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
Auckland War Memorial Museum
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.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, 79 Aerodrome Rd, Omaka, Blenheim 7272, New Zealand, +64 3-579 1305
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.
Otago Museum, 419 Great King St, North Dunedin, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand, +64 3-474 7474
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.
Canterbury Museum, Rolleston Ave, Christchurch Central, Christchurch 8013, New Zealand, +64 3-366 5000
The New Zealand Maritime Museum
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.
New Zealand Maritime Museum, Corner Quay Street and Hobson Street, Auckland, 1010, New Zealand, +64 9-373 0800
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.
Southland Museum and Art Gallery, 108 Gala St, Queens Park, Invercargill 9810, New Zealand, +64 3-219 9069
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