NZMS 260, Sheet T12, Thames, 1:50,000, Easting 2737463 Northing 6450736 (Geodetic Datum 1949) - this is the point with best access to the site from the Waiotahi-Crosbies Settlement track.
Punga Flat is an old bush settlement in the hills behind Thames that provided living accommodation for men undertaking mining activities in the area, and their families. The site can be reached by walking the Waiotahi Valley track from the DoC track entrance in Waiotahi Rd, towards Crosbies Settlement. Approx. 40 minutes from the track start point, a prominent lookout point is reached, overlooking the Karaka Creek catchment and affording views to Mt Te Aroha to the south. The Punga Flat site is reached after another 10 minutes walking. (See map at Figure 9 below.) There are no obvious signs of the site - the GPS waypoint is the best navigational tool.
Compared with similar areas of bush in the region, the undergrowth around the site is reasonably open & relatively easy to move through. However, this will gradually change over time & the site will revert to normal secondary-growth bush. There are few remaining signs of buildings, just a few flat spots that could have been building sites, and a few relics. The relics (bricks etc) should not deteriorate much over time, but will obviously become more difficult to find.
The site was a small bush settlement established in the late 1860s, and served as a dwelling place for families working in the immediate area of bush. The earliest reference to settlement activities at Punga Flat is 1868 (Isdale 1967 p.63). Isdale (1967 p. 62) states: "a number of shallow enrichments meant a large number of small claims and a settlement called Punga Flat, with a population of around 200. It had its own school." Kelly (1968 p.143) also notes there was a school at Punga Flat, and names some of the teachers.
Various sources suggest that there was also a hotel in the area. According to Isdale (1967 p.62-63): "[the] schoolmaster who had sole charge used to set the children some work, then go home and get drunk. One day while he was lying asleep and sozzled, some of the big boys went down and set fire to his house. They came back saying to the others 'We fixed the bastard'. However, much to their disappointment, he woke up and escaped."
There was significant gold prospecting and mining activity in the area. Grainger (1951), Isdale (1952), Kelly (1968) and Downey (2002) all record details of claims in and around Punga Flat. Major mining companies and claims included the following: Amazon and Magnet Companies; Golden Drop, Multum in Parvo, Nolan's Candlelight, Jamaica Reef, Mocking Bird, Vale of Avoca, Southern Pacific, Great Republic, Star of Fermanagh and Deeside claims (the latter being in the headwaters of Alabama Creek). Minor claims included: Punga Flat, Bank of England, Sea Horse, Waterfall and Papakura. Downey (2002 pp. 118-119) and Kelly (1968 pp.61-69) provide details of the returns from most of these ventures. According to Grainger (1951 p.27) Thames citizens used to take "walks to Punga Flat to see the giant kauri tree".
Punga Flat was on the main transit route to Crosbies Settlement, which was a farm settlement established on the main ridge of the Coromandel Ranges in 1880 (see details on this web site). According to Madge Sutton, a resident of Crosbies in the early 1900s, the route used to commence from the Karaka Stream, go up Alabama Stream to Punga Flat and then along the main ridge above the Tararu Stream to the main ridge of the Coromandel Ranges (Clover 2004). Punga Flat was inhabited until approximately 1950, with the final inhabitants being Tom Donnelly and his brother (Williams 1987, Clover 2004).
A site survey undertaken in 2006 revealed numerous possible sites for buildings and many relics. There is quite a large area (at least 200 x 200 m) that is still reasonably clear, indicating that the site was originally fairly large. (A population of "around 200" would probably require at least 20 houses or huts, just to provide living accommodation.) Other visits have been undertaken since 2006, and building sites and relics have been found over an area of around one square kilometre.
Clover, K. (2004), "Interview with Mrs Madge Sutton (nee Lyes) 5th August 1993" The People of "The Plains", Hamilton.
Downey, J. F. (2002). Gold-Mines of the Hauraki District, Cadsonbury Publications, Christchurch.
Grainger, J. (1951). The Amazing Thames: the Story of the Town and the Famous Goldfield From Which it Grew, AH & AW Reed, Wellington.
Isdale, A. M. (1952). Sketch Map - Thames Gold Mines, Thames.
Isdale, A. M. (1967). History of "The River Thames", County Chronicle Press, Manurewa.
Kelly, W. A. (1968). Thames: the First 100 Years, Thames Star, Thames.
Williams, J. (1987). Racing for Gold, Williams Publishers, Thames.