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

Stratford-upon-Patea: Town of Pioneers, Players and Peaks

Taranaki Pioneer Village

StratfordA Tudor-style clock tower isn’t what one expects to see when driving through a small New Zealand town. When one realises the town’s name is Stratford, however, it makes perfect sense.

The Stratford Clock Tower is unique in New Zealand. It houses a glockenspiel. On the hour, human figures made by Nigel Ogle pop out of various windows to recite lines from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet.

Most of Stratford’s streets are named after Shakespeare characters. We stopped at the entrance of Prospero Place to watch the glockenspiel perform. Due to the traffic passing in front of the clock tower, it was sometimes difficult to hear, but it was something different, at least.

The performance lasts for about five minutes. You can catch it at 10am, 1pm, 3pm and 7pm.

StratfordToilets

The public toilets behind the clock tower are a bit different too.

Stratford-upon-Patea is in Taranaki, right next to Egmont National Park. As such, it boasts fabulous views of Mount Taranaki. It’s also the last place to get petrol before embarking upon the Forgotten World Highway.

Mount Taranaki Egmont New Zealand

One place in Stratford I really wanted to visit was the Taranaki Pioneer Village. It’s a living museum made up of authentic Victorian buildings. There’s a church, a courthouse, a hospital, a jail, a school, a forge, a bookbinder’s… even a vintage railway.

There was hardly anyone else there when we went, which made the village seem really eerie. It was good for getting an idea of how the European pioneers of New Zealand lived. Seeing the walls of a two-roomed homestead covered with old newspaper, presumably because it was their only means of insulation, was mildly harrowing, as was discovering how school mistresses were expected to live!

Taranaki Pioneer Village

We couldn’t go in the church because it was being used for a wedding, but we could catch a ride on the little train. I spent some time hanging out with the village’s free range chickens and a pair of very demanding sheep.

I imagine the village would have been a lot more interesting if we’d gone on a ‘live’ day, but their website doesn’t seem to have any listed. Seeing people walking around in period costume would have been wonderful.

Taranaki Pioneer Village

If you have plenty of time to spare in Taranaki, the Pioneer Village is a nice place to spend an hour or two. If your time is limited, however, you’re better off spending it at Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum. That place is freakin’ awesome.