Rotorua icon Toot ‘n’ Whistle is now on display at the Te Amorangi Museum

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Te Amorangi Trust Museum volunteer Chriss Taylor with the Toot ‘n’ Whistle at the museum. Photo/Andrew Warner

The popular Toot ‘n’ Whistle model train is a treasured keepsake for many who grew up and visited Rotorua – and this local icon has now resurfaced, standing proudly in the Te Amorangi Trust Museum.

After being in storage for years, the museum is thrilled to be the train’s new home.

The Toot ‘n’ Whistle was built by John Smale, who launched it in 1958.

Ever since he was a teenager, Smale had been fascinated by steam trains.

In 1958 this prompted him to start work on what was to become something of an icon in Rotorua – the Toot ‘n’ Whistle Miniature Railway in Kuirau Park. He spent hours on his hands and knees painstakingly laying the track.

In 1960 the project was completed and Toot ‘n’ Whistle was opened to the public.

The Toot ‘n’ Whistle stopped operating in Kuirau Park in 2004, as the ground was becoming too dangerous and the train needed upgrading. He had been there for 44 years.

The locomotive had been in storage ever since and the cars were disposed of.

The last owner was Trevor Coleman, who died in early 2022. His wife Margi donated the train to the Te Amorangi Trust Museum.

Board member Silke Hackbarth says the Toot ‘n’ Whistle train is part of Rotorua’s heritage and community.

Toot 'n' Whistle driver Des Bellworthy taking people for a ride on the Kuirau Park steam train in 2003. Photo/File
Toot ‘n’ Whistle driver Des Bellworthy taking people for a ride on the Kuirau Park steam train in 2003. Photo/File

“It comes up a lot, with visitors asking if we knew what happened to the train that was traveling through Kuirau Park. It’s nice to now be able to tell people it’s really there.”

Unfortunately, the train is just exposed and not running, she said. Indeed, its boiler must be rebuilt, which is a very expensive task.

“Everyone – our volunteers, visitors and people in the community – would love to see the train go again.

“But our museum cannot afford to pay for the necessary work. We are a non-profit organization run by volunteers and, like many other charities, we are experiencing a shortage of staff and funds.

“This project would only be possible if we could find a sponsor, or a qualified person who would volunteer their time and do the work themselves.”

In the meantime, the museum is working on setting up the Toot ‘n’ Whistle exhibit.

Silke says they have ideas for a mural on the back wall, but again a qualified person would be needed to help pull this off.

The museum is also interested in any photos people may have, related to the train when it was operating in Kuirau Park, to use for the exhibit.

“We believe this is an important part of Rotorua’s tourism history, and there are many fond memories both of locals and visitors from other parts of New Zealand who remember going to Rotorua for a holiday and taking the train.”

Te Amorangi Trust Chairman Kevin Cooper agrees the train has been a part of many people’s lives – “I know my children have been there, and it’s still in people’s memories and he’s a bit of an icon.”

The Toot 'n' Whistle taking smiling families around Kuirau Park in 2003. Photo/File
The Toot ‘n’ Whistle taking smiling families around Kuirau Park in 2003. Photo/File

The museum is also currently working on the renovation of the former Whakarewarewa Post Office which has stood on the Te Amorangi site since 1976.

This was made possible by funding received from Toi Ohomai/Rotorua Rotary Sunrise Charity House for painting and re-roofing.

Kevin says that although some progress has been made in transforming the museum this year, there is still huge potential and opportunities for improvement.

Silke says the Te Amorangi Trust Museum is a hands-on, interactive museum. There are objects children can use and they can watch certain machines work. Many items are not behind glass and can be picked up and examined up close.

Kevin and Silke say the number of museum volunteers fluctuates and there have been times when there was barely enough manpower to keep the museum running.

They say they are always looking for volunteers and there is a wide range of work and various tasks to do.

Currently, it is a priority to fill the roles of reception assistant and visitor reception, and also to find people with the right skills and knowledge, who could for example build showcases or repair machinery.

There are currently about 16 volunteers working regularly at the museum.

For more information and to inquire about volunteering, call (07) 345 9525 or see the museum’s Facebook page, www.facebook.com/RotoruaSettlersAndSteamMuseum/


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