Leaving home at 4.15pm on a Friday heading to the southern motorway was not something that we were looking forward to… the very thought of bumper-to-bumper traffic crawling to Thames! However, we pointed the silver star along Great South Road to Takanini and joined the motorway there which saved us time, and then it was a doddle to Thames arriving at our motel just on dusk. Those of us that were staying at the motel Friday night (about 14) met up and drove in to Thames township, bursting en masse in to The Bullion restaurant and bar for dinner. The very able staff quickly put a few tables together, served us with drinks to keep us happy, followed by our meals that would do the masterchef judges proud. The service and meals were amazing.

Saturday morning several of us ventured into town early and strolled around the local market – we could have nibbled there all morning on homemade delights and such. At 9.30 the full Coro Escape contingent met up at a garden centre café and then on to our choice of tours. First up we did the Thames Goldmine Tour and what a neat adventure that was. The Cornish miners were all sturdy but short fellows, so most of us walked stooped over least you bashed your head on the roof, even though we wore safety hats. Surprisingly the tunnel interiors were not cold or damp as expected. The guide was really informative about gold and mining and the people that were involved. Most of us were unaware that gold is used to such an extent in medicine and food.

Heading up the coast on a stunningly sunny day, we stopped at Waioumu Domain to stretch our legs, take photos and meet up with a few more Mercs that were joining the tour. We then set off in convoy for Coromandel taking in the breath-taking views along the way.

Our next stop was The Waterworks Gardens where we had to dodge the piglets on the road en route, and all waved to the ‘daddy’ who we believe was waiting for someone to maybe run over 1 or 2, so he could collect his bounty of $12.50 per piglet! I did wonder if that included GST. The Waterworks, claimed to be the quirkiest theme park in NZ, was a treat. The mechanics of their many sculptures and appliances was quite spectacular and some of our party got rather damp when playing with the many squirting contraptions that you could pump. Reading the anecdotes and placards caused much laughter, as did the long-drops for those that had the need to use them. Unfortunately, the 309 was a metal road so many of the highly polished cars had a fine coating of dust and not great for those with their roof down!

Then it was time for lunch at the Mussel Kitchen. Wow, many of us tried the special platter of the day with local mussels cooked every way you could think of, plus fritters and a terrific salad. The meals were very generous and some of us struggled to leave a clean plate. Delicious, and for any seafood lovers it is a must. It was also a treat to see the looks on the other patron’s faces when a long line of Mercedes drove in to the car park.

Next it was onwards and upwards toward Coromandel and the Driving Creek Railway. This was a first visit for most of us I believe and well worth the effort to get there. The engineering of this railway system as built by Barry Brickell is astonishing to say the least and the history behind him is legendary. The views from the ‘Eyefull Tower’ at the top of the line are spectacular. We were so lucky that the weather was perfect. This trip should be on your bucket list, particularly if you are an engineering buff or a person who loves nature and the outdoors – 1000s of Kauri trees have been planted there.

From here our Mercedes convoy headed to Whitianga on a very pleasant drive on a good sealed road. Last time I travelled this route was about 40 years ago, with 3 young children, when there was fords to cross, rocks to dodge and corrugations that left my hands numb. I suspect there was a wee bit of competitive cornering here and there. The entire drive made for a great journey.

Arriving in Whitianga the Admiralty Lodge car park was bristling with the silver stars. Several people commented on seeing such an impressive line-up of Mercedes cruising along Buffalo Beach to this lovely destination. After getting settled and rested up we all met at the Wild Hog restaurant for a very enjoyable evening and a great meal. A good nights’ sleep and those who were up early enough caught a wonderful sunrise on the horizon of Mercury Bay. The group who went out on the Charter Boat Trip enjoyed the pristine calm waters cruising around the bays to Cathedral Cove and the thrill of feeding fish at the Marine Reserve. I did hear stories of snapper that were 3 metres long would you believe! Not really, but some were certainly very large.

From Whitianga is was a short hop to the Colenso Café for a very good lunch with lots of home cooking, and the opportunity for a group photo shoot in the citrus orchard. From there a few took themselves to look around the new Tairua Marina, while others headed off to their destinations. For Kathy and I it was a leisurely drive back to East Auckland in very light traffic – really unusual for such a fine weekend.

The highlight of course was catching up with like-minded owners/drivers of the Mercedes Clubs, Midlands and Auckland, and the meeting and making of new friends. Thank you again to the Midlands for inviting us along to share in such a great journey.

Neil Rose