Fun Ho! National Toy Museum, Inglewood
Slightly off the beaten tourist track is the small New Zealand town of Inglewood, in the province of Taranaki. It’s a popular destination for youngsters of all ages who appreciate toys with oodles of character, because this is the home of the quaintly-named Fun Ho! National Toy Museum. The building in the centre of town is easy to spot – it’s the one with a fire engine parked on the roof. The vehicle’s complement of firefighters sit bolt upright, immobile but alert, ready for the call of duty.
The museum presents the complete history of the locally-produced Fun Ho! brand of hand-made aluminium sand-cast toys, plus other New Zealand made toys, with about 3000 items on display. A car racetrack and a model railway have child-level push-buttons to get things moving.
For over 40 years untold numbers of New Zealand children grew up with Fun Ho!’s rugged little models which come up smiling even after lengthy spells of being lost in the back garden. Tractors, trucks, cars, planes, trains and many other miscellaneous toys are fondly remembered. This is dairy farming country, and the budding young cow cockie (translation: dairy farmer) could find everything he or she needed in the way of equipment.
The foundry adjacent to the museum is still in working order, and visiting groups can watch the curator/toymaker demonstrate his craft (bookings required). With sand being an essential part of the process, what better place to install a sandpit where, at non-working times, the little ones can play while older members of the family inspect the machinery.
In its heyday Fun Ho! employed a workforce of 200. With the relaxation of import restrictions in the late 1970s, an influx of cheap imported toys killed off toy production here by 1982; but thanks to a band of keen supporters the enterprise was reborn in 1990 as an enduring reminder of local history.
There is still a small but steady demand for these distinctive toys. The available range changes as different models are reproduced in small runs using the original moulding plates and furnace. Toy enthusiasts can find more detailed information on the Fun Ho! website.
I tried to pin down what it is that makes these toys so appealing. They’re plain and chunky, yet there’s a friendly, inviting quality – perhaps the fact that all the edges are rounded has something to do with it. And the little men who drive the vehicles look like the type who would whistle cheerfully while they work.
Admission charges, in NZ dollars: child $3, adult $6, family $15. Free off-street parking.
Fun Ho! National Toy Museum photos
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How to get there
The Fun Ho! National Toy Museum is at 25 Rata St, Inglewood 4330.
Inglewood is situated on the western side of the North Island, about halfway between Auckland and Wellington. It is 15 minutes’ drive south along the main road from New Plymouth, the province’s principal town and a starting point for a variety of holiday activities. The scenery is pretty good too.