Wellington’s Maritime Museum

Playing tour guide to visitors to our fair city allows me to indulge in one of my many passions – lurking about in museums.

Whilst its name may be a mouthful, the Museum of Wellington City and Sea provides three levels of displays that can only be described as an “eyeful”. Located in the former Bond Store on Jervois Quay the museum performs a dual role – a centre for Wellington city’s history and a repository of its maritime history.

The building itself is a relic of our past, being the second oldest on the Wellington waterfront. Thoroughly refurbished and strengthened against earthquakes, the Bond Store has served as a warehouse for bonded goods and as headquarters for the Wellington Harbour Board.

Visitors are given a cheery greeting followed by “… and where are you from?” as they walk through the main entrance. Not only does this provide the opportunity to enhance the visitor’s experience, but also allows the staff to determine the extent of the museum’s market.

Your second greeting is from the museum’s resident rat as you enter the museum proper, happily waved on its way with a flick of the tail by city’s most unsuccessful hunter – the museum cat.

The display of events from our quirky history is definitely worth a look – segregated bathing at Freyberg Pool for men and women – who’d have thought!

The main staircase is home to regular screenings of short movies on such topics as geology and social history. The screen is three storeys high, so it can give a sense of vertigo for some people if viewed too closely. The best location for viewing is from the first floor landing. Check with the greeters as to topics and screening times so that you can pop back to the staircase to catch a screening.

Those of us who can remember Bill Toft and Peter Empen reading the news in the days of the NZBC will get that peculiar feeling in our stomachs when we hear the words “Tragedy today in Wellington Harbour” echo down the decades. The museum is featuring a heart-stopping 12 minute movie by Gaylene Preston on the sinking of the inter-island ferry Wahine in Wellington Harbour on the 10th of April 1968. Moving footage of the stricken ferry and its bedraggled passengers as they struggled ashore while Cyclone Giselle raged can be seen in a special theatrette. Fifty one of the 730-odd passengers lost their lives as Wellington was battered by winds of up to 275 km/h, and people ashore could only watch with horror as the ferry rolled onto its side and sank off the Miramar Peninsula.

Set some time aside to watch the holographic exhibit on the top floor for a bit of lighter relief after remembering the Wahine tragedy.

A strong point of the Museum of Wellington City and Sea is the restoration of original material such as the Harbour Board’s boardroom and the captain’s cabin from the Te Anau which was built in 1879. There’s plenty of interactive stuff for the kids too – from lifting weights to triggering bird calls.

Entry is free, so pop a “fiver” or two in the donation box so that the supporters can continue their excellent work.

And, as you leave, walk over to the Plimmer’s Ark restoration feature on the far side of the Events Centre – but more on that in a later posting.

3 Responses to “Wellington’s Maritime Museum”

  1. Kim Young says:

    Kia ora
    I enjoyed reading your review. You are not alone in thinking that the Museum’s full name is a mouthful and, as we listen to our visitors, we have shortened it. For daily usage – in print, web etc – please refer to us as: Museum of Wellington. This is inline with how other museums are known (ie ‘TePapa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand’ is known as ‘Te Papa’). Our full/legal name is still Museum of Wellington City & Sea.
    Can I also ask you to change the title of your review. Many people still confuse the old Maritime Museum with the current Museum. Wellington’s maritime history remains an important part of the Museum, alongside Wellingtons social and cultural history.
    Please contact me if you have any questions.
    Kind regards, Kim

  2. John Dacey says:

    do you have any imfermation on the three marsted schooner CORLA built in holland in 1903 sailed wellington to hokatika in the gold rush days named the WHANGANUI crewed by my great granfather Harry Buck.

    Many thanks John

  3. David Hardgrave says:

    Peter Empen. I remember him well not only as an excellent broadcaster but a fine Church organist. I have asked many people if they know what happened to him. Any information (good or Bad) would be appreciated.
    David Hardgrave

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