THE COROMANDEL REGION
Captain James Cook named Mercury Bay in 1769 when he entered the bay to observe the transit of the planet Mercury. Surrounded by hills which combined with the absence of a sand bar made Mercury Bay a both sheltered and accessible anchorage, led to the development of Whitianga as a thriving timber port. Further inland, steep volcanic mountain ranges make up the backbone of this long peninsula stretching north towards Great Barrier Island. Deep in the hills there are still pockets of ancient kauri that escaped logging in the early nineteenth century and in many places the forests have returned to cloak the former goldfields where thousands of miners once swarmed in search of elusive gold bearing ores and quartz veins. Today the Coromandel Peninsula retains many of the old buildings, mines and other historic relics that remain as reminders of the pioneering settlers and miners that came to this beautiful scenic wilderness. Now it is throngs of holiday makers who invade the Coromandel each summer, but as a rule, the further north you go, the more the crowds dwindle so it doesn’t take long to reach some of the more remote places along the coast where you can relax and enjoy the tranquility of an unspoiled beach
The first reports of gold in the Coromandel Peninsula came in the 1820s, although no major strikes were made for decades. In 1852 a sawmiller named Charles Ring discovered gold at Driving Creek, near the town of Coromandel but it wasn’t until the hard work of mining the quartz reefs began in the hills of the Coromandel Peninsula in the early 1860s that the first substantial quantities were found. The first big strike was near Thames in 1867, but mining the quartz reefs required a huge amount of both labour and machinery as the ore had to be reached by tunneling, before it could be crushed and the gold separated from the rock. At the peak of the rush in 1868 there were 18,000 people were living in Thames. Mining continued successfully until the 1920s, with a small number of mines dominating production. The Martha mine at Waihi, became one of the main producers in the country, its gold–silver alloy electrum being made up of 65% gold and 35% silver along with separate sulfide minerals. It was the gold and timber industries that built many of the towns on the Coromandel Peninsula and south along the coast. Today the history of the region is embedded in the many old buildings, museums and historic towns along this beautiful stretch of coastline.