97. Visit New Zealand's best small museums
Exploring New Zealand’s vibrant street art, quirky museums, cutting-edge architecture and more is one of the best ways to uncover the stories of the nation: here is No. 97 of our 101 Reasons To Stop Dreaming About New Zealand And Go.
When it comes to the country’s museums, sometimes small is best. A good example is found in the Hawke’s Bay township of Wairoa, where the modest yet perfectly formed Wairoa Museum is located within the town’s recently upgraded, heritage-listed post office. Inside, you’ll find some of the country’s most treasured artefacts including a centuries-old Māori flag stolen in 1865 by Crown forces during the New Zealand Wars. In 2016, the canvas flag was collected by a member of the local community, blessed and brought home from a Scottish museum where it had sat for nearly 100 years.
The Kaikōura Museum is another gem. To find it, travel south to the east coast village of Kaikōura in the South Island/Te Waipounamu. Look for the museum’s entrance within Kaikōura’s landmark craypot building on the Esplanade. In a town famed for its shipwrecks, kaimoana (seafood) and maritime culture, this award-winning museum is a great place to immerse yourself in European and Māori stories about the sea. Learn about the town’s early whaling days. Explore the impact on the region’s natural environment of the 2016 Kaikōura earthquake, the largest and longest on record in New Zealand. Step inside a fully-restored cabin of the Taiaroa, a ship that sank off the Kaikōura coast in 1886. And check out the textiles and tools traditionally used by local Māori for hundreds of years to help them survive and thrive on the coast.
Owaka Museum, in the rugged coastal region of The Catlins, Clutha, is another small-town museum packed with character and charm. Again, the strength of Owaka Museum is in its local storytelling. Stop in to learn about the nearly 200 local women who signed the 1893 suffrage petition that helped New Zealand become the first country in the world to grant women the vote. Immerse yourself in stories of sawmilling, commercial shipping and rail from Owaka’s pioneering past and explore the collection to see oddities such as a fossilised whale eardrum and taxidermy pests such as ferrets and stoats. While you’re there, visit the museum shop for locally written books and handmade wares to warm your toes such as possum or merino socks. The museum is on Burns Street, conveniently located with the Information Centre and Library under one roof.