This Auckland museum tells the story of New Zealand
Sitting on the grassed cap of a dormant volcano and overlooking the harbour, the Auckland War Memorial Museum is rightly regarded as one of the finest museums south of the Equator. As the name suggests, it’s a museum that doubles as a war memorial. With exhibits covering New Zealand’s human and natural history, it’s somewhat hard to pinpoint the museum’s primary focus but its displays of Maori and Pacific Island artefacts on the ground floor are absolutely essential viewing.
Built in 1929 from donations by Aucklanders as a memorial to local soldiers killed during WW1, this must be one of the finest Greco-Roman buildings in the Southern Hemisphere. Designed by Auckland architects Grierson, Aimer and Draffin, the building is famous for its exterior bas-reliefs depicting soldiers and the interior plasterwork with Maori motifs, both rendered in a mix of Neo-Greek and Art Deco styles. The imposing neoclassical edifice is a prominent part of the Auckland skyline.
The museum tells the story of New Zealand as a nation from its Maori origins and in the wider context of the Pacific Islands. The two collection highlights include a 25-metre long Maori war canoe from 1830 and a life-size carved Maori meeting house built in 1878 which you can explore both from the inside and outside. The Maori carving and weaving skills are represented by outstanding displays of whakairo (traditional wood and bone carvings) and raranga (traditional textiles and ropes).
The museum’s Pacific collection includes artworks and archaeological findings from across Melanesia, Micronesia and Polynesia. Covering a third of the earth, the Pacific is home to diverse cultures that speak a quarter of the world’s languages. This diversity is obvious from the multitude of masks, ceremonial poles and carvings from the entire region but primarily from the Melanesian nations of Papua New Guinea and Solomon Islands which form the core of this collection.
The museum’s natural history exhibits do a fine job explaining how New Zealand’s landmass broke away from the supercontinent that also included Australia and Antarctica. Since this separation, its unique fauna and flora have evolved in near-isolation. The museum’s upper floors showcase military displays, fulfilling the institution’s dual role as a war memorial. Auckland’s main Anzac commemorations take place at dawn on 25 April at the cenotaph in the museum’s forecourt.