The Museums of Auckland
Our guide to six of the best museums to visit in Auckland
Auckland is home to some of the finest museums in all of New Zealand. In just one small space, Auckland contains impressive museums, displays, galleries and exhibitions ranging from war museums to observatories and Planetariums. Auckland is the perfect place to find out more about the history and culture of beautiful Aotearoa.
1. Auckland War Memorial Museum
What was originally a two bedroom farm cottage has grown into one of the most renowned museums in New Zealand. Based upon a hill known by Maori as Pukekawa since 1929, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is a tombstone of remembrance to service men and women who lost their lives for their country. The beautiful building is considered one of New Zealand’s finest heritage buildings.
Inside the iconic building visitors can discover the story of New Zealand and its people. The museum lays claim to having the world’s most extensive Maori and Pacific Island collection, providing visitors with a unique and special view into the country’s history. There are three reconstructions of entire buildings inside including a large carved meeting house known as a Hotunui which was built in 1878.
The museum's flagship attraction is the superb war memorial. A beautifully designed Cenotaph resides just outside the main building and is the site at which many memorial services are held each year. Inside the museum there are two amazing Halls of Memory from both World War I and II, along with memorials to those lost in civil wars, the Anglo-Boer war and the Holocaust. It is a truly brilliant and very moving memorial, making a visit to the Auckland War Memorial Museum extremely worthwhile. The fantastic location of the museum in Auckland Domain means the nearby Wintergardens are a great place to grab lunch after a visit
Located in the Western Springs area of Auckland, the Museum of Transport and Technology (MOTAT) houses some fine examples of New Zealand engineering. Here the story of New Zealand’s transport history is told. The advancement of technology in the country has made New Zealand one of the most modern nations on earth and here at the museum, visitors can explore how much has changed.
Split into two sections, there is plenty of exhibits to discover and explore. MOTAT 1 goes deep into the social and technological developments, displaying how New Zealanders used to live right up until present day. You can even discover how generations of old survived without the social media platforms which now dominate our communication.
Once MOTAT1 has been completed, visitors can head across on one of the vintage trams to the new $15 million MOTAT 2 and discover the wonders of flight. Here in the award winning Aviation Hall is the largest collection of aircraft in all of Oceania. Aircraft and military vehicles from World War II up till modern day commercial and personal aircraft are available for visitors to learn more about.
It is a truly fantastic museum, offering some of the best exhibits on New Zealand and world technology. It’s a great day out for the whole family and for those feeling adventurous there is even an exhilarating 4D virtual flight simulator!
3. Torpedo Bay Museum
A mere 12 minutes on the city ferry from Auckland to Devonport and you can find a museum steeped in maritime history. Set in a fantastic location on the water’s edge, only a short walk from the gorgeous Cheltenham Beach is the Torpedo Bay Navy Museum. The museum is housed within the walls of buildings constructed in 1896 to control naval mines at the mouth of the harbour. Naval history is built deep within the foundations of this site.
Inside the museum, exhibits describe and display New Zealand’s naval history ever since the 1845 Flagstaff War. Historic cultural memorabilia from wars up until Afghanistan are on display which offers an informative and moving sense of what it was like to be servicemen in the Navy during wartime. Visitors even have the opportunity to see a full-size Westland Wasp helicopter which was last displayed in 1966.
The museum offers a unique insight into New Zealand’s naval history; it’s an inspiration to see how far the country has come in terms of technology and generates excitement about what lies ahead. Once you have exhausted all aspects of the museum, why not grab a coffee at the excellent Torpedo Bay Café? Here, you'll find great views of the city across the water.
4. New Zealand Maritime Museum
Located within the Viaduct Harbour, between the great range of restaurants and bars, is the fabulous Maritime Museum. This attraction is a superb monument to the ambitious maritime achievements by New Zealanders.
The museum tells the stories deep-rooted within the explorative nature of New Zealand’s history. Known as ‘the place of amazing journeys’, visitors can discover how the nation's relationship with the ocean has shaped their identity; from the first journeys of the Polynesians to New Zealand, to present day accomplishments in professional sailing.
With plenty of interactivity available, including a real scale replica of the sleeping quarters in a traditional tall ship, the Voyager Museum provides a great day out for the whole family. One of the biggest attractions at the museum is reserved for those looking to take their maritime experience one step further. Visitors can enjoy a fantastic option of sailing around the harbour on one of the museums vintage vessels.
5. Howick Historical Village
A visit to Auckland’s Howick Historical Village is like stepping back into the 19th century. Since being originally settled by Maori people 1000 years ago, Howick grew into a village used by soldiers in the 1850s. All the buildings in the village are original dwellings which have been maintained and restored to give you the sense of stepping back in time.
Every inch of the village has been meticulously recreated to make it as real as possible. Classrooms complete with blackboards and books can be explored to give a feeling of what life was like during the Fencible period. In fact, the only thing not of the same period is the modern café where visitors can take a break in the real world.
Also, every third Sunday of each month the village comes to life even more. Over 30 costumed villagers swarm the town and go about their 19th century tasks. If you are lucky, Her Majesty’s Men may make a visit to perform military duties including, on occasion, cannon firing. The live days are a brilliant way to get involved in the village in a realistic way. Families can sample traditional food or even experience a Victorian school lesson. Let’s just hope they haven’t brought back the cane too!
6. Auckland Stardome
The night sky is one of the most beautiful and mysterious sights on Earth. Located in Cornwall Park just near Auckland’s prominent landmark, One Tree Hill is the Stardome Observatory and Planetarium. If you have ever wondered what’s really out there, this is the perfect place to come and find out.
Since 1967, the attraction has become one of the city’s best attractions, drawing in thousands eager to gaze at the stars. Following a recent major upgrade, the observatory is now equipped with some brilliant new displays and state of the art interactive exhibits.
The star attraction inside, however, is the incredible Planetarium. Sit back and be inspired by the wonders of the stars displayed via cutting edge Digistar 4 projection system. It’s a great way to learn about the planets and the constellations in the sky.
The observatory goes into fantastic detail about how our planet came into existence and man’s exploration of space. There is even a chance to see how much you would weigh on other planets! The attraction is an amazing experience and is sure to inspire you to gaze into the night sky every night after.