Few people would travel to New Zealand because of the museums but while here there are definitely some worth visiting. Here are my picks…
Tawhiti Museum, Hawera
Quite easily one of the best museums in the country if not particularly well located unless you work for the dairy industry in Taranaki. Clearly a labour of love, the museum is famous for its super realistic models and dioramas, covering many aspects of NZ history. Well worth the trip from New Plymouth or Palmerston North to visit.
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre, Blenheim
A genuinely world class museum featuring one of the largest collections of WW1 era planes and associated memorabilia. Thanks to the involvement of Peter Jackson and Weta Workshop the displays are far innovative and imaginative than similar aviation museums, bringing history to life.
Te Papa, Wellington
On the list by virtue of it being the national museum but a seemingly static one with nothing appearing to have changed in the past five years other than a few touring exhibitions. Worth visiting though, if only for the beautiful modern interpretation of a marae and the simply awesome colossal squid.
New Zealand Maritime Museum, Auckland
Undeservedly unloved, it may not be ground breaking but it does what the name suggests in better fashion than many similar maritime museums I’ve been to. In particular the section on the America’s Cup featuring Sir Peter Blake’s famous red socks is worth entry alone.
Edwin Fox Maritime Museum, Picton
Home to the ninth oldest ship in the world this is a must see if you’re passing through Picton. Not as sleek as the Cutty Sark but with arguably a more interesting history, and certainly more of the original ship remaining. You can happily crawl all over and under in a manner that would shock English Heritage.
Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin
Next to the landmark Dunedin Railway Station the Settlers Museum is one of the best regional museums in the country, reflecting Dunedin’s status as the country’s largest city a hundred years ago. I particularly liked the huge hall of portraits, and replica cabins of the ships that brought immigrants to NZ over the years.
Founders Heritage Museum, Nelson
A better than average regional museum, with a wide range of buildings from around the region, a huge collection of ships in bottles, a windmill and a Bristol Freighter plane. Obviously…
Buried Village, Rotorua
There’s not a huge amount of the village left, a rather large volcanic eruption will have that effect, but the history of the pink and white terraces, the original wonders of NZ tourism, is fascinating and well documented here.
Museum of Wellington City and Sea
The Daily Telegraph thought it one of the top 50 museums in the world, which is probably a stretch. It’s not even the best in NZ, but still definitely worth a visit if you’re in the capital. It effectively tells the history of Wellington, including a poignant memorial to the Wahine disaster in 1968.
Tairāwhiti Museum, Gisbourne
Not a huge museum but nicely located by the river, the highlight being the bridge from the Star of Canada ship, slightly randomly stuck onto the side of the building.
One of the largest museums in the country, split over two sites linked by a short drive or a vintage tram, MOTAT is the perfect place for anyone interested in planes, trains, engines, and how life used to be lived. I particularly liked the aviation hall and exhibition on Auckland’s grand department stores, cinemas and theatres.
Wellington Tramway Museum
Perfect place to catch your breadth if you’ve walked up the hill through the Botanic Gardens. Thought I’d pop in and an hour later still watching surprisingly interesting films about trams and cable cars in New Zealand.
Honestly nearly left it off the list as I tend to think as it more of an events / exhibitions venue now, including the winter Late the Museum series, annual Wildlife Photographer of the Year exhibition, and some recent excellent exhibitions on the Antarctic huts of Scott and Shackleton, and Moana on the Hauraki Gulf. The permanent collection is worth a wander around though perhaps not more than once.