© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Historical Insights in the Opotiki Museum

© NZPocketGuide.com

279 Days on the Road

It’s like God is taking a shower and Opotiki is her shower tray… That’s our weird way of saying it is p*ssing it down with rain here in Opotiki on the Bay of Plenty. Our plan today was to hit a nearby river for a jetboat trip, but the operators are quick to tell us its a no-go in this weather and with the current river water level. Damn! Well, now we need to find a rainy day activity in Opotiki.

Well, the day starts in the shelter of The Royal Opotiki Backpackers doing some work (see it’s not all play on this gap year of 365 Days: 365 Activities). While Laura is scheduling some social media posts for our Facebook Page, Robin is taking a quick trip to the information centre for some rainy day inspiration. Alas, he has found something! It turns out that Opotiki has a museum and nothing works better as a rainy day activity than a museum!

Exploring the town of Opotiki

The Opotiki Museum is just a short walk from our hostel along Church Street – a street that thankfully is covered with verandas. This gives us the opportunity to have a look at some pretty cool stuff even in the town, such as a huge pouwhenua (carved pole with Maori designs) decorating a roundabout and a quaint-looking wooden church standing out like a saw thumb with its towering steeple. However, it is what is beside the church that grabs Robin’s attention: an op-shop. In fact, Opotiki is full of them if you are ever looking to stock up on some new (but old) threads, but unfortunately most of them seem to be closed on a Monday or only open until 2pm. We reach the one in the church just in time to feed Robin’s obsession of hunting out old board games, but the nerdy guy gets no luck today.

The transformation of the Opotiki Museum

Although we feel like we have already walked through a museum of old wears in the op-shop and even by walking through the heritage-feel town of Opotiki, we arrive at the Opotiki Museum. A lovely lady called Ann welcomes us and tells us a little bit of history behind the museum building itself – how it used to be an old bus station, as well as telling us how the museum has only just up-scaled moving into this building. Yet, just judging from the entrance, they have managed to fill the space up alright!

The old Opotiki on the ground floor

Ann leaves us to wander around the collection of Opotiki’s past. The centre of the museum’s ground floor displays a huge collection of farming vehicles, yet when you look at the dates of some of these old tractors with metal wheels its amazing to think how far technology has come in under 100 years!

The perimeter of the ground floor is also full of items from Opotiki town, such as items from the old hospital (including a display of old bedpans – yummy!) all displayed as if it were a room from the hospital. Then we move onto scenes from the Opotiki Dairy, a woolshed complete with mannequin sheep, and a saw mill. We see this pattern on a lot of New Zealand towns – they seemed to be very self-sustaining with heaps of services, but nowadays, towns like Opotiki are considered “small” towns, even “quaint”. The Opotiki Museum is a great example of that transformation.

Getting a cool perspective of the museum from the mezzanine

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The butcher, the baker, the candlestick-maker

The other side of the room brings us to more mock-up displays, like the saddlery, printing room, candle-makers, the barbers and more. Not to mention the elephant in the room, which is an entire length of one wall decorated with trophy taxidermy moose and deer – even a freakin’ bear! (You’re not going to tell us there were bears in Opotiki, come on!)

Up onto the mezzanine, above the said trophy moose, the walls are covered in early pioneer photographs and even some artwork thrown in there. Then our visit leads us upstairs to our favourite part of the museum.

Maori artifacts

The open third floor has an incredible display of old Maori carvings amongst other Maori artifacts like woven baskets, fishing baskets, kites, weapons, tool and all sorts! As with a lot of museums throughout New Zealand, many of the Maori artifacts have a lot of sensitivity around them so we are not able to take photos, however you will just have to come and take a look yourselves – they are always pretty impressive pieces to check out.

A pioneering past

Almost missed with our distraction of the Maori carvings, there are little doorways running along one side of the room peeking into snippets of life of Opotiki’s early pioneers. The first room we look into shows that of the infamous Art Deco-styled room that New Zealand is so proud of (just check out our visit to Napier), then we move onto an old school room, farm house, Victorian bedroom, an old pub, a whaler’s cabin and the sleeping quarters of an emigration vessel.

The final part we check out in the Opotiki Museum is a dedication to the world wars with weapons and photographs from the World Wars on display, as well as archives for the locals.

With that, we have had an insight into the history of the town we are currently staying is. Plus, we have done an activity out of the rain. Score! Now it’s back to the Royal Opotiki Backpackers to talk to some of our fellow travellers.

Tomorrow, let’s hope the weather clears so we can take a canoe trip down the Waioeka River! Join us then!

The doorway into the past

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