The Must-Visit Museums of New Zealand
Landscapes and natural beauty are usually at the forefront of a trip around New Zealand. But fascinating stories and more context to the places you’re visiting can be found in the country’s museums. We’ve listed the best museums in New Zealand so you know which ones you can’t miss! From free regional museums displaying amazing Maori artefacts to mind-blowing private collections, there are museums to suit all tastes and interests.
1. Te Papa Tongarewa – The Museum of New Zealand
Easily the most iconic museum in New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa, which locals simply call the “Te Papa Museum” is a place where you can get lost for hours. The museum has a huge collection of artefacts and interactive displays across the categories of art, history, taonga Maori, Pacific cultures and natural history. Don’t miss the exhibitions outside too! While the museum is free, there are guided experiences available, which you can learn more about on Viator or Tripadvisor. Plus, check out 10 Reasons Why The Te Papa Museum is Simply Unmissable for more about the exhibitions.
Location: 55 Cable Street, Te Aro, Wellington, North Island.
2. Otago Museum
Dive into the stories of nature, culture and science with a focus on the Otago region, as well as surprising international finds, at the Otago Museum. Although the main museum exhibitions and galleries are free, there are paid experiences, such as the Tuhura Science Centre with a tropical butterfly garden and the Planetarium. Guided tours of the museum are also available, which you can find out more about on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 419 Great King Street, Dunedin, Otago, South Island.
3. Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
There’s never been a collection of warplanes presented in such an exciting way than at the Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre. See Sir Peter Jackson’s collection of World War I and World War II planes and memorabilia presented in realistic static displays created by Weta Workshop i.e. the same people making movies! See both World War exhibitions with tickets available on Viator and Tripadvisor.
Location: 79 Aerodrome Road, Omaka, Blenheim, Marlborough, South Island.
4. Auckland War Memorial Museum
The Auckland War Memorial Museum, or more commonly known as the Auckland Museum, is not only striking with its grand heritage architecture but the exhibitions are pretty darn cool too. The Auckland Museum holds an impressive collection of Maori art and relics while telling the story of Auckland’s flora, fauna and people. Visit the top floor to see the museum’s dedication to the New Zealand military. Note that there is a fee for visitors; Auckland residents get in free with proof of address. Get tickets on Viator or Tripadvisor. See more museums like this in the 10 Best Art Galleries & Museums in Auckland.
Location: Auckland Domain, Parnell, Auckland, North Island.
5. Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
Dunedin takes it again with another museum in our list of the best museums in New Zealand! The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is another free museum to enjoy learning about the complex history of the early Maori to the European settlers arriving in Otago. The museum encourages interactivity with old Maori huts and migrant ships to go inside, Victorian-era dress-up and Penny-farthings to ride.
Location: 31 Queens Gardens, Dunedin, Otago, South Island.
6. Bill Richardson Transport World
Another private collection and a must-visit in Invercargill, Bill Richardson Transport World is the largest collection of vintage vehicles in the southern hemisphere. Whether you’re a petrolhead or otherwise, it’s hard not to be impressed by the colourful displays of beautifully restored vehicles, the World of Wearable Art (WOW) exhibition and the fun-themed bathrooms!
Location: 491 Tay Street, Hawthorndale, Invercargill, Southland, South Island.
7. Canterbury Museum
The Canterbury Museum is Christchurch‘s free museum, set in gothic-revival architecture on the edge of the acclaimed Botanic Gardens. Inside, learn the stories and see artefacts from the Canterbury region’s past, from the early Maori to the local flora and fauna. A couple of fun oddities is the Antarctic exhibition showcasing Christchurch as a launching point for Antarctic expeditions, as well as the quirky “Paua House” where a local couple’s legacy is their living room on display decorated with more than 1,000 paua shells!
Location: 11 Rolleston Avenue, Christchurch, Canterbury, South Island.
8. Waitangi Treaty Grounds
The grounds where the local Maori and British made a treaty to become a nation is an iconic and controversial part of New Zealand’s history. That’s why the Waitangi Treaty Grounds is a good starting point for learning about New Zealand’s history. Te Kōngahu Museum of Waitangi, the treaty grounds’ museum, tells the story of the two cultures’ relation to New Zealand with interactive multimedia exhibitions and a video reenactment of the signing of the Treaty of Waitangi. There’s more to discover at the grounds, which you can find out more about in the 5 Reasons to Visit the Waitangi Treaty Grounds, as well as on Viator or Tripadvisor.
Location: Tau Henare Drive, Waitangi, Bay of Islands, Northland, North Island.
9. Tawhiti Museum
An acclaimed private museum that is off the beaten track in Hāwera, the Tawhiti Museum showcases the tumultuous Taranaki history through artist-made scale models and life-size displays. The artist and mastermind of the museum, Nigel Ogle’s, skills and sense of humour can be seen throughout the static scenes of the Tawhiti Museum. In a separate part of the museum complex, Traders and Whalers takes you on a Disney-land style boat ride through more lively depictions! See more museums nearby in the 10 Best Galleries & Museums in Taranaki.
Location: 401 Ohangai Road, Hāwera, Taranaki, North Island.
10. New Zealand Maritime Museum
Finally, back in Auckland on the Viaduct Harbour, the New Zealand Maritime Museum is well worth discovering. Experience New Zealand’s connection to the ocean with boat and replica displays of the Pacific cultures to the America’s Cup that proudly takes place in the Auckland Harbour each year. Auckland residents get in free to this museum, while visitors need to pay admission. For an additional fee, enjoy a sailing trip in a heritage vessel on the Auckland Harbour.
Location: Corner of Quay and Hobson Street, Viaduct Harbour, Auckland, North Island.