5 museums in New Zealand you should visit

So you’re a fair-weather hiker and your tour of New Zealand’s amazing landscapes is a bit interrupted by rain or bad weather? Well, you might have not come to New Zealand to be indoors, but in terms of museums there is quite a lot to be discovered in Aotearoa, no matter what corner of the country you are in! Below is my take on the 5 museums in New Zealand you should visit:

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

The Te Papa Museum is the most famous museum in New Zealand, and essentially the Museum OF New Zealand. It is also called Te Papa Tongarewa and its collections span New Zealand’s natural environment, art, history and cultural heritage, covering both European settlers and the Maori. When in Wellington, you cannot possibly not go to Te Papa. It is an absolute must-do, and you can’t really miss it as it is right by the waterfront in the city centre.

If you don’t manage to make it all the way up to Waitangi on your trip through New Zealand, you should definitely visit the marae in the Te Papa Museum. I also recommend checking out the animal and plant life of New Zealand – there is a lot to be learned about ferns!

Te Papa Museum, Wellington, one of the top museums in New Zealand

Marae at the Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Admission: The Te Papa Museum is open every day of the year, including all public holidays, from 10am−6pm, and 10am−9pm on Thursdays. Entry is free, charges apply to special exhibitions and tours (including self-guided audio tours).

Waitangi Treaty Grounds

The North Island is a great place to explore the Maori culture and New Zealand’s bi-cultural history. Waitangi is the go-to place for all things history, and you’d do well not to miss it. Waitangi National Reserve is located up in Northland, right next to Paihia, and is one of New Zealand’s most important historic places. This is where the Treaty of Waitangi was signed between the British Crown and the Maori back in 1840, and you’ll find that the visitor centre offers performances, cultural shows and many Maori artefacts. In the vast grounds you can visit a Marae and see a Maori canoe, a large waka, and elaborate wood carvings.

Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo by vtveen @ Flickr

Waitangi Treaty Grounds. Photo by vtveen @ Flickr

Admission: The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are open daily (excluding Christmas Day), from 9am – 7pm. General admission is 25 NZD, children under 14 years 12 NZD.

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

When in Taranaki, in the west of the North Island, make sure you visit New Plymouth’s Govett-Brewster Art Gallery. This place is famous for works of art by kiwi modernist filmmaker and kinetic sculptor Len Lye. The contemporary art museum offers workshops, guided tours, films, music and special exhibitions. I browsed their short film archive and it was fascinating. You can just sit down and watch random short films and learn about New Zealand that way.

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, Taranaki, among the finest Museums in New Zealand

Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth, Taranaki. Photo by Robinvanmourik @flickr

Admission: The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is open daily from 10am – 5pm (except Christmas Day). Entry is free.

Christchurch Art Gallery

Christchurch Art Gallery, Te Puna o Waiwhetu, is right in the centre of Christchurch’s Cultural Precinct. Again, like the Te Papa, it is a site that is hard to be missed. Although Christchurch Art Gallery is currently closed due to the Christchurch earthquake, it definitely needs to be part of this post. It is due to reopen in mid-2013, and whilst undergoing repairs, art exhibits are to be enjoyed at a few locations across the city.

Art at the Christchurch Art Gallery, South Island

Art at the Christchurch Art Gallery

Christchurch Art Gallery, exhibition

Christchurch Art Gallery, exhibition

Southland Museum and Art Gallery, Invercargill

Even in the southernmost city you can find a museum that is truly worth visiting. I stumbled upon it as I explored Invercargill on foot. Southland Museum is right next to Queen’s Park, a lovely green space with botanic and Japanese gardens (also a must-see in Invercargill, in my opinion). It is in my opinion one of the must see museums in New Zealand and also a destination for movie fans, but this time, not for Lord of the Rings fans. The Southland Museum and Art Gallery host a permanent exhibition on Burt Munro, whose story you may have heard of through the film “The World’s Fastest Indian”, with Anthony Hopkins. The film is about the life of Invercargill’s very own local icon, Burt Munro, his motorcycles and his quest for speed.

