Auckland’s museums are a must-see because they showcase the diverse population, rich history, and breathtaking surroundings that make Auckland one of New Zealand’s most vibrant cities.
1. The best for maritime history is the New Zealand Maritime Museum
This museum, which boasts a prime waterfront location in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour neighborhood, chronicles the maritime history of the nation, from the arrival of the first Polynesian voyaging canoes more than a millennium ago—the ocean-spanning origin story for the Maori settlement of New Zealand—to 21st-century yachting success in America’s Cup.
The Ted Ashby, a two-masted sailboat and New Zealand’s oldest steam-powered tug boat, are two options for getting out onto the harbor.
2. MOTAT: top for the history of transportation
The Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) consists of two locations connected by a vintage tram that trundles along the lakeside at Western Springs. It is a popular excursion destination for Auckland school groups and is conveniently situated next to Auckland Zoo.
A decades-spanning collection of fire engines and gorgeously retro posters promoting rail travel in New Zealand are among the highlights of the Great North Road venue. The sole surviving Short Solent MK4 flying boat in the world is on display at MOTAT’s second home, Aviation Hall on Meola Road, along with retired Royal New Zealand Air Force aircraft.
3. The best for Maori culture is Auckland War Memorial Museum
The Auckland War Memorial Museum was inaugurated in Auckland Domain in 1929 as a memorial to the men and women who lost their lives in action during World War I, crowning the grassy crater of Pukekawa, an ancient extinct volcano.
The largest collection of Maori artifacts in the world, which includes an 82-foot-long (25-meter) waka taua (war canoe), is one of the city’s attractions. Another is an interactive exhibit about the numerous volcanic cones and craters that dot Auckland’s distinctive urban terrain. The Hauraki Gulf and Rangitoto Island may be seen clearly from the steps leading up to the entryway of the neoclassical edifice.
4. The best natural history museum is Maungawhau Visitor Experience Center
This frequently overlooked center, which is situated on the slopes of Maungawhau/Mt Eden, the tallest of Auckland’s tupuna maunga (ancestral mountains), tells the tale of Auckland’s volcanic field, which is currently shortlisted on Unesco’s “tentative list” for inclusion as a World Heritage Site and contains more than 50 extinct and dormant craters.
The ten-minute movie in the center is well worth watching, and scale models show how crucial Auckland’s maunga was to the area’s Maori iwi (tribes) in past generations, both for cultivation and defense. Continue your day-long exploration of Maungawhau by ascending the mountain’s 196m (643ft) top on foot for ten minutes, then navigating boardwalks built to safeguard the mountain’s historical significance.
5. The Stardome Observatory and Planetarium is the finest place to learn about Maori cosmology
Check the website for details on Stardome’s regular program of southern hemisphere stargazing evenings and planetarium performances. It’s also a good idea to arrive early to see their small but intriguing museum.
Sputnik 1, Apollo 11, the International Space Station, and other spacecraft are represented in scale models and interactive Lego replicas. The top pages of the New Zealand Herald and Auckland Star, which featured the historic moon landing in July 1969, are also on display.
A presentation on Matariki, the Maori New Year that commemorates the rise of the Pleiades star cluster in June, is essential to understanding how New Zealand’s indigenous Maori engage with the sky.
6. The best for naval history is the Torpedo Bay Naval Museum
Take a ferry across Waitemat Harbour from central Auckland to Devonport, a historic district, then wander along the esplanade to the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum. The official museum of the Royal New Zealand Navy is made up of attractive and frequently moving displays that describe the nation’s participation in maritime conflicts and naval battles around the world.
It’s interesting to study New Zealand’s burgeoning independence from the British Empire during WWII, and both World Wars are thoroughly covered. After leaving the museum, climb the nearby Maungauika/North Head to see gun emplacements and a massive defensive battery that was built in the late 19th century to stave off what was thought to be a Russian threat.
7. Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki: The greatest for New Zealand art
At the city’s primary art gallery, the major hitters of art history are undoubtedly represented by pieces by Gauguin, Picasso, and Cézanne, but what draws tourists is learning about significant pieces by well-known New Zealand artists.
The strong text-enhanced canvases by Colin McCahon, the starkly dramatic paintings by Ralph Hotere, and the historical portraits of Maori tribal chiefs by Charles Goldie are among the exhibition’s highlights.
Even the gallery’s surroundings, which merge the grandiose design of a 19th-century French chateau with an award-winning timber and glass atrium erected in 2011, may be considered a work of art.
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