An imposing classical building on the hill in Auckland Domain, Auckland War Memorial Museum is the second largest in New Zealand after Wellington’s Te Papa. Like Te Papa it has a varied and often eclectic range of exhibitions, split broadly into the Pacific, natural history, and military history.
I’ve visited the collections probably half a dozen times in my decade in Auckland, and the museum more often for temporary exhibitions and events such as the popular Late at the Museum winter series. My enjoyment of the museum has probably related to the number of kids inside, I wouldn’t recommend it on a wet day in the school holidays.
To start with my favourite section, Masterpieces of the Pacific, though it wasn’t until my last visit that I fully appreciated what an incredible collection they have. I’m a huge fan of wooden carvings from Papua New Guinea in particular, of which they have plenty, along with items from most other Pacific islands.
This suit of armour from Kiribati made of weaved coconut fibre with a puffer fish helmet was one of the most extraordinary and unexpected objects I think I’ve seen in any museum.
The Maori collection has more incredible objects, including a couple of marae buildings, and many wonderful and powerful carvings.
The most popular sections for kids are probably those upstairs on volcanoes and natural history, with dinosaurs, a model of a once famous elephant in Auckland Zoo, and a frankly terrifying three metre high stuffed moa, once the largest bird in the world until their extinction after 1300.
The neighbouring galleries display small but relatively high quality collections of objects from around the world, including South America, Europe, Egypt and Asia.
The whole museum (or at least the first half opened in 1929) was built in memory of the First World War. The top floor is dedicated to remembering this and the other wars New Zealand has been involved in. This is probably the least satisfying part of the museum for me as there is very little contextual information for the objects on display. I also don’t remember it covering anything of New Zealand’s recent involvement in Afghanistan and many of the exhibits are unchanged from my first visit a decade ago. The Spitfire and Zero’s are nicely displayed in their own matching rooms though.
There is a moving area with a number of war memorials, and a wall with the names of fallen soldiers.
The memorials continue outside the museum with a cenotaph modelled on the one in London, and a more recent water covered monument.
The second half of the museum was completed in the late 1950s, and is home to the exhibition area part of museum, which has been undergoing extensive work recently.
A varied range of temporary exhibitions have been shown here, including the World of Wearable Art, Taku Tāmaki – Auckland Stories, and the brilliant Wildlife Photographer of the Year.