The Great Tower of Matamata

It’s not often you see a tower like this in New Zealand. It’s called Firth Tower and it’s in Matamata, not far from Hobbiton. What’s a stone tower doing in a Waikato farming community, you ask? A couple of weeks ago, I went to find out. I ended up finding a lot more than I expected…

Firth Tower

It’s not just a tower, you see. There’s a whole complex of historic buildings containing museum exhibits, from a Victorian post office to machinery sheds and railway carriages. Not only that, the grounds around them are extensive and quite lovely, with beautiful flowers and trees.

flower butterfly

You’re allowed to explore the grounds for free, but a small fee is required if you want to go inside the buildings. You’re also allowed to stay the night there in your campervan. If you’re on a New Zealand campervan rental holiday, I highly recommend taking advantage of this. There are decent toilets and picnic spots on top of everything else.

firth tower museum

I was delighted to discover that the Victorian post office contained a miniature secondhand bookshop. The selection left a lot to be desired, but still… nice idea. The best exhibition, I thought, was the main house, which had a scene-setting audio track. Why was there a tower in the garden? Because the Victorian estate owner simply felt like having one.

I entered the tower and climbed the precarious, wooden stairs around and around, all the way up to the lookout. I climbed the final ladder and marvelled at the expanse of fields… for a second or two. It was stifling up there! I hurriedly retreated, squeezing my way around the latest generation of children excited to be inside a “castle”.

firth tower

I had a lovely time at Firth Tower Museum. The day had started off cold and gloomy, but became wonderfully hot and sunny. I spent a lot of time simply wandering the grounds, taking photographs of the flowers. Unsurprisingly, you can hire the place out for weddings, as one of the historic buildings is a church.

firth tower museum

train carriages firth tower museum

old farm machinery firth tower museum

red flower

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A Look Inside the Oldest Library in New Zealand

POMS AWAY!

You wouldn’t expect to find New Zealand’s first library down an unassuming street in Tauranga. Nor would you expect it to contain a secret trapdoor, under which treasures (and people) could be hidden in the event of attack. Imagine yourself crammed into the 1.8-metre-deep oubliette, trying not to make a sound as invading enemies stomp across the floorboards inches above your head, tearing your precious books from their shelves.

A Beautiful Book at the Elms Mission Station

Thankfully, the library was never actually attacked. It’s a tiny, wooden building on the edge of the Elms Mission Station, completed in 1839. The Elms, then known as Te Papa Mission Station, was established by the Reverend Alfred Brown, who was sent from England to educate the children of other New Zealand missionaries. Living at Te Papa was risky: the spot chosen for the mission station was prone to bouts of intertribal warfare.

Reverend Brown was keen to spread Christianity to…

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The Artistic Quirks of Katikati

Cherry Tree, Katikati, New Zealand

Katikati is a small town on State Highway 2. Like many small New Zealand towns, it has attempted to make itself more interesting by adopting a quirk. Paeroa has a giant L&P bottle; Bulls has bad puns; Katikati has murals. But I didn’t take any pictures of those. Instead, I was drawn to this courtyard.

Katikati

It’s in the middle of the town, surrounded by shops and cafés, and it’s quite a lovely place to sit.

Katikati

Speaking of lovely places to sit, here’s Katikati’s best sculpture, which doubles as a bench.

Katikati

The live one on the right is my partner, and I wasn’t the only one taking photos of him. In the time it took for me to get those pictures of the colourful courtyard above, he became quite the tourist attraction.

Katikati

He told me later that he noticed the shoes the statue wore were real. The paint was peeling off of one. He had the irresistibly creepy thought of what if he were to peel the paint off the statue’s hands or face… would he find real skin underneath? But let’s turn away from that potential horror movie, towards a haiku.

Katikati Haiku Pathway

That’s one of the haiku stones from Katikati’s Haiku Pathway. Nice idea, isn’t it? You follow the path through a riverside park, reading the poetry carved into the boulders along the way. If you need a break whilst driving from Auckland or the Coromandel to Tauranga, you could do a lot worse than Katikati. It even has a museum.

Katikati Museum

More Photos from the Goblin Forest

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

The Goblin Forest of Taranaki really does have to be seen to be believed. It’s like stepping into a fairy tale.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But I’ve already waxed lyrical about it in a previous post, called The Goblin Forest, so I’ll leave the talking now to the photographs. (Even though I know I’ll probably never again get a photo as good as the one from that first post!)

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

I thought this branch kind of looked like the head of a dog, or a dragon. You know, in that stylised Celtic sort of way…

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

And see how this tree has grown over its own sign?

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

But now we must leave this enchanted forest. Pass through the archway and return to the real world… I hope not too much time has passed and your loved ones are still alive.

Goblin Forest, Taranaki

Photos from Pukekura Park

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

This magically lit waterfall is in Pukekura Park, in the middle of New Plymouth. Scroll down and you’ll see why Pukekura Park is one of the best city parks in New Zealand.

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

This is a picture I took of the waterfall during the day. It’s man-made, but that doesn’t take away from it’s beauty. And at night, it’s beautiful in a whole different way.

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The colours are constantly changing. I’ll show you one more before moving onto the rest of the park, because, beautiful as the waterfall is, Pukekura Park would be impressive even without it.

