Image: Tawhiti Museum, Taranaki
New Zealand may not have much history, but what it does have can be fascinating. Since moving to New Zealand, I’ve been to many different historical places, from museums to heritage sites. The following list features the places that have really stuck in my memory. That means they must be pretty special, right? Anyway, see what you think, and maybe you can visit some of them when you’re on holiday in New Zealand.
1) Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum
This place in Taranaki is the quirkiest, loveliest, most enchanting museum I’ve been in my life. Nigel Ogle is an ex-art teacher with a passion for dioramas, big and small. For years, he’s been using local people as models to populate the various exhibitions of Tawhiti Museum. The exhibitions are very well arranged, presenting Taranaki’s history in a personal and interesting way that captures the imagination. I learned so much while I was there and had quite a magical time.
2) Howick Historical Village
A short drive from the centre of Auckland, Howick Historical Village offers visitors a glimpse into the lives of New Zealand’s nineteenth-century European settlers. Each of the lovingly-restored buildings is authentic, originally built in the Fencible Period. The village feels real, so walking around it is highly immersive. I was very impressed with the depth of information given and the little details that brought the past to life. Surviving day-to-day back then certainly didn’t sound easy.
3) Rotorua Museum
Before you enter the gorgeous, Tudor-style building that houses Rotorua Museum, take a stroll through the gardens that surround it. Government Gardens transport you right back to Edwardian times – on a sunny day, they seem the very picture of colonial grandeur. Next-door to the museum is an art deco bathhouse from the 1930s. The museum itself is fantastic, especially all the stuff concerning the harrowing Tarawera eruption. Even the very building it’s in has a fascinating history.
4) Te Papa
Located in New Zealand’s capital city, Wellington, Te Papa is the most prestigious museum in the country. It doesn’t disappoint. Of course, being an immigrant myself, my favourite exhibition concerns the history of New Zealand immigration, but there are many wonderful displays to choose from. You can quite easily spend hours at Te Papa, the full name of which is Te Papa Tongarewa, meaning ‘container of treasures’. Don’t leave Wellington without paying it a visit.
5) The Otuataua Stonefields
You might not see the Otuataua Stonefields Historic Reserve heralded as a must-see attraction, but it’s one of the most important historical sites in the country. Located right next to Auckland Airport, it’s easy to visit for an hour or two. It’s one of the few places in New Zealand where you can walk amongst stone ruins. Ancient Maori houses, gardens and storage pits are visible upon the landscape, crisscrossed with the dry stone walls of nineteenth-century European settlers. It’s a beautiful place, especially with the Manukau Harbour in the background, and it’s free.
6) Kerikeri Mission Station
Up in sunny Northland, Kerikeri is home to both the oldest European building and the oldest stone European building in New Zealand. The Mission Station was built by English missionaries in the early nineteenth century. Situated by a tranquil river, the place is as pretty as a postcard. There’s even a delightfully old-fashioned English garden you can wander through. Kerikeri is close to a few places of historical importance, including, of course, Waitangi.
Near Christchurch, the charming town of Akaroa is one of New Zealand’s best preserved colonial settlements. It has both English and French roots – all of the streets have French names and, of course, there are French-style restaurants and cafes. It’s great walking past the quaint, old cottages and visiting the historic ‘Giant’s House’ with its not-historic-but-awesome-in-a-different-way garden. Akaroa Museum is quite cool too. Perched on Banks Peninsula, Akaroa is not to be missed.
8) Karangahake Gorge
Near the historic gold-mining town of Waihi, Karangahake Gorge is a spectacular place to go for a bush walk. A majestic river snakes between towering walls of rock, accompanied by many different tracks. What makes it interesting from a historical perspective is the abandoned mining equipment you come across and the old tunnels you can walk through. There’s also a heritage train ride to and from Waihi. It stops at the old Waikino Station, which is now a rather nice café.
A must-have experience in the heart of Rotorua, Whakarewarewa is a living Maori village. Take a tour of the geysers, hot pools and mud pools and learn about how the Maori lived before the arrival of Europeans. You can savour a hangi, a feast cooked to perfection in a traditional cooking pit, or a succulent corn-on-the-cob cooked in a naturally heated pool. Hear Maori legends and tales of local history, and marvel at the vibrant cultural performances. This is a place where history lives on.
The city of Christchurch has, for New Zealand, a rather old-fashioned feel to it. The cathedral was unfortunately destroyed by the earthquakes a few years ago, but there are still many places of historical interest. The vintage trams are, once again, up and running and an absolute delight to ride. My favourite of Christchurch’s historical treats is situated on the banks of the Avon River: the Edwardian Antigua Boat Sheds. You can take a punt ride propelled by a punter in historical costume!
Of course, New Zealand has many more historical places to visit. I wish you luck in finding your own gems!
List compiled by Abigail Simpson