Young, fit gold miners in Hauraki–Coromandel played rugby union from the 1880s. By the turn of the century the sport was organised in the Ōhinemuri district, with a ‘Goldfields’ rugby union established at Waihī in 1896 and a Paeroa union in 1902.
The Thames Valley Rugby Football Union was founded in 1921, with the unification of the Paeroa, Piako, Waihī and Hauraki Plains unions. Thames did not permanently join the Valley Union until 1951. In the early 2000s the senior team, appropriately named the Swamp Foxes, played in the National Provincial Competition. It won the third division title in 1988, 1990 and 1995, and in 2010 was in the Heartland Championship.
The growing popularity with summer visitors of Coromandel’s east coast surf beaches has given rise to a sport and an invaluable community service. Whangamatā, Tairua, Pāuanui and Hot Water Beach have surf lifesaving clubs that patrol at holiday time.
Māori introduced horse racing to Thames in the 1850s. They helped establish the Thames Jockey Club in 1880 and participated in race meets throughout Hauraki into the 20th century. The New Year’s meet at the Parawai Racecourse has been a highlight of Thames’s sporting and social calendar ever since.
The Ohinemuri Jockey Club was formed at Paeroa in 1876, only one year after the goldfields opened. The coming of the railway 30 years later enabled thousands of punters from Auckland and Hamilton to attend fixtures at Paeroa.
Racing began at Waihī in 1894, in McRae’s paddock between Seddon Street and the railway station.
A big swim
Bernard Freyberg was a champion swimmer as well as a distinguished soldier. In 1912, aged 22, he swam down the Waihou River from Te Aroha to Paeroa in 10 hours, apparently emerging almost blue.
The Hauraki regiment was founded in 1898. Sergeant Major George Bradford of the regiment was the first New Zealand soldier to die in an overseas war: in South Africa in 1899. The military career of Bernard Freyberg, future commander of the New Zealand forces in the Second World War, began in the Hauraki regiment.
Thames-born Keith Park, who served with the British Royal Air Force, played a leading role in the Battle of Britain. Since 1999 the Hauraki regiment has been the 6th Hauraki battalion group, a unit of the New Zealand Army Reserve (a territorial force), with headquarters in Tauranga.
Writers and artists
Peninsula towns such as Coromandel and Whitianga have long attracted writers, artists and craftspeople such as Eric Lee-Johnson, Rei Hamon, Michael Smither, potters Barry Brickell and Helen Mason, historian Michael King and many others.
Fay Weldon’s autobiographical memoir Auto da fay (2002) evokes the holiday-time Coromandel of the 1940s.
The books of Veronica Black, Catherine Delahunty, Ann Bale, John Grainger and E. H. Audley bring to life Coromandel’s past. Many, shocked by the toll of extractive industries all around them, became environmentalists.
Since the 1960s smaller, uneconomic blocks have attracted ventures in alternative living. In 2010 Wilderland, Mahana, Karuna Falls and Havalona intentional communities continue to function. These communities have helped to reverse rural depopulation and to promote sustainable resource use.
Settler history is kept alive by historical societies at Thames, Paeroa, Whitianga, Waihī and Ngātea, and by heritage groups dedicated to projects such as the Goldfields Railway and Victoria Battery restoration.
The investigation and hearing of Hauraki claims before the Waitangi Tribunal did much to revitalise Māori communities in Hauraki in the 1990s and early 2000s. Hauraki Māori have marae at Harataunga, Manaia, Whitianga, Whangamatā, Mataora, Waihī, Paeroa, Kerepehi, Kōpū and Kaiaua.
The late Pakariki Harrison of Harataunga was a leading Māori carver of his generation.