Coromandel town became the site of New Zealand's first gold strike in 1852 when sawmill worker Charles Ring found gold-bearing quartz at Driving Creek, just north of town. The find was important for New Zealand, because the country's workforce had been severely depleted by the gold rushes in California and Australia. Ring hurried to Auckland to claim the reward that had been offered to anyone finding "payable" gold. The town's population soared, but the reef gold could be mined only by heavy and expensive machinery. Within a few months Coromandel resumed its former sleepy existence as a timber town—and Charles Ring was refused the reward.
Nowadays, Coromandel is a popular holiday town but manages to retain a low-key charm even when SUVs and camper vans fill the streets. With 19th-century buildings lining both sides of its single main street, an active artists' collective, and the requisite fish-and-chips shops at either end, you could not find a truer example of a relaxed and slightly hippie Kiwi town. The local mussel farms mean that mussels are served every which way, from smoked-mussel pies to chowder.