to flourish while also creating a wonderful community. “It’s great to see people enjoying the space,” says Trish who is also kept busy running Bite Deli, one of the spaces within The Depot. Bursting with gourmet goodies, including gorgeous French patisseries, freshly baked breads, an array of cheese, deli goods and more, Bite is worth a thorough peruse and a must stop to pick up provisions if you are heading up the Coromandel Peninsula on holiday. Oh and did I mention the wonderful wine selection?
Also in the complex is local artist Wayne Robertson. Former Kiwi international turned artist, Wayne recently moved to Matatoki just on the outskirts of Thames. His vibrant paintings as well as some other local artists’ works are on display and for sale in The Artists Gallery.
Another recent arrival in the area is John and Morag Stanbrook, the Mustard Makers, who moved to Thames from Puhoi last year. John says they made the move to live in a cottage by the sea and to enjoy a slower pace of life. Mustard Makers have been around for 10 years now. It was a business that grew from the couple selling plants and then homemade jams at their gate in Puhoi to a very successful label that is available nationwide as well as exported to Asia and Australia.
John says the move to Thames coincides with the plan to scale back the business to their core which is mustards. Everything is made on site in the commercial kitchen behind their storefront in The Depot. While you can buy their mustards at New World, Nosh and other good food stores, nothing beats being able to talk to the guy who makes it.
715 Pollen Street, Thames
The Cheese Barn
Heading out of town on the road to Paeroa you will pass through the little settlement of Matatoki. Here, tucked away down a lane off the main road is The Cheese Barn.
A perfect place to stop for a bite to eat and to pick up some provisions. The Cheese Barn also has plenty to keep the young and old entertained with their menagerie of farm animals, from alpacas to baby rabbits.
Cathy and Kelvin Haigh have been making cheese here for over 18 years. All their cheeses are made from organic milk from just up the road in Kerapahe. Cathy says the milk comes from a heard of Eshire cows who produce “a rich creamy milk which is great for cheese making”.
The Cheese Barn’s range includes traditional Gouda style cheeses as well as the likes of blue and Brie cheeses along with low fat cottage cheese, silky mascarpone, organic butter and low lactose yoghurt.
Their cottage cheese was launched late last year and Cathy says, “It has been a great hit as there are no other organic ones available.” Cottage cheese is a wonderful product to have on hand as it is low fat but high in protein. It makes a great spread, dip or added to lasagnes and so on.
When you fall in love with The Cheese Barn’s handmade organic range you don’t have to visit Matatoki to resupply as they supply most good organic shops in the North Island. Or if you are keen to learn how to make cheese The Cheese Barn are now holding regular classes with the help of Katherine Mowbray, author of Cutting the Curd.
The Cheese Barn
Corner State Highway 26 and Wainui Road, Matatoki, Thames
No trip to the seaside is complete without some fresh fish, and the quintessential fish from the Firth of Thames is flounder. Pete Thorburn, aka Piako Pete, fishes nearly every day, the catch is then sold with the help of his wife, Gail, from their shop in front of their home in Pipiroa.
Gail says when they first started they would travel to Farmers’ Markets all around the area but now they sell the entire catch through the shop and by supplying local cafes and restaurants. Their flounder is the signature dish at Rapaura Watergardens Cafe on the Thames coast as well as at the newly opened Bugger Cafe just around the corner from them. You can buy them the old fashioned way—whole, or for those with an aversion to bones, as gorgeous little fillets.
While flounder is their main catch the big catch of snapper, kahawai and mullet are smoked the traditional way with salt and manuka smoke for three to four hours. Gail gave me some smoke roe which I mixed with some Cheese Barn mascarpone, a few herbs and a little lemon juice for a delicious dip.
41 Buchanan Road Pipiroa Ngatea
Just around the corner from Piako Pete’s is the newly opened Bugger Cafe, owned by Glenda and John Gourley. The couple and their team spent a frantic month before Christmas giving what was quite a rundown cafe a makeover in time to open for the peak season. Bugger is just what you need when you have been travelling; a cafe with food to please the whole troop, good coffee and a chance for some light relief. Glenda says Bugger is all about seeing the lighter side of life and the space is filled with many “bugger” moments that are sure to put a smile on your face.
State Highway 25, Pipiroa
Things to do in Thames
Immerse yourself in the rich history at one of the many museums, from the School of Mines to the Pumphouse and Stamper Battery or the Thames Historical Museum.
Take a train ride. The Grahamstown little train runs along the waterfront every Sunday and Public Holidays (weather permitting) from 11am to 3pm.
Shop local – The Thames Market is on every Saturday from 9am to 12noon on the Grahamstown end of Pollen street.
Kauaeranga Valley – Tramp, camp, climb, abseil, swim … you can do it all in the beautiful Kauaeranga Valley.