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Rail Trail Tales With Firth Tower Museum

Firth Tower Museum is a great destination for users of the Te Aroha to Matamata Section of the Hauraki Rail Trail. The Trail runs right past the door, so riders can veer off to use the facilities and enjoy the tranquil grounds. Or for a nominal fee, explore the historical village and climb the tower.

The Firth Tower was built in 1882 by Josiah Clifton Firth to provide a lookout over the countryside. It was also used as the estate office and sleeping quarters for single men. The tower stands on rising ground commanding an extensive view of the surrounding country. The tower is 16 metres high and is one of the earliest reinforced concrete buildings in New Zealand. The tower was refurbished as the centrepiece of the Museum in 1978, with the lookout rebuilt in 1990 by Stanley Construction.

The Museum occupies the site of the headquarters of the Matamata Estate, covering 56,000 acres. The present 1902 homestead replaces the old 1879 station homestead that was razed by fire. In 1904 the estate was divided into 117 farms and the then manager, John McCaw gained the Tower Farm. The front rooms of the house and the kitchen, dairy and laundry, have been furnished in the style of the late 1880’s when the McCaws began their residence.

Also on the grounds are Matamata's 1912 Methodist church, and brought in from around the District and all in working order are a Victorian post office, schoolroom, jail, barn, stables and woolshed as well as several other vintage farm buildings. All the old communications equipment is in the Post Office as well as a tiny second hand bookstore.


Photo credit: Margaret Corbin - Firth Tower Musuem


The team at the Tower love visitors, and having riders pop in to say hello, and enjoy what's on offer. We caught up with Amy Hunter, Manager of Firth Tower to hear about what visitors can look forward to this Summer.



Do you have a favourite Section of the Rail Trail?

I enjoy the section outside Firth Tower, linking Matamata to Te Aroha. It’s a great one for families as it’s a grade one, easy ride with gorgeous rural views.  Another favourite is the Paeroa to Waihi section, which takes you through the Karangahake Gorge which I’ve done a few times. It’s pretty spectacular with its native bush, rocky cliff faces and the long, dark railway tunnel which is always a thrill.


What memory or experience on the Trail, or with cycling visitors stays with you most?

We love visitors at Firth Tower. So when about 50 cyclists from the Te Puke cycling group drove over the Kaimai Ranges to park at Firth Tower to hit the trail, you can imagine our delight. I went out to have a chat and they asked about Firth Tower and its history. The whole group gathered together under the shade of the 100 year old oak trees. It was so rewarding sharing with others who also have an interest in local NZ history. The riders rode off towards Te Aroha along the Rail Trail, and returned for a rest before loading up their bikes and heading home. Having Firth Tower be a part of the adventure for such a large group and share some of Matamata’s history was a definite highlight. 


Photo credit: East Auckland Seniors Cycling Club - enjoying the ride from Te Aroha to Matamata


What is it for you that makes the Hauraki Rail Trail unique?

The Hauraki Rail Trail introduces riders to so many gems across Hauraki and Waikato, with great views and enchanting little towns to explore along the way. Each section is different, with interesting natural and manmade landmarks to view, learn about and explore.


How does the Firth Tower Museum add to the experience of visitors to the Rail Trail?

We are thrilled to be right on the Trail and provide riders somewhere picturesque to rest and relax with a picnic in our tranquil grounds. We offer something to do that’s a bit different and unexpected - who doesn’t love a tower! Rail Trail users can use our carpark to set off on their adventure, or we can be the welcome respite near the end of their journey. Our motorhome sites, with or without power, provide an overnight place to stay for those longer expeditions.


Photo credit: Margaret Corbin - Firth Tower Picnic Spot


Does the Museum have any special plans for the Summer?

We’re hosting a few weddings over the Summer which we’re looking forward to. Our chapel is popular for smaller weddings, funerals or christenings. Our buildings, grounds and old farming machinery provide a great backdrop for rustic and country-style weddings.

We’ve hosted some great high-tea style birthday parties, and have activities with a historical-twist that people can pre-book for parties, schools or groups. Our motorhome sites are popular in the Summer and it’s always good chatting with new and returning visitors.

Christmas is coming, so we’ll be dressing the place up to look festive. We’ll also have some fun outdoor Victorian games available for Museum visitors on sunny days over the Summer. We look forward to welcoming more Hauraki Rail Trail users to our magical spot.


The Firth Tower Museum is open Thursday to Monday from 10am to 4pm during winter, and closed on Tuesdays, Wednesdays and bank holidays.

Museum admission prices are $25 per family (two adults and two school aged children) or get a group of six or more adults and children together and pay just $4.50 each. Regular prices are Adults $10, $5 Seniors (65+) and $5 Child (5-16). Motorhome sites are $10 non-powered and $15 powered, per night.

Check them out this summer! You can find more information here.


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