Matamata, Waikato heritage trail attraction
Discover a Matamata jewel and New Zealand treasure for heritage buffs. One of New Zealand’s largest open air collections of farming equipment is located on a quiet rural road. The Firth Tower and its 13 buildings is a must-go destination for heritage fans and families with plenty to do and see.
Matamata top sights
- A significant early cinema collection
- A memorable and well constructed exhibition of the impact of war on the locals and an acknowledgment of pre-European Maori activities in the area
- Attractive potager garden, shady trees and plenty of space for picnics
- On the boundary fence is the Te Aroa shared trail, a wide footpath encouraging visitors to walk the 2 km from the town centre to the Firth Tower
- Over 13 heritage buildings
- Extensive school holiday programmes engaging all interests
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.
Firth built the tower on this site in 1882. 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. The lookout was rebuilt in 1990 by Stanley Construction.
Memorial Cairn of Wiremu Tamihana Rangatira of Ngati Haua, “The Kingmaker”
Wiremu Tamihana Tarapipipi Te Waharoa is famous in New Zealand history not only as a statesman but as ‘The Kingmaker.’ A devout Christian, he worked to achieve peace. He died on 27th December 1866, 100 metres west of here. Firth erected a monument there that was later destroyed. The permanent memorial you see today was erected in 1966 on the same spot as the original, but was moved here in 1978 to protect it from vandalism.
FIRTH TOWER CHURCH (the old Matamata Methodist Church)
The church is available for hire for weddings, funerals and christenings. It was built in 1914 in Broadway, Matamata; closed in 1972 and moved here in 1978.
OKOROIRE POST OFFICE
This was brought from Okoroire and contains post office equipment spanning 100 years of communications development. Situated in the back of the old post office you will find our pre-loved books shop, another function of a post office in days gone by.
Moved from ‘behind the butchers shop’ in Waharoa, this cottage is furnished as a workman’s home of the 1900s. Visitors get a fascinating glimpse into the lack of modern household equipment to ease the burden of household chores. You carried water inside the house in pails and boiled clothes in a large copper with wood stove your only method of heating water.
A Charlie Chapin fan? A buff of silent movies and the origins of modern film then this is the place to be. The Wahorao cinema is captured in detail with its cinematography equipment, cinema seats and the reels of silent film running on the overhead screen. The exhibition is an outstanding and rare example of a recreated early picture theatre. The Barn has a story of the district’s soldiers, men and women who fought and contributed to the war effort. There are examples of the ‘horror’ of trench warfare and plenty of black and white photographs to pore over. The history of healthcare is portrayed and the Kaimai NAC disaster unfolds with local stories of the attempts to reach the crash site.
1963 3 July, 1963, DC-3 ZK-AYZ Hastings, on route from Whenuapai, Auckland, to Tauranga, crashed into a vertical rock face in the Kaimai Range. The plane was just minutes from landing at Tauranga. All 23 people aboard were killed in the crash.
Here you will find exhibits of the “drowned” Hora Hora Dam, Matamata’s doctors, dentists and hospitals, the history of movie going in Matamata and Waharoa, the Kaimai NAC disaster and late 19th and 20th century wars. There are interesting displays of horse transport, delivery and passenger vehicles.
Farm, Factory and Community
Temporarily closed to the public with exhibits of tractors, tree felling, blacksmith tools and the early dairy industry scheduled to be displayed shortly.
THE JOHN McCAW WOOLSHED
This is a typical woolshed complete with yards, displays of shearing equipment, a fleece sorting table and wool bales.
MARK MADILL SHED
Discover the era of the horse as the power behind agricultural development in the mid nineteenth century to the introduction of early mechanised machinery.
JOAN AND DAVID STANLEY SHED
The newest building on site since March 2015. You will find exhibits showcasing milking over the ages, from the early 1900s to present. You can also view the Waharoa Cheese Factory exhibit.
THE OLD RED STABLE
The building’s significant as the original stables for the homestead.
THE POTAGER GARDEN & ORCHARD
Find out what a 19th century farm garden looked like with the front garden full of vintage roses and English origin flowers and the backyard garden a functional garden producing vegetables and fruit for the kitchen.
A heritage school building ready for 19th century students to turn up. Wooden desks in neat rows and a chalk blackboard for the teacher to write the lesson on.
This jail was built in 1892 in Karangahake and moved to Matamata in 1920 where it served until 1950.
THE HERITAGE CENTRE
Find out about the area in depth with the treasure trove of documents and artefacts catalogued by the Historical Society. Open by appointment. Matamata Historical Society holds a significant number of historical documents and photographs. The archives section is open to the public by appointment. To view or research, please contact us.
The Firth Tower Historical Reserve is administered by the Matamata-Piako District Council and museum exhibits and displays are the work of the Matamata Historical Society. The Heritage Centre houses the archives of the Matamata area.
Self contained motor home/caravan stop over sites are available 24 hours every day.
- Non-power site $10.00 per van per night
- Power site $15.00 per van per night
Arrival and Payment
You can drive into the car park at any time of the day or night. The powered sites are located around the perimeter of the car park. There are three power boxes with two power points in each box. Any other car park can be used without power as well. If you do not require power, please consider others and use one of the unpowered spaces.
Once you have parked, please walk to the ground entry where the staff will attend to your payment during opening hours.
If it is outside of opening hours, go to the smallest building called the ‘kiosk’ located on the edge of the car park. Here you will find a clear plastic pocket with brochures and brown envelopes with a pen inside. Please take a brown envelope and write your motor home registration plate number, name and a comment on it. Put the fee into the envelope, seal it and put it into the brass door slot above the clear plastic pocket. This is called the honesty box.
Our opening hours are:
- Monday 9am-3pm
- Tuesday, Wednesday CLOSED
- Thursday, Friday 9am-3pm
- Saturday, Sunday 10am-4pm
During the dry months there is additional parking on the farm land behind the public toilet block that can be used.
- Honesty box system means at the ease of travelling at your own schedule anytime of day or night
- Public toilet access 24/7
- Security surveillance for your extra safety and protection
- Off road parking
- Certified self-contained vehicles only
- Freedom camping location
- Fresh water available
- Historic village on your doorstep which means you can enjoy a stroll around the gardens and buildings
- Pets welcome on a leash (camping/parking area only)
- Walking tracks
- Biking tracks
- Large vehicle access
- Quiet and peaceful
- Park-over property
The Firth Tower is a great stop over for visitors travelling between the Waikato (Matamata) to Tauranga or Rotorua. Capture a glimpse of rural history and relax in the well tended gardens. For more ideas what to do in Matamata or the Waikato.
Tuesday, Wednesday – Closed
Thursday, Friday 9am-3pm
Saturday, Sunday 10am-4pm
Closed on public holidays
Child (5-16) $5.00
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