Mapping the Museums of Auckland
Exploring extraordinary collections surrounded by the city’s most stunning parks and waterfront.
Auckland Art Gallery, the Auckland Museum, New Zealand Maritime Museum, MOTAT and Stardome share the role of kaitiaki or guardian for hundreds of thousands of collection items, heritage treasures and artworks that contribute to a culturally rich and creative Auckland.
But the journey of discovery doesn’t stop inside these Auckland museums and galleries – these organisations that house New Zealand’s precious collections are themselves located in some of Auckland’s most stunning locations, each with their own rich history.
This blog highlights a few of the taonga (treasures) found inside and outside the Museums of Auckland.
Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki & Albert Park
More than 16,000 artworks are held in Auckland Art Gallery’s collection, including major holdings of New Zealand historic, modern and contemporary art.
Among this collection are some of the works of New Zealand artist Charles Goldie (1870 – 1947). Born in Auckland and a graduate of the Académie Julian in Paris, Goldie’s incredibly detailed portraits of Māori saw him become one of the best-known figures in New Zealand art history.
In an early review of one of Goldie’s portraits, the reviewer marvels over the treatment of the hair, the tattooing and especially the cloak ‘where every little cord stands out and shows its shadow’.
Goldie’s work Harata Rewiri Tarapata (1906) is part of Auckland Art Gallery’s extensive collections.
Charles F Goldie, Harata Rewiri Tarapata, 1906, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, gift of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade, Wellington, 2002.
Even standing inside Auckland Art Gallery, the visual connections with neighbouring Albert Park are very strong. Two gallery terraces overlooking the park feature major artworks and, outside, sculptures sit at the edge of the Gallery’s boundary and in the park.
Several artworks were commissioned as part of the extensive redevelopment of Auckland Art Gallery which was completed in 2011. One of these works is situated on the Gallery’s exterior leading up to Albert Park and captures the close links between the Gallery and its surroundings.
New Zealand artist Fred Graham’s work Te Waka Toi o Tāmaki is a stone waka huia or treasure box signifying the Gallery’s role as a keeper of Auckland’s treasures.
The large puke or hill below the waka huia in Graham’s work represents Rangipuke, the original Māori pā (fortified village) on Albert Park. The wave-like forms recall the local streams Te Wai o Horotiu and Waiariki that once flowed where the Gallery, Albert Park and central city now stand.
Albert Park Auckland, During the Lantern Festival.
Fred Graham, Te Waka Toi o Tāmaki, 2011, Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki, commissioned 2011.
Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira & Auckland Domain
Opened in 1929 as a war memorial for the service and sacrifice of Aucklanders in WWI, Auckland Museum is known for the breadth of its collections which span Maori and Pacific taonga, as well as natural, social and military history, decorative arts, documentary heritage and pictorial collections.
One of the thousands of collection items on display is Te Toki a Tapiri, one of the last traditional waka taua (war canoes) from the 1800s. Carved from totara it is 25 metres long and would have carried up to 100 people. The waka is on display in the He Taonga Maori (Maori Treasures) gallery alongside more than 1000 Maori artefacts, from everyday objects and tools to a carved wharenui (meeting house) from the 1870s that visitors are able to enter.
The Museum has three floors of galleries and exhibitions and from the upper levels at the front of the building visitors can see the trees and fields of Auckland Domain.
Auckland Museum Tāmaki Paenga Hira, Illuminated at night.
Autumn in Auckland Domain
Developed in the 1840s, the Domain is Auckland’s oldest park and offers green fields, mature trees, native bush walkways and waterfalls, gardens and ponds including the stunning Domain Wintergardens with glasshouses and neoclassical statues in the courtyard, and a sculpture trail.
Standing on the front steps of Auckland Museum offers an incredible view that takes in Auckland Domain, glimpses of the city and beyond to the Waitemata Harbour and Rangitoto Island.
Fittingly, the hill that the Museum stands on and the surrounding park have a complex history of their own – from the volcano that erupted on the same site 100,000 to 150,000 years ago to Ngāti Whātua’s pa (fort) that made use of the natural features of the land (including the view of the coastline) in pre-European times and gave the hill its Māori name Pukekawa, meaning ‘hill of bitter memories’, from tribal battles that were fought there.
Today the site is known as the place where thousands of people come together each year on Anzac Day to commemorate the sacrifice and losses suffered by New Zealanders in war.
New Zealand Maritime Museum & The Waterfront
New Zealand’s unique connection to the sea and the country’s stories of discovery, exploration, immigration and sailing are the focus of the New Zealand Maritime Museum and its collections.
The galleries and exhibitions span a wide range of historic and more contemporary events, from the earliest migrations by the Polynesian peoples to New Zealand’s success on the water in the America’s Cup.
In 1995, with NZL32 Black Magic as their boat, Team New Zealand won all five races of the America’s Cup and became only the second nation outside of the United States to claim the world’s oldest sporting trophy.
