A town dubbed the ‘Corrugated Iron Capital of the World’ might not be top of your must-see list – but what if I told you that in Tirau on New Zealand’s North Island, corrugated iron was formed into the shape of giant sheep, cute dogs or birds with stilettos on. Would I have your interest then?
Then welcome to Tirau – one of New Zealand’s quirkiest towns. Maybe the quirkiest.
You can’t miss Tirau’s most famous residents – the enormous iron dog, sheep and ram that tower over the town’s tiny High Street.
In fact, it was the sheep that started the corrugated iron craze in Tirau.
Designed as a shop selling knitted items and wool. It stood on its own for quite a while, until one day it was decided that the town needed some new public toilets – and for some reason, it was decided that they would be put in a giant dog to match the sheep. And that it too would be made of corrugated iron.
As tourism-boosting ideas went, it was a doozy. People would come from miles to see the giant sheep and dog (and pee in the loos) – and, over time, the rest of the town joined in.
Now, almost every shop and cafe has replaced their boring generic signs with an amazing corrugated iron creation. Even the Church has one!
My Favourite Things to See in Tirau
Seeing the signs really is the highlight of all the things to do in Tirau. There’s probably about 20 signs and other corrugated iron structures dotted around Tirau and just wandering up and down the main street filled me with glee – but there were a few particular highlights for me. Here are the six signs I think I liked most.
The Giant Dog
Look at Him. You only really get a scale of how big this thing is when you stand next to it and realise its tongue is nearly as big as you are! Oh, and the toilets are still there if you need them.
The Dairy Sign
I do like it when big companies join in with the fun – and the fact that Anchor milk has a sign above the dairy made me very happy indeed.
The Ram’s Side Eye
Just look at the expression on the ram’s face. I can’t decide if he’s frisky or thinking ‘get out of my space woman.’ I also think the sheep looks like she should have lipstick (I have a rather overactive imagination).
The Pukeko’s Eyelashes
The Pukeko is my favourite New Zealand bird (even more than the kiwi) and I love this one. The shoes are fabulous enough, but look closely at her eyelashes – they’re enormous. She has a male friend next door – he’s nowhere near as glamorous.
The New Toilet
Yes, it’s another loo – but come on, how can you not like it? At the time of writing, this is the newest addition to Tirau’s signs and is a bit off the main drag on Hillcrest Street – where you’ll also find a rather fabulous display of jungle creatures.
The Outhouse is the work of Steven Clothier from a company called Corrugated Creations who are behind most of the signs in the town. Steven’s father was a driving force in the regeneration of Tirau as a tourist destination – and his son is keeping up the family tradition.
There are heaps more signs dotted around the main street and a few surrounding streets and buildings (like the local school) but I won’t spoil the fun by showing them all. But, before you head off, there’s one last sign to point out.
The Hidden Bumblebee
You’ll only find this one if you also visit the amazing Tirau Museum just a few minutes out of town on State Highway Five.
Run by local man Geoff Ernst, who also used to own a honey shop, it’s an incredible collection of everything from jars of honey created by Sir Edmund Hillary (yep, the mountain guy was a honey maker before he scaled Everest!) to old cars and petrol pumps.
The official opening hours are 9-5, but take that loosely as it’s a one-man band and so depends on Geoff’s availability.
If the gate of the drive at the base of the property is open to welcome you in, head up the drive and enjoy it.
The Tirau Museum costs just $5 per adult, $3 for kids but you can easily spend an hour or more here wandering around the nooks and crannies.
There really is something for everything hidden somewhere in this place. If you don’t like cars, there are colourful old bottles and jars to look at. If you’re interested in history there’s war memorabilia – in fact, I defy you to not to find one thing in the whole place that you don’t think is cool and you definitely need to add it to your list of things to see in Tirau.
Other Things to Do in/Near Tirau
The Blue Spring
The Tirau Museum is on State Highway 5 – just a few minutes drive south out of town. If you’re going that way, you should also investigate the Blue Spring – one of the most beautiful things I’ve ever seen. Just look at it.
It’s a short drive from Tirau and then a short walk from the car park to get to the Blue Spring, but click the link above and it’ll give you all the details.
As you’re driving around the area, keep your eye out for more corrugated iron signs – they are now spreading from Tirau into nearby towns like Putaruru as well.
If you’d prefer to stay in town, then take a trip to one of the many Tirau cafe’s that dot the high street – most quirky of them has to be the Bugger Cafe who say their aim in life is to leave your day a little bit happier.
The Bugger Cafe
The name of this place came about when the couple who own the cafe were on a road trip discussing what they would name a cafe if they had one. Owner John said ‘Bugger if I know’ – and the rest is history.
They’re best known for their burgers but also do a pretty good big breakfast.
Try and snag a seat on the sunny balcony if you can.
Bugger is open until 3pm (except on Tuesday when it’s closed) if you want a snack later than that then try Alley Cats which is open until 5pm.
As you possibly know The Lord of the Rings movies were filmed in New Zealand, but what you might not know is that you can visit the one of the sets, Hobbiton – and it’s located is less than a 20 minute drive from Tirau meaning you can easily combine a trip to Tirau and a trip to Hobbiton.
If you are driving down from Auckland, or elsewhere in NZ, you don’t want to miss out, so here’s where to book your guided tour of Hobbiton in advance.
Go Soak in Some Hot Springs
Just a short drive from Tirau itself is the Okoroire Hot Springs Hotel and this has three natural hot springs on their land that they open to non-guests for NZ$16.50 a day.
If you’re looking to stay for longer, you can also stay overnight (they have a golf course too).
The main part of the hotel dates back to 1889 and is listed with the Historical Hotel Association of New Zealand and is steeped in Maori history.
We had a great day out in and around Tirau and I love that even now there’s more and more quirky signs and structures being added to the town.
How to Get To Tirau
It’s a very easy 180km drive about two-hours south from Auckland to Tirau, via Highway One, or a little bit longer if you take Highway 27.
We went on a day trip including a stop off in Hamilton and the Blue Spring. If you’re heading to or from Auckland to Rotorua or Taupo, Tirau is en route and a good place to get out and stretch your legs.
And, as we said above it’s just a short detour from Hobbiton, the Lord of the Rings themed movie set. You bcould go and check out hobbits in the morning and then see the quirky sights of Tirau in the afternoon.
If you feel like staying overnight rather than driving back, here’s a list of Tirau accommodation to book online.
What to Read Next
Oh, and if you are staying in Auckland, check out our guide to the most unusual things to do in Auckland. I used to live there so there’s a few local tips you might not see from other blogs.
Who Writes Differentville?
My name is Helen Foster and I’m a journalist and author living in Sydney.
My travel articles have been published in titles including The Australian, Body & Soul at the Sunday Telegraph, RAC Horizons, Jetstar magazine and more.
I like the weird, the wonderful and anything that makes me jump and down with glee like I’m about three. That’s what you’ll find here.
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