Waterfall, Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The park is centred on a lake, crossed by some quite striking red bridges. With the aid of a nifty filter, you can see just how striking striking these bridges look in real life.

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

And here’s the view from that bridge when it gets dark. (During the summer, Pukekura has a lights festival, which I attended back before I owned a decent camera, but this is without the additional lights!)

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

A lovely, old-fashioned teahouse sits on the edge of the lake. Their food’s decent, as, indeed, is their tea selection. Here’s a photo of one of their quirky birdfeeders.

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

The teahouse sits nestled amongst some gorgeous flowers. As I crouched down to take pictures of these flowers, I became surrounded by a ring of ducks hoping for food.

flower

That photo wasn’t edited in the slightest, would you believe? The petals look like an image from the Hubble Space Telescope! This next one, of course, is edited.

flower

It was actually the same colour as the flower above, but I like this picture. Okay, okay, one last flower photo before I get on with showing you the actual park.

flowers

Throughout the park, old-fashioned lampposts emerge from the trees in a way that makes one think irresistibly of Narnia. The park also has a fernery and a few mildly interesting sculptures.

lamppost in forest

One of my favourite features of the park is a grand, Victorian drinking fountain, sculpted out of marble. In fact, this is the image I will leave you with. Check back for more photos of my New Zealand travels!

Pukekura Park, New Plymouth, Taranaki, New Zealand

There’s a church made of trees – and it’s just outside Hamilton!

The Tree Church

That’s right. There’s a tree church… in Ohaupo.

The Tree Church

It was made by this guy whose job was transplanting trees, so he decided to transplant some into his own garden in the shape of a church. It looked so amazing that people persuaded him to open it to the public, and the rest is history.

The Tree Church

It’s not just a church: there’s a whole massive garden to explore, with a labyrinth, a pond, a stunning avenue of trees and absolutely glorious flowers. And cats.

The Tree Church

The ginger cat, in particular, has become world-famous for its habit of lounging in the Tree Church and charming the tourists. As soon as it saw me, it sprang up and trotted towards me, meowing. I never wanted to leave it!

The Tree Church

The Tree Church is only open on Tuesdays and Sundays from late October until the end of March, between the hours of 10 and 4, but you can book it for weddings as well. It costs $15 to enter, and children under twelve are only allowed in by prior arrangement.

The Tree Church

Whilst we were walking around, my partner Tim turned to me and said, “This has got to be one of the best places to go in the Waikato. Up there with Hobbiton.”

The Tree Church

High praise, indeed.

The Tree Church

It was beautiful. We had the perfect weather for it.

The Tree Church

We ended up chatting to the owner for a while. The poor guy hates being stuck in the ticket booth when he could be gardening!

Butterfly

Sitting inside the Tree Church was so wonderfully peaceful. There was an altar, a bell and a crucifix, but also pentagrams on the doors. I didn’t feel especially spiritual inside it, because I’m not a spiritual person, but I could tell that other people would. I felt that it would be a magical place to spend time writing in.

The Tree Church

If you fancy visiting this place, check out the Tree Church website.

The Tree Church

The Blue Spring

The Blue Spring

Sounds idyllic, doesn’t it?

Well it used to be.

A river that sauntered between rolling hills and bush, so clear as to seem invisible and thick with flowing greenery, it had a swimming hole that was straight from a fairy tale. On the opposite bank to the path, overhanging trees and rocks created a small, circular dell bubbling with water of the purest sapphire blue. It looked like a magical portal; a sacred pool in a sorceress’s cave.

Imagine swimming in that.

The Blue Spring

Unfortunately, imagine is all you can do these days. The Blue Spring used to be a local secret, but then the media discovered it. Tourists flocked to it. Within weeks, the greenery was disappearing. The natural serenity was gone; the magic was choking.

So the authorities did the only thing they could: they banned swimming in the Blue Spring.

It worked to a certain extent. The greenery was given the chance to regenerate, free from being crushed by so many feet. It’s now almost as luscious as it once was. The same cannot be said, however, for the magic.

The Blue Spring

The river is wide between the path and the dell, and there’s a barrier in the way. There’s still magic there, but you can no longer touch it. You can only squint to see it from a distance. It’s diminished.

There are so many other tourists crowded at the barrier that the serenity is all but gone.

The Blue Spring

It’s still worth visiting the Blue Spring. It’s still a pretty sight, after all. It’s just outside Putaruru, an hour’s drive from Hamilton, just over halfway towards Rotorua. I recommend stopping at Putaruru’s Over the Moon, a boutique cheesemaking factory and delicatessen.

That’s what Tim and I did; we took a picnic to eat overlooking the spring.

We were lucky to find a parking spot. The Blue Spring has a car park at each end of Te Waihou Walkway, but it’s far closer to walk to the spring from the Leslie Road end. (Ten minutes, as opposed to an hour and twenty minutes.) Of course, everyone wants to park at the closer end.

The Blue Spring

In my opinion, Rotorua’s Hamurana Springs is a more beautiful walk that the Blue Spring, if only because you can get a closer look at the magic. (You can’t swim at Hamurana either, but there are platforms right above the pretty bits, close enough to touch the water.) Maybe if you were still allowed to swim in the Blue Spring, it would edge out Hamurana, but you can’t, so…

Then again, the Blue Spring is free. Hamurana used to be, but they’ve just started charging $18 per adult, which is outrageous.

Sigh.