Black Magic now hangs by her rigging in the New Zealand Maritime Museum’s Blue Water, Black Magic gallery.
NZL32 BLACK MAGIC. On loan from the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Gift of Team New Zealand Trust, 2003. L2009.221.1
New Zealand Maritime Museum, Hobson Wharf
New Zealand Maritime Museum’s waterfront location in Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour provides the ideal backdrop for stories about New Zealanders’ connections with the water.
The location itself is rich in maritime history. Hobson Wharf was constructed in 1937 to berth coastal ships, as an addition to Auckland’s existing busy port area established in the mid 1800s. The Viaduct area behind the Museum was once used to berth smaller fishing boats but was redeveloped as a hub for the America’s Cup events in 2000 and 2003, and is now a popular dining precinct and marina.
Visitors can enjoy stunning waterfront views, watch the activity of boats in the Viaduct Harbour or take part in one of the New Zealand Maritime Museum’s sailing experiences on a heritage vessel out on the Waitemata Harbour.
Sailing on the Waitemata, one of the two harbours that surround Auckland, provides a unique perspective on the city and emphasises how integral the ocean is to its geography and identity.
MOTAT & Te Wai Orea Western Springs
Telling stories about New Zealand’s involvement in the development of transport, technology and innovation is the theme that runs through MOTAT’s exhibitions, activities and educational programmes.
MOTAT first opened its doors in 1962 and is the largest museum of its kind in the country. Its collections feature vehicles and machinery that demonstrate the ingenuity of New Zealanders or have, in some other way, played a part in the nation’s history.
One of the most famous items in MOTAT’s collection is the NZ4115: Short Sunderland MR Mk V ‘Flying Boat’, one of only three remaining examples in the world retaining its original military configuration.
The Sunderland was donated to MOTAT in 1967 but is now on display in the museum’s Aviation Display Hall for the first time in 50 years, after MOTAT undertook extensive restoration and repainting aircraft exterior.
While serving with the Royal New Zealand Air Force No 5 Squadron during the 1950s and 60s, the Sunderland was employed in maritime reconnaissance over seven million square miles of ocean and involved in medical evacuations, maternity cases, missing vessel searches, medical supply drops and surveys of hurricane damage.
MOTAT’s location has played an important part in shaping the museum and its stories. Western Springs Park, which sits in the middle of MOTAT’s two sites, was historically a source of fresh water, food and essential materials for Māori.
Following the arrival of increasing numbers of European settlers from the 1840s onwards, a pumphouse featuring a double beam engine was built at Western Springs in 1877 to provide the growing Auckland population with a sustainable water supply. It was considered the most advanced public water supply system in the world at the time. The attractive mid-Victorian brick pumphouse and its engine was decommissioned in the early 1900s. It became the museum’s first collection item and remains the centrepiece of MOTAT. The pumphouse has been fully restored to operational level and is registered by Heritage New Zealand as a Category One historic place, in acknowledgement of its significance to the heritage of Auckland.
Due to the swampy nature of the land surrounding the lake at Western Springs it was determined not to be suitable for housing or other development and for decades had no clear purpose, being used alternately as a campground, an American military camp during WWII and for landfill.
Extensive landscaping and planting has transformed it into a beautiful park and the park’s rehabilitated native forest, lake and wetlands have become a successful breeding ground for a large variety of native and exotic waterfowl.
Stardome & Maungakiekie One Tree Hill
The Observatory & Planetarium
Fostering a love of space and sharing the science of astronomy is the focus for the Stardome observatory and planetarium.
Stardome opened in 1967 following a major fundraising campaign to establish an observatory in Auckland. As part of this campaign a substantial bequest was made for a telescope and the Edith Winstone Blackwell Zeiss telescope is still in use today.
The Zeiss telescope has been used for research but it has also played a significant role in captivating the imagination of thousands of people by enabling them to look into deep space. With the Zeiss telescope evening viewings Stardome visitors can see up to four or five deep-space objects on clear nights.
Education is a major focus for Stardome and it runs special programmes for school groups and visitors throughout the year.
Situated on the lower southern slopes of One Tree Hill or Maungakiekie, Stardome is literally surrounded by fascinating geological and human history. The hill itself is one of approximately 50 volcanic peaks that mark the Auckland landscape and a visit to the summit provides one of the best views of the city and its harbours.
In terms of its human history, Maungakiekie was the largest and most important Maori pa (fort) in pre-European times. At one point it is estimated to have had a population of up to 5000, with its inhabitants making use of its fertile volcanic soil for growing food and its steep inclines which made it relatively easy to defend from other tribes.
Today One Tree Hill Domain, which is owned by Ngā Mana Whenua o Tāmaki Makaurau Collective, is open to the public 24 hours a day, although gates are shut to vehicles overnight. It sits beside the privately-owned Cornwall Park, which is also open to the public, and collectively there are 540 acres of open spaces, farm, walking trails, trees and gardens and the summit with 360 degree views of Auckland.