The Auckland Museum was founded in 1852 as the first museum in New Zealand,. After several moves through the years to increase space for exhibits, the new and renamed Auckland War Memorial Museum opened in 1929 on the highest point in Auckland’s oldest park, the Auckland Domain.
We set off on foot with umbrellas in our backpack in case of rain. Fortunately, we arrived dry at the museum in spite of the dark clouds that dogged us for most of our stay in Auckland. After a brief discussion, we decided to purchase the Moa package for NZ$55 (US$40) which included museum entry, highlights tour, and Maori cultural performance.
The highlights tour, while short, oriented us to the best exhibits in the museum. Without it, we may have missed important highlights simply due to the size of the museum. After the tour, we went back to spend more time in areas that interested us most.
We began on level 2 with New Zealand’s War Stories including exhibits from WWI, WWII, New Zealand civil wars, and other conflicts of the 19th and 20th centuries. The WWI Hall of Memories was especially moving to me. New Zealand sent more troops per capita to fight in WWI than any other country which meant every family in the country was personally affected by the war. Nearly all of the 18,166 who died were buried overseas and almost one-third of them are buried in unknown graves.
The Pacific Lifeways gallery contained exhibits with information about island groups in the Pacific. Of particular interest to me was our guide’s explanation of the spread of plants and animals throughout the Pacific which indicated the migration patterns of the people in the area. New Zealand was the last area discovered and settled, probably as late as 1300 A.D. by Polynesians from Southeast Asia who became the indigenous Maori people.
A carved statue of Kave, an evil goddess from the island of Nukuoro, greeted us at the entrance to the gallery. She was brought to New Zealand in the 1870s by a trader.
An outrigger canoe in the Pacific Masterpieces gallery came from the Solomon Islands as a gift from the Melanesian Mission.
The Red Feather Cloak from Hawaii was worn only by the highest chief for religious ceremonies or in war. The nearby sign explained a cloak similar to this belonging to King Kamehameha in Hawaii contained a half million feathers from as many as 80,000 birds.
All of level 1 in the museum is devoted to natural history. The highlights on this floor for me were the moa and the kiwi. The tallest known bird, this 1913 reconstruction of the extinct moa is from the South Island.
The kiwi is the unofficial national symbol for New Zealand and the nickname for New Zealanders. They are unique to New Zealand but how they arrived is unclear since they can’t fly. Because they can’t fly, the kiwi is under constant threat especially by predators such as dogs and the population has shrunk to around 68,000.
You can listen to the kiwi here.
The most surprising exhibit to me was the axe used by Sir Edmund Hillary in his 1953 ascent of Mt. Everest. The famous Aucklander died here in 2008.
I especially wanted to learn more about the indigenous people of New Zealand, the Maori, in our visit to this museum and our desire was satisfied. There are over 1000 artifacts original to the Maori. The gateway Kaitaia carving at the entrance to the Maori Court dates from the 14th to 16th century and is the oldest Maori carving still in existence.
I was fascinated by the Hotunui Preservation Project, a collaboration of museum staff, local experts, and descendants to restore a meeting house built in 1878.
But by far, for me, the high point of this museum was the Maori Cultural Performance. Lasting about 30 minutes, the performance ended with the haka, the traditional war dance.
It was an educational day orienting us to the natural and political history of New Zealand. With this background, we felt better prepared for our visit the following day to the Bay of Islands.
As we strolled back to our hotel, we found Solo Kitchen, a Turkish and Mediterranean restaurant, and stopped in for a late lunch/early dinner. The lamb kofta with salad and three dips (sun-dried tomato, cacik, and baba ghanoush) was delicious.
And the music added beautifully to an authentic ethnic experience.
Come back next week for my post about Bay of Islands.
Based on events from February 2017.