Paeroa was a thriving port before the vast Hauraki Plains were drained and converted to productive dairying land.

This provincial town at the southern extremity of the Coromandel Peninsula, still retains its proud maritime links and actively promotes itself with a none too subtle message in a bottle.

That seven metre high ‘Lemon and Paeroa’ bottle stands beside the main street as an eye-catching icon that rivals Ohakune’s mammoth carrot and Tirau’s giant sheep, making the Paeroa shopping centre seem like a part of Lilliput. New Zealand’s very own soft drink was born early last century, when local mineral spring water was blended with lemon. It is still going strong as a thirst quencher of choice today, under the promotional catchphrase ‘World Famous in New Zealand.’

Paeroa’s Maritime Museum beside a loop in the broad, brown Waihou River, features a number of restored vessels including the double paddle-steamer, Kopu, which once made regular sailings between Auckland and Paeroa.

The Museum on the main street, Belmont Road, has cleverly displayed exhibits covering the town’s early history, shipping and gold mining in the nearby Karangahake Gorge. A large collection of Maori artefacts, such as stone adzes, tools, ornaments and fish hooks is ranged alongside an equally fascinating stash of Royal Albert bone china.

Out on the billiard table flat Hauraki Plains, which were recovered by digging 1,000 km of canals and stopbanks, there are many places to visit. These include a bird sanctuary, water gardens, hot pools, farm tours, art and craft centres and the Ngatea gemstone store. This little gem of a place is an Aladdin’s Cave of tempting treasures with 1,000 sq metres of displays of stones, fossils, shells, crystals, minerals and jewellery.

East of Paeroa is the Karangahake Gorge, an impressive cutting between the Coromandel and Kaimai Ranges, that simply oozes gold mining history. The delightful walkway along the old railway formation, beside the Ohinemuri River, is a ‘must do’ outdoor attraction. The walkway’s eastern terminus is the quaint Waikino Railway Station, which has a museum and refreshment rooms. From here a vintage train makes regular runs to Waihi township in the summer.

Paeroa is a good base for historic walks in the gorge and for forays out into the plains. A range of hotels and motels offer comfortable accommodation. There is no chance of succumbing to thirst as that giant bottle of ‘L&P’ never runs dry.