The interesting thing about New Zealand museums is that each has their own story to tell. Some do this by showcasing the finest artworks, others bring Maori heritage to the forefront, and a few have their own specialist topics to share. Add these 10 must-visit museums to your itinerary to get familiar with the country’s historic treasures.
Te Papa Museum
Wellington’s Te Papa Museum is globally renowned for its innovative displays and comprehensive collections. It’s a place that documents and celebrates Maori heritage, New Zealand nature, and various historical events. One of the best interactive displays at Te Papa is the Earthquake House — a simulation that gives visitors a real-life insight into the aftershocks that occurred during the 1987 Edgecumbe Earthquake.
Auckland War Memorial Museum
Along with being housed in one of the city’s oldest parks, the Auckland War Memorial Museum hosts an incredible collection of historic relics and pieces that aptly showcase New Zealand’s culture and tradition. It was built in 1929, in response to Aucklanders’ demands for a site that pays homage to the lives lost during the First World War. To this day, the museum’s ANZAC Day memorial dawn service is one of its highest regarded traditions.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
Blenheim’s Omaka Aviation Centre is a must-visit for plane buffs and war history enthusiasts. In fact, this specialist museum, along with Te Papa, topped TripAdvisor’s Travellers’ Choice Museums in the South Pacific in 2015. It’s the attention to the finest details that attract people to this aviation powerhouse: among the various items on display you’ll find vintage planes from both World Wars, a trove of memorabilia, cars, military uniforms and portraits.
This incredibly diverse museum in Dunedin should be browsed at a leisurely pace. To give you an idea, the Otago Museum is home to butterfly displays, Japanese memorabilia, a planetarium, dinosaur fossils, Egyptian artifacts, as well as extensive Maori and Pacific exhibitions. All up, there are more than 1.5 million items in their collection. If you happen to be travelling with kids, the paid Discovery World Tropical Forest exhibit is a popular choice among local and visiting families.
The Canterbury Museum has an excellent collection of ongoing and temporary displays. Quake City is one of the museum’s most recent permanent additions — it uses storytelling and interactive exhibits to educate visitors about the 2010-2011 Canterbury Earthquakes. Another collection worth delving into is the Iwi Tawhito – whenua hou (Ancient Peoples – new lands), which combines Maori taonga (treasures) and life-size dioramas to explore New Zealand’s history.
The New Zealand Maritime Museum
A real treat for maritime enthusiasts visiting the City of Sails (for those who aren’t aware, that’s the local nickname for Auckland), The New Zealand Maritime Museum is home to a trove of nautical exhibits from the past and the present, from ancient Maori vessels, to vintage warships and even America’s Cup racing yachts. The museum also holds regular sailings around the Waitemata Harbour, giving its visitors a unique perspective of the area’s heritage vessels and nautical history.
The International Antarctic Centre
There’s a reason the International Antarctic Centre is one of Christchurch’s prized attractions. It’s located quite close to the airport and is well-suited for kids and adults alike. The centre’s Antarctic Gallery explains everything there is to know about the continent and its international significance, while penguin encounters and the Husky Zone are guaranteed to put a smile on all animal and wildlife lovers’ faces.
Located on the banks of the Waikato River in Hamilton, the Waikato Museum comprises 13 different galleries that host more than 25 new displays and hundreds of events each year. Compared to many museums on our list, this a small venue, but it’s one that really packs a punch when it comes to teaching about New Zealand history and Maori culture. The museum is known for interactive scientific displays as well as an impressive collection of Maori artifacts and carvings.
Waikato Museum, 1 Grantham St, Hamilton 3204, New Zealand, +64 7-838 6606
Famous for its unique Tuatara enclosure, the Southland Museum is a great place to verse yourself on New Zealand’s compelling wildlife. The oldest member of the museum’s Tuatarium (as they’ve dubbed it) is Henry, a 110-year-old reptile that holds the world record for living more than 46 years years in captivity. Other ongoing exhibitions worth checking out include the Natural History Gallery, which goes beyond the tuatara exhibits, and the World’s Fastest Indian section, which celebrates Invercargill’s most famous export.
In recent years, the small coastal town of Oamaru earned international fame for its celebration of all things steampunk. First there was the annual Steampunk Festival; then, the quirky Steampunk HQ museum came into being. A culmination of retro-futuristic art and sculpture fills the Victorian-style building that hosts each exhibition. The gallery opened its doors in 2011 and is well-known for having a full-scale, fire-spitting train engine among its compelling displays.
Steampunk HQ, Tyne St, South Hill, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand, +64 27 778 6547
World of Wearable Art & Classic Cars Museum
Nelson’s flagship museum definitely puts the ‘wow’ factor into its famous World of Wearable Arts show. More than that, it showcases a remarkable collection of classic cars alongside the internationally-acclaimed garments. Even the museum’s gift shop is worth exploring for its cool relics — from jewellery to books and locally-produced ceramics. All in all, this is a place of wondrous contrasts that’s bound to pique everyone’s interests.