Top Historical Landmarks To Visit in New Zealand

Larnach Castle offers brilliant views across the Otago Peninsula
Larnach Castle offers brilliant views across the Otago Peninsula | © robertharding / Alamy Stock Photo
Photo of Chloe Dickenson
18 March 2020

If you’re looking for a glimpse into New Zealand’s enigmatic and rich history, these landmarks are a must-see in this incredible South Pacific country.

The founding of Aotearoa (New Zealand) dates all the way back to the 13th century when it was settled by Māori people, who arrived in the country from Polynesia. With an abundance of fascinating Māori culture and history, and much more, New Zealand is a country with a brilliantly vibrant past, ready for eager visitors to discover. Here is Culture Trip’s selection of the best historical landmarks that you don’t want to miss.

Wellington Cable Car

Museum, Train Station
Map View
© LasseLeth / Flickr

The Wellington Cable Car is New Zealand’s only funicular railway, dating back to 1902. The five-minute ride to the top of the hill rises 120 metres (390 feet) above the city over a length of 612m (2,010ft), finishing at Wellington’s Botanic Gardens, the Cable Car Museum and Space Place at Carter Observatory. You can find the cable car in the very heart of the city, between Lambton Quay and Kelburn. One of the capital city’s most notable attractions, the area is teeming with historical and educational attractions once you reach its summit. Wellington Cable Car opens at 7am, running every 10 minutes throughout the day until 8pm and every 15 minutes thereafter.

Larnach Castle

Map View
© Christoph Strässler/Flickr

Despite its title, Larnach Castle is in fact a ‘mock castle’ and is one of the very few houses in New Zealand to achieve such a prestigious and momentous accolade. Owned by the Barker family, Larnach is cited as “New Zealand’s only castle” and attracts thousands of visitors every year. On a visit to the castle in the outskirts of Dunedin city, you can explore scenic grounds and award-winning dining experiences. Visitors can opt for a self-guided tour, or choose to book in advance for a one-hour guided tour of the castle’s history or the development of its gardens.

Whakarewarewa - The Living Māori Village

Building, Architectural Landmark, Historical Landmark
Map View
Whakarewarewa Maori Village, Rotorua
© David Wall / Alamy Stock Photo

New Zealand’s Māori heritage is something that the country and its people are famously proud of. Whakarewarewa, the legacy and home of the Tūhourangi-Ngāti Wāhiao people, is an amazing area that’s known as New Zealand’s only living Māori village. Situated within the geothermal region of Taupō, which is thought to provide life-giving energy to those who live there, the Māori population of Whakarewarewa can trace its ancestry back to the Te Arawa people who first occupied the valley in 1325. Now a popular tourist spot, locals, whose families have been sharing stories and tales with visitors for over 200 years, guide visitors around the village, educating them about its history and cultural significance.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

Memorial, Museum
Map View
© Royal New Zealand Navy / Flickr

Undoubtedly New Zealand’s most important historical site, the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is the protected area where the Treaty of Waitangi, New Zealand’s founding document, was signed between people of the British Crown and Māori chiefs. Nowadays, you’ll find an immersive museum experience where you can learn about the indigenous people, their stories and how the treaty came to be.

Pencarrow Lighthouse

Map View
Upper Pencarrow Lighthouse
© Geoff Marshall / Alamy Stock Photo

While lighthouses around the world might often pass you by, New Zealand’s Pencarrow Lighthouse is somewhat different. The building, on the outskirts of Wellington city, gives a unique insight into the life of New Zealand’s people in the 19th century. New Zealand’s first lighthouse, situated on the edge of Lower Hutt, tells beguiling stories of the country’s first settlements, as well as the story of the first ever female lighthouse keeper, Mary Jane Bennett. A place teeming with historic importance, this is worth the day trip from the country’s capital, especially if you happen to have a particular penchant for unique structures.

Edwin Fox

Map View
The Edwin Fox Maritime Museum
© Rob Arnold / Alamy Stock Photo

Despite sounding like the name of a daytime soap opera character, the Edwin Fox is in fact the world’s second oldest surviving merchant ship. Built in 1853, she was chartered by the British Government as a convict ship transporting criminals to Australia. Dry-docked at the Edwin Fox Maritime Centre in Picton, this magnificent voyager boasts a plethora of compelling stories of emigration, war and trading. Located on Dunbar Wharf, visitors can explore the decks and depths of the ship and learn more about its history.

Tamaki Māori Village

Map View
© Robert Linsdell / Flickr

Unlike the living Whakarewarewa village, the Tamaki Māori Village is a recreation of how a traditional indigenous area would have looked. Set in the beautiful 200-year-old Tawa Forest, the Tamaki Māori Village sweeps visitors away with its riveting stories, collection of long-established art forms and, of course, the infamous haka ceremonial dance. Guests can choose to visit the village over one day, or book an overnight experience, to truly understand traditional Māori culture.

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