Ohinemuri Regional History Journal 26, November 1982
By B. Merle Binnie
My father, Mr. Samuel H. Brown, came from Thames in 1899 to open a branch of the Isaac Brown & Co. Cycle Shop. He was then courting Rhoda Collier of Coromandel - how to see her was the problem! Roads were rough - but love will find a way. So occasional trips were planned. As soon as the shop closed on Saturday at 1 p.m. he would ride his bicycle to Thames. (Perhaps over the Rahu Hill?). After a good sleep at his parents' home, he rose very early and biked to Coromandel. The hill at the end would not be easy. After a day with Rhoda he biked back to Thames, slept again, and very early on Monday returned to Waihi and the shop. Rhoda's father forbad the marriage until she was 21, so the wedding was on the day after - November 12, 1903. My father in the meantime had built the home on the hill behind the shop. It was only partly finished when they married. It is still there, though the shop is gone, and if the front still has fancy balusters, he turned them all on his foot-pedalled lathe at the shop. In later years I helped to treadle, as he made various interesting articles.
My first memory of the old roads was of going to Coromandel in a small horse-drawn trap, which boasted a hood. This would be from Thames, as we had doubtless gone to Thames by train (which opened in 1905 and I was born in 1909). Several times we went on by boat to Auckland (it could be rough) then returned to Waihi by train, in those times almost a whole day's journey We dreaded the tunnel, as we knew it was uphill on the homeward way. At Karangahake we would rush round shutting all windows (only usually there were ill-fitting ones), then we would wet our "hankies" and hold them to our noses. On emerging, we would rush to the carriage platform and gulp in lots of lovely fresh air. It is a pity that this historic line has lately been removed.
We frequently went to Thames by train and always enjoyed it, and watched eagerly for our favourite spots - the Queen's Head rock near Waikino - the Falls and River - quarry near the tunnel - (no trouble this time, as downhill). At Paeroa we changed into the Thames train and at Omahu (I think) listened for the remarkable echo which came from a wooded cleft in the hills when the train blew its whistle. We listened with bated breath. At Thames Grandpa would meet us with his bicycle, on which we balanced our largest suitcase, then walked the few blocks to his house, our "home away from home". After all, my father had 26 relatives in Thames.
My father was one of the early ones in Waihi to own a car, a Model T Ford. In this we often bumped our way to Thames. Parts of the road were narrow and it was full of potholes. If wet, we erected the side-curtains, which never kept out all rain or wind. We always allowed 2½ hours for the 35 mile trip. Often we felt carsick, and my sister (Mrs. Gladys Gracoy) usually had to lie down on arrival. But we still loved going and must have gone hundreds of times over the years. We children named the farm houses, e.g. "The Lonely House". There were few then, and farms were rough. Near Thames was a tiny rotten shack and my father told us he was born there. He loved a joke and we did not know whether to believe him or not, but always watched for the shed. Dad knew the road like the palm of his hand, and near Thames he would say "Here's the last hill", and sure enough it was quite flat from there. We loved the way there were more and more flowers as we neared Thames. It is much warmer than Waihi and in Spring we would return with the car full of lilies and freesias. In Summer, it would be a kerosene tin of plums. One aunt had an apricot tree too, which bore lots of fruit. As years passed, we watched the road gradually improve. It was widened, corners removed, likewise tops of hills, potholes filled, and at last the wonderful day of the first patch of tarseal. At the same time, my father had kept changing his car for a better one, so we had faster and more comfortable trips until we actually halved our time – 1¼ hours! It can be done faster I know, but we were never roadhogs. All those years, I remember only one mishap. On a wet day, the car skidded over the edge, down a steep little bank, into a large puddle of dirty water. We were in fresh Summer frocks - eventually we arrived, in a mess! Of course we had punctures - everyone did - but we'd either change the tyre or mend the puncture - same as a cycle tyre! One steaming hot Summer day we tried the very rough road to Tauranga, and as fast as we mended a puncture, the heat would unstick it. It was a long tedious day indeed.
The Waihi Beach road must have a word. We went first in our own trap, with horses willing and unwilling. The road on the Plains was clay, and the gorge twice as rough and winding as it is now. By car later, the Plains could be slippery or treacherous, especially on the stretches called "Big Swamp" and "Little Swamp". We held our breath as we skidded along. Even at the Beach itself, the road could be a mud patch. In bad Winter rainstorms, cars could not get through. What a change the years have brought to this road.
I could tell some tales about the Auckland road too, but will not be tempted.
As you skim along the fine roads nowadays, give a thought to the early 1900's and the mode of travel then - maybe you'll not regret so much, all the rates and taxes you've paid through the years between.