Indian by Neil Mackinder @ Flickr

Indian by Neil Mackinder @ Flickr

The museum has a few other very impressive permanent exhibitions, among which Victoriana Gallery, which illustrates life in Southland in the Victorian era (second half of the 19th century). You may also want to visit the Natural History and the Maori Galleries, both of which I found very interesting and definitely worth checking out.

Southland Museum in Invercargill, photo by 喫遊趣 @ Flickr

Southland Museum in Invercargill, photo by 喫遊趣 @ Flickr

Admission: Daily. 9am – 5pm Monday to Friday, 10am – 5pm Saturday and Sunday. Entry is 10 NZD.

What are your recommendations on top museums in New Zealand?


Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  9 comments for “5 museums in New Zealand you should visit

  1. 27 June, 2012 at 03:35

    I always enjoy museums and galleries (when I travel or even close to home), especially if they are like something you wouldn’t see anywhere else. These all sound great. I’d like to check out the Victoriana Gallery at the Southland Museum in particular. Interesting art there at the gallery in Christchurch!

    • Christina
      27 June, 2012 at 20:19

      I loved finding Southland Museum after weeks of camping in the wilderness. Invercargill is so far south that you wouldn’t expect such a great museum at the end of the South Island. Christchurch Art Gallery is also great – the architecture of the building itself is really cool.

  2. 28 June, 2012 at 01:13

    I’ve never been to New Zealand, but I’d have to go with the Christchurch Art Gallery — that piece w/ the fruit in the underwear is great! Fruit of the Loom perhaps?

    • Christina
      1 July, 2012 at 14:40

      Yes, that exhibition was brilliant. So creative! We went there with two of our friends and had a big laugh. I guess we spent quite a bit of time there and had a good discussion – definitely thought- (and laughter-) provoking art 🙂

  3. 18 July, 2012 at 23:00

    Underwear can be art? Who knew!? I could create masterpieces with a variety of colors. However, I guess I am a little too late now. 🙂

    The one that intrigues me the most is the Te Papa museum. Honestly, I don’t know much about them. However, I met a Scottish clan that has a relationship with a Maori tribe in New Zealand. It’s a fascinating story of how two cultures that are so different connected.

    • Christina
      21 July, 2012 at 21:24

      I know, the Christchurch Art Gallery has some fantastic exhibits. Next time I visit it will still be closed I guess due to the earthquake repairs, but I’m planning on seeing the temporary home of art – I’ll let you know if they have a sock exhibition next 🙂

      That is fascinating that a Scottish clan has a relationship with a Maori tribe in NZ. How cool would their exchange programmes be? But seriously, I have to learn more about that.

  4. 29 July, 2012 at 02:59

    Going back to Te Papa a second time was just as thrilling as the first visit two years ago.

    As you wrote, the Christchurch Art Gallery is closed until sometime next year (2013). Hoping beyond hope, I went past the gallery when I was in Christchurch. Indeed, the place was closed, and I was still a little disappointed. Nevertheless, it’s a beautiful sweeping building with glass and curves: I photographed the heck out of the building in sunset’s light. 🙂

    I would also recommend Dunedin’s Otago Museum, next to the Otago University campus and minutes by foot from the CBD. I think the folks at the Otago Museum have done a good job, wrapping details of the geological history with fossil finds (the plesiosaurus skeleton is cool!) and historical records with Maori cultural articles, with a particular and obvious emphasis on the Otago region. I might dare say that the Otago Museum could be a nice morsel of an appetizer, leading up to Te Papa in Wellington. 😉

    • Christina
      29 July, 2012 at 09:27

      Thanks for your insight Henry. I am so looking forward to seeing your photos of the Christchurch Art Gallery. And next time I’m in Dunedin, I’ll have to check out Otago Museum. I haven’t explored Dunedin half as much as I would have liked, and given that Otago is one of my favourite regions I really have to go. 🙂

  5. 28 August, 2012 at 04:10

    Govett-Brewster Art Gallery looks like an amazing place. I love abstract art and learning history through movies instead of a history book is always a bonus! Te Papa museum has a really cool looking ceramic, glass and metal exhibit also exploring the natural enviroment of New Zealand also looks amazing. The Christchurch Art Gallery also looks like a really intriguing place to visit. Looks like the New Zealand trip wont be able to be planned until next year. Thanks for twisting my arm! Enjoyed your post.

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