Sunday morning in Rotorua dawned wet and misty – and then the rain came down even harder. This made life a little difficult for the young tourists in the camp who were sleeping in their tents. Not much fun at all while they packed up in the rain – one girl was valiantly holding a brolly over her boyfriend’s head as he was dismantling their tent beside us in the camp ground. Being older and wiser caravan owners, we sat down to enjoy our Sunday morning bacon and eggs breakfast while we waited for the rain to stop. Saying our goodbyes to all who had attended the CCNZ AGM over the weekend, we all departed on our separate journeys.
Travelling along SH5 we drove through the very pretty Fitzgerald Glade. The trees growing on both sides of the road makes it rather like driving through a leafy green tunnel.
We were stopping overnight at the Firth Tower Museum, a new place for us. Although we had heard plenty of good reports about this particular place to stay, we had no idea if there really was a tower, and if so, what was it used for. Checking in with the volunteer on duty, we were fortunate to get one of the few power sites for the night, at a very reasonable $12.
Firth Tower Museum
With just a short 64km trip, we arrived at midday, just in time for lunch. And also just in time for Robin to watch the All Blacks – Irish rugby game being replayed on TV. I left him to it and went to look through the museum, now it seems to be an historic village. First up was the McCaw Homestead, built in 1902 to replace the original homestead built in 1879 which was burnt to the ground. The house has been furnished in the style of the late 1880s.
I was keen to find out about the tower. Built by Josiah Firth in 1882, it is 16m high and one of the earliest reinforced concrete buildings in New Zealand. Constructed as a lookout and a status symbol, the tower was attached to the original homestead. It is constructed with three floors and a lookout on the very top. I wasn't sure if the public were allowed inside, but yes, they were. I carefully climbed the stairs up three floors, and the last narrow ladder to the very top, and tip toed carefully back down again, aware that I was all alone in the tower. If I had slipped and fell, Robin would not be aware I was missing till after the rugby game had finished!
Ladder to the look-out, and view from the top
Wandering around the extensive grounds I explored the church, school, Post Office and Settlers Cottage, decked out in furnishings of their periods.
Post Office, Church, and Settlers Cottage
There were several sheds and barns on the property, all stocked with their own treasures from the past and showing how life was lived in this region in earlier years. Tools from tree felling, a blacksmith shop, shearing shed, tractors, cars, old tools and farm machinery dotted here and there. The Matamata County Grader was owned by the council and used for many years grading the local roads, pulled by a team of horses. This was later adapted to be pulled behind a Fordson tractor. And the 1920 Model T Ford sitting in one of the sheds looked every inch a rich man’s plaything, I could just imagine it tootling up and down the country roads, frightening the horses.
Council Grader and Model T Ford
What’s inside the rather sad looking railway wagons, I wondered? One shows the history of the evacuation of Kaimai Tunnel and the men who built it. The other wagon houses model railway layouts from the local club.
The Kaimai Tunnel through the Kaimai Range in the North Island was opened in 1978, and at 8.9km is the longest tunnel in New Zealand. A Jarva tunneling machine was imported from USA at a cost of $1.4million, to help with cutting through the hard rock. What an amazing achievement the men must have felt when the machine finally broke through the other end.
Jarva tunneling machine
There was such a lot to see here, and I didn’t get to peek in every single shed on the property. There are lovely large trees dotted around, lots of seats for resting or enjoying a picnic lunch, and plenty to interest one and all. Certainly recommended for an afternoon visit, or an overnight stay in your van, like us.