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 can not 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!
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 artifacts. In the vast grounds, you can visit a Marae and see a Maori canoe, a large waka, and elaborate wood carvings.
Admission: The Waitangi Treaty Grounds are open daily (excluding Christmas Day), from 9 am – 7 pm. 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.
Admission: The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery is open daily from 10 am – 5 pm (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.
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.
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.
Admission: Daily. 9 am – 5 pm Monday to Friday, 10 am – 5 pm Saturday and Sunday. Entry is 10 NZD.
What are your recommendations on top museums in New Zealand?