Te Aroha

Garth didn't approve of our plans for the next day. "Why would you want to go to Te Aroha?" It reminded me of our Japanese friends questioning the wisdom of spending two nights of our 2014 trip in Takamatsu.

We were headed to Mt. Maunganui - a town that was described in one imaginative guide book as the Waikiki of New Zealand - and Garth was laying out another ambitious route for us. He tried to interest us in a hike on the Karangahake Gorge Historic Walkway. That sounded great, but we were still recovering from our jaunt to Cathedral Cove. Undaunted, he pointed out an open-cast gold mine in the town of Waihi and suggested a stop at Waihi Beach.

Te Aroha was a bit out of the way, so why were we planning to go there? It came up in a Google search one evening when we were looking for things to see on that travel day. An alternative would have been to spend a day at Hobbiton, but that just seemed like an over-priced movie set tour. There are no cozy little rooms behind the hobbit house facades.

Sometimes we just enjoy wandering around in places other tourists are unlikely to go, and Te Aroha seemed like a perfect place to do that. In fact, we missed the domain park - our intended destination - on our first pass through town. Instead, we found ourselves on a narrow road between two fields that evenually ended in a carpark where numerous walking tracks set off into the mountains.

The remains of a building sat at one end of the carpark. A sign explained that in the 1920's it was a part of the Piako County Council's stone quarrying operations. Large rocks extracted from the near-by quarry were brought here and crushed into gravel for road building.

A small stream flowed past the remains of the building. We were pleased that we had stumbled upon such a pleasant spot by accident.

We returned to the town, and found the domain right on the main street. Don't know how we missed it the first time.

Te Aroha was a popular destination in Victorian times because people would go there to soak in the hot mineral baths. The domain contains the old historic bathing buildings, a small museum, a modern-day spa, swimming pools, and the Mokena Geyser.

The Mokena Geyser, the only known natural soda water geyser in the world, sits at the top of the hill. It shoots hot soda water 9 feet into the air from a depth of 230 feet.

When we had sated our photographic compulsions, we back-tracked a bit to get to Garth's suggested route through Waihi.

Somewhat surprisingly, The Martha Mine is right at the end of the main street. It's an open-cast mine approximately 820 feet deep. The mine opened in 1878 and experienced peak production in 1909 when 1,500 people worked there. Production declined drastically in 1952 because the international gold price was low and the cost to make necessary upgrades to the mining equipment was high, but limited production continues today.

I was more impressed with the remains of the Cornish Pump House and the dramatic wispy clouds in the sky.

This historic building originally stood 985 feet away. A sign described the history and moving of the pumphouse.

Our final stop before Mt. Maunganui was Waihi Beach where we fought off the seagulls as we enjoyed a snack of samosas we picked up from a nearby shop.

As I alluded to earlier, Mt. Maunganui bore little resemblance to Waikiki. There was nothing very touristy about the town, and we drove right through it into an industrial area with lots of bridges during the search for our hotel.

When we did finally arrive at our hotel, I was quite surprised when the woman who was checking us in said, "Now I'll just get your milk and you'll be all set." What could that mean? Much to my surprise, she did return with a small carton of milk which I accepted as though this was perfectly normal.

It turns out that is the norm in New Zealand, and this was the first of several cartons we would receive as we continued on our journey. Whenever there is a refrigerator in the room, it seems, you are given fresh milk to enjoy with the coffee and tea which are also provided along with a couple of cookies.

We didn't have much time to explore the town of Mt. Maunganui, but this is a photo of the signature site taken from a park in the downtown area.