The peninsula's oldest town, Thames has evolved from a gold-mining hotbed in the late 1800s to an agricultural center. Locals have a saying that when the gold ran out, "Thames went to sleep awaiting the kiss of a golden prince—and instead it awoke to the warm breath of a cow." The main street was once lined with nearly 100 hotels (read: bars—gold mining and logging was thirsty work). Only a handful of these hotels still operate, but the town and environs provide glimpses of the mining era. In 1872 two towns, Grahamstown in the north and Shortland in the south, merged to form Thames, and many locals still refer to upper Thames as Grahamstown. Thames today is also the gateway to Kauaeranga Valley, part of Coromandel Forest Park, home to waterfalls, kauri groves, and the dramatic Pinnacles formations. Pinnacles Hut is a popular overnight hiking destination. Thames is also the northern entry point for the two- to three-day Hauraki Rail Trail. This is part of Nga Haerenga, the New Zealand Cycle Trail. The 82 km trail travels in part on former railway lines, including tunnels (the grade is easy), and explores farmland, the coast around Thames, gold mining history and the scenic Karangahake Gorge.
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