Rustic and well-used Coroglen is a place of tales tall and true

Here since 1946: The familiar view of the tavern from the road to Whitianga.
Here since 1946: The familiar view of the tavern from the road to Whitianga.

The locals are hibernating this time of the year. The tavern, like the beach towns around it, changes with the seasons and those who frequent the "locals table" in front of the bar from Autumn to Spring know Summer is best left to the visitors.

"You'll be hard pressed to find any locals," manager Michelle Harper says. "But over the quieter months they come down and they share stories. If these walls could talk."

But the walls, decorated with rusty tools and black and white photos of miners, timbermen and gum diggers, don't utter a word.

It's New Year's Eve and a young girl with golden curls in a pink swimsuit skips past a pair of half-pissed men playing pool at the table to the left when you walk in the door.

Her hot-and-bothered mother ushers her to the loo at the end of the room. The men, in their black tees and jeans, seem blind to the hoo-ha.

The short, plump one with greying hair, bushy moustache and rosy face sinks a ball, grins and slurps from his handle of tap beer.

"Well, that was a fluke," his Maori mate says.

"Yeah. A planned fluke," the other quips, grinning wider now.

These chaps, from Auckland, are on a tour of Coromandel pubs on their way to Whitianga to see in 2014.

They have a sober driver, one of the men says. He feels the need to repeat the point a few moments later before launching into a story about how it was back in the day - back before the term "sober driver" was invented and driving drunk was just what people did.

Not now, though. "He's our sober driver," the man says again, pointing to a younger fella sitting at a pokie machine. He looks bored.

The Coroglen Tavern has sat on its current site between Tairua and Whitianga on State Highway 25 since 1946, but, according to manager Jed Harper, there has always been a pub in the area.

"They reckon there used to be quite a little settlement around here back in the mining days.

"Back in the day, 20 or 30 years ago, it used to be a real rough pub. Most of the guys around here their income was from growing weed or whatever so it was rough as guts."

It's changed hands a few times since then and Mr and Mrs Harper were preparing to take over ownership when I dropped in for a jug.

I asked for the quintessential Coroglen drink. It's Waikato Draught or Speights. "I'll have Waikato, thanks," I said for the first time in my life.

The tavern looks like a typical rural pub at first - rustic and well-used. You can almost see the shapes of regulars' bums worn into the wooden stools.

But outside is not so typical. The large stage and the bands that perform on it are what attracts the 2000-capacity crowds this time of year.

There's a story behind how Coroglen Tavern became a live music venue.

"From what I can recall there was a little woodshed-type thing out the back here somewhere. I think Jimmy Barnes played here one night out of this little shack," Mrs Harper says.

"It's just all stemmed from this tiny place that bands played from and it's just gotten bigger and bigger and now it's the place to be on the Coromandel over summer."

Shapeshifter, Fat Freddy's Drop, Kora and Katchafire have taken the stage this summer. It goes off, Mrs Harper says. Busloads of young partygoers arrive from the beach to drink and dance and then they leave.

In the off-season it's an entirely different scene.

It's "all country bumpkin", Mrs Harper says.

This is a typical evening with the locals: up to 45 people on a Thursday night drinking beer and playing darts. Later in the night the cleaner, known as Mama Jackie, pulls out her guitar, which only has four strings left on it, and strums sing-a-long songs.

"We call her Jackie and the Chix because she'll get all her ladies up singing and dancing.

"Everyone's singing. Everyone's just in that really cool, happy mood.

"We'll have tourists come through and stop to use the toilet or have something to eat and all of a sudden there's this massive congregation around Jackie singing all of these amazing songs," Mrs Harper says.

The Harpers, including 5-year-old daughter Meg and 2-year-old son Slade, live in a house behind the tavern.

They're not you're typical publicans. They're young parents, bright-eyed and quite hip.

Mrs Harper says her family's been in the "booze trade" for years.

"Oh my god, we've got so many plans. I'm so excited," Mrs Harper says.

So, what are they?

"I'm not telling, it's a secret."

Waikato Times