Are you German?

Are you German?
Thames, New Zealand

Thames, New Zealand

It was a fair question. I hadn’t spoken yet, and New Zealand, as I may have pointed out already, is filled with Germans. But no, I have not become one – “no!” I said. My new dorm has three Malaysians, who asked the question, a compulsory German, Yvonne, who was chatty in Paihia, and someone else who has yet to appear.

Posed tableau from a shop, with mannequins, from times past. Handbags and jewellery hang on the wall
The assistant is looking up at an odd angle. Perhaps we’ve interrupted some assignation here, rather than an ordinary transaction

Just a short hop today, an afternoon two hours on the bus to Thames. Gold was found here (1867-production peaked in 71, so it was a short rush), and though a lot of the buildings have been taken down, it still has the feel of a frontier town. I vaguely expected someone to come out of a saloon a-whoopin’ and a-hollerin’. It’s a place of only 5,500 inhabitants, but with more shops than that might suggest, so it must be providing services to the surrounding area. Thames is also the gateway to walkers going up to the Pinnacles and cyclists completing the two day Hauraki rail trail.

The wooden buildings, where they remain, are charming, though there’s not much going on. Apparently this is a centre of alternative living, and it’s certainly one in which to make your own entertainment. “Anything to do round here?” asked the two Brits who checked in at the same time as me, so I mentioned we had one hour to get to either museum or the gold-digging experience and they seemed underwhelmed. Cousins, I had them pegged as having travelled together for a while. It rained in the evening, for instance, and as they were leaving;

“It’s raining”
“Oh man, chucking it down. How we getting to town, I’m not walking in this.”
“No, I’ll drive. I already said I’ll drive.”

They’re probably quite comical from an outside perspective.

And a whirling maelstrom of stress on the inside.

The bus pulled in right outside my hostel, so I was checked in within minutes. The cousins and I managed not to exchange surprised looks as the girl who came out at their press of a bell took her place behind the counter. She might be 12, I suppose, but I’d go for younger.

I used my hour on the town museum, figuring that might give more of an overview than the goldmine experience. Plus it was closer. The old lady volunteer there was curious – probably as to why the hell I was in there, only the second paying guest to sign the book that day – but given that she was surprised that I was travelling on my own, she probably can’t discern ages either and assumed I was a teenager. Good for me, anyway.

Old kitchen. Cookery book is called "What shall I give him today?"
Check out the cookery book.

The museum starts with lots of china. Ooh, Queen Elizabeth II. Plus there are recreations of house rooms-arranged in a gallery rather than as a house-from the 19th century. The curator would probably say the theme is Thames and its development, while I would say ‘terrifying dummies’. Something for different audiences, let’s say.

There are excellent models of the buildings – post office, hotels, banks – which have been taken down and some industrial exhibits from the logging industry. As with other places in New Zealand, logging the Kauri trees was profitable until they started to run out; they take 100 years to grow. Some old bikes, including penny farthings, and shop interior reconstructions – abandon hope, all ye who gaze upon the faces in here – along with dentist chairs and an iron lung, complete the place.

More terrifying dummies. One is sitting, apparently unnoticed, behind the other, in a barber shop
Where the hell is the barber? Don’t look round.

Wonderful. crap, but totally wonderful. Possibly the gold might have been better, but I wouldn’t have missed the experience for anything. The lady volunteer asked where I was off to next and then wracked her brain for where Tauranga might be. I must be saying it wrong, it’s only a few hours on the bus. That’s tomorrow’s trip, I’ll be happy enough skipping on from here, though it’s pleasant enough, just quiet. The hostel has free laundry, there’s a bonus.

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