New Zealand Cycle Tour: Te Aroha to Te Puru 64kmTe Aroha started life as a gold mining prospect in the 1880, after Hone Wharehiko discovered gold on the eastern slopes of Mount Te Aroha in the Waiorongomai Valley. The quartz proved uneconomical and was abandoned 10 years later. C.W. Richards, a failed prospector wrote a poem-de-pun about the Waiorongomai Valley upon leaving town “O wrong are you, o wrong am I, O wrong all of us. We are all sold, there is no Gold, the claim’s not worth a cuss. We came O why? T’s all my eye, so sing “O Wai-o-rongo-mai”
Luckily the town had a greater asset than gold. Dotted all around the Te Aroha district are scores of mineral and soda springs, both hot and cold. The springs and surrounding land were gifted to the Crown as a reserve by local Maori Chief, Te Mokena Hau in 1882 and the main Te Aroha Domain was soon planted out and promoted in the fashion of European Spas (the original bathhouse is now the museum) and is home to the only bore created hot soda geyser in the world, which continues to erupt half hourly.
Steeped in history, with grand Edwardian buildings, churches and parks, geysers, hot springs, fountains and spa pools, not to mention the oldest pipe organ in the southern hemisphere, plus a network of walking and mountain bike tracks that encompass historic sites, springs, rivers, wetlands and pass over Mount Te Aroha itself, there is good reason to poke around a bit. Nonetheless Te Aroha is not on the main ‘tourist radar’ of places to go, and as a result the town appears as just another indistinct and undisturbed rural NZ town jammed between mountain and plain.
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Waking on day three of our tour I was still encumbered by what was becoming my permanent headache, so I left Scott sleeping at first light and was out the door and into the hills. I ran into the lower edges of Mount Te Aroha onto Tui Track. I passed the historic Mayflower mine entrance, through groves of nikau (native palm trees), parataniwha and regenerating kanuka, crossed Tunakohoia (eels in there) Stream, briefly stopped at a waterfall lookout and past two old historic reservoirs originating from Te Aroha’s first electric power supply. I was back in less than an hour and was soon packing my kit onto my bike.
The ride out of Te Aroha was a flat and undemanding ride. We passed through Thames on the firth of the Waihou (fresh water) River in good time stopping only for a mimi (to use the bathroom) as we were not keen to hang about in the bussel of the busy town. Glad to be in the heavy scent of ocean air we ambled along the coast until we reached the village settlement of Te Puru (the plug) where my map said there was a campground. Te Puru sits on a small cuspate poking out from the eastern coromandel coast line. The shingle and sand shoreline is a protected nesting ground of the endangered dotterel and oyster catchers.
A fishing competition was on and the camp was bursting with large Nordic looking people. Under every canvas awning there were buxom woman in sun dresses clutching glasses of white wine whilst boxy shaped grandmothers with crew cuts and resentful faces on stretched nylon beach chairs indiscriminately ignored or shouted at wiry excitable grandchilden that were running in every direction. The men folk stood in huddles or waddled behind their stomachs and clogging arteries, never far from their beer or boat. They talked about fishing and sport. I marvelled at the amount of conveniences each plot of 25 square metres could squeeze in, from massive BBQ grills to fridges, from couches to outdoor heaters, they seemed to have it all, and I shuddered at the thought of the annual chore of packing and unpacking all that paraphernalia for a trip to the beach.
We were aliens in their domain and we eyed each other suspiciously as we went about the chore of setting up camp underneath a giant willow tree as far away from the tide of boat and trailer traffic as possible. After a swim and explore of the coast line and wildlife we drunk dreadful red wine from the dairy and made an inedible meal of vindaloo and kumera (sweet potato), laughing at the plight of our cuisine the whole time until darkness sent us to bed.