New Zealand’s love affair with the motor car endured almost as long as the American one. The country never had cross-continental -highways along which one could drive all day. Instead, motor vehicles first appealed to the country dweller who needed transport across fields, rivers, stones and mud.
Well-named “service cars” carried passengers and postbags from town to town before the First World War, long before private cars became common. As roads improved, some service cars had extended bodies and even stretched chassis, becoming almost bus-like. Big American V8s became popular in the 1920s and 1930s, and served through the Second World War and up to the 1950s when full-size buses became practicable.
New Zealanders accepted the private car’s offer of freedom, privacy, convenience and independence just as eagerly as the Americans, and the country ranked high, with Australia and the US, in having almost one car registered per adult citizen. By an accident of history, most Kiwi cars for most of the twentieth century came from Britain. Also, for many decades, tight import controls and a thrifty mindset of make-do-and-mend kept older cars maintained and running. Astonished visitors described New Zealand’s streets as a time-warp, a trip down memory lane, and a mobile motor museum.
Museums provide one lasting legacy of the time before cheap—and reliable--Japanese imports revolutionised our vehicle fleet. As you travel, you’ll find a number of motor museums, some with aircraft and even one with a serviceable Lancaster bomber.
Ferrymead Heritage Park in Christchurch connects an Edwardian township and its separate large museum buildings by running heritage trams between them. The motor transport display covers a century or more.
The Naseby Motoring Museum in Central Otago displays motoring memorabilia, ephemera, manuals, photographs, technology, and tools. Great coffee lies close to hand.
Visit the Northland Firehouse Museum at Okaihau, Bay of Islands, to see fire engines of almost uninsurable value, and uniforms & helmets from around the world.
Geraldine’s Vintage Transport Museum on Talbot Street, one kilometre south of the town's Post Office, contains amongst much else John Britten's campervan, a Harley Davidson hearse and an original Spartan biplane.
Warbirds & Wheels at Wanaka, 10 km down the Cromwell road, showcases NZ’s finest collection of classic cars and wartime aircraft, plus a 1950s retro diner (with fresh food).
Pete’s Pioneer and Transport Museum in Kerikeri, Bay of Islands, will not only show you vintage and classic cars to recapture pioneer history, but will rent you one to arrive in style in.
The Wanaka Transport & Toy Museum over many years has built up one of the largest private collections in the world. Four major buildings house over 600 vehicles, 12 aircraft, and 30,000 toys.
ECMOT, the East Coast Museum of Technology in the old dairy factory at Makaraka, Gisborne, boggles the mind with not just vehicles, but fire and emergency vehicles, military vehicles, stationary engines, full size locomotives, a model railway club, trucks, cars, motorcycles, bicycles and horse drawn carriages, and two complete telephone exchanges.
TATATM (Taranaki Aviation Transport and Technology Museum), half-way between New Plymouth and Inglewood on State Highway 3, keeps heritage stuff from a rich dairy farming area, including computers that show 24 lines of 80 green characters, and cellphones the weight and size of a brick. Children will not believe that you and I once needed bank loans to buy such things.
For completeness, we mention that the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin (art, fashion, domestic life and transport) after redevelopment at enormous cost will open in early 2013.
Higgins Park in Wakefield, Nelson, can’t be called the home of a single museum: there’s half a dozen of them.
- The Army Group Centre will re-enact a tank battle anywhere in the country with refurbished tanks
- The Historic Transport Museum Trust makes it all happen
- The Loggers Association will show how to move tonnes of timber, safely
- The Nelson Vintage Engine & Machinery Club Inc refurbishes tractors and runs the Rural Life museum
- The Rover Car Club Nelson Inc knows congenial company when it sees it. “Rover” is a famous British make of motor car.
- The Saw Mill will rip through a tonne of timber and turn it into ‘four by two’ (100 x 50) in no time.
Yaldhurst Museum 15 minutes from Christchurch on the Main West Road, lines up more than 150 vehicles from horse and buggy days, through classic cars, to fire engines, all in the grounds of the original homestead of 1876. Your surprise bonus at Yaldhurst: printing presses.
The World of WearableArt™ and Classic Cars Museum near Nelson airport celebrates two distinctly different passions. See a world class collection of classic cars alongside incredible wearable works of art from all around the globe.
Truck Museum - H W Richardson Group -- An Invercargill treasure, privately owned, with an international reputation and with admission by appointment only, the Truck Museum houses 210 trucks and 120 petrol bowsers at last count.
Allow enough time for more than a whirlwind tour. You’ll want to spend a day at any of these museums--perhaps several days at Ferrymead and MOTAT, the largest ones. You can easily lose track of time, surrounded by sixteen hectares of transport and technology.
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