MOTAT Auckland is New Zealand’s Museum of Transport and Technology, a shining example of Kiwi ingenuity. It’s a family-friendly museum with interesting technological and aviation displays that offer fascinating insights through the 150+ years of NZ history. For kids, MOTAT offers hands-on, interactive displays that target multiple levels of understanding, making it suitable for all ages.
Younger children have fun while discovering relationships and reactions, while older children can get in-depth knowledge of various technological advances. Adults can follow the transformation of technology even within our own lifetime, albeit a bit surreal when I saw items that I used as a child on display.
- Auckland’s Historic Pump House
- MOTAT Auckland: Transport and Technology Museum
- MOTAT Auckland: Historic Village
- MOTAT 2: Aviation Hall
- MOTAT Live Day
- MOTAT Tram
- MOTAT Night Events
- Visiting MOTAT, the Museum of Transport and Technology
Auckland’s Historic Pump House
This original Western Springs pump house was the first reliable source of water for the city of Auckland. On special days, they fire up the steam boiler and run the engines. It is the first pump house in New Zealand to receive a UNESCO award.
MOTAT Auckland: Transport and Technology Museum
The main section of MOTAT focuses on transportation and technology. Hands-on exhibits foster learning, while kids think they are just having fun. The museum has both indoor and outdoor sections. It is located in several buildings spread out around the complex, so keep the weather in mind when you dress for the day.
Many of the exhibits are fixed and there for years, while others like the special Da Vinci Machines display are on tour for a limited time.
MOTAT Auckland: Historic Village
Wandering through the historic village, I always feel like I have entered a different era. With a church, schoolhouse, jail, and houses that we can enter, it is a historic snapshot of Victorian life in an early European settlement in New Zealand. Be sure to take time to read the signage, especially in the schoolhouse. Last time we visited there were three rules up on the chalkboard:
- Do not speak in Maori!
- Do not write with your left hand!
- Speak only when spoken to!
The historic village fits into MOTAT as it represents the technology of the pre-electric time period.
MOTAT 2: Aviation Hall
MOTAT Aviation Hall is about 2.5 km from the main museum, and worth a visit. The entry fee includes both museums and the Western Springs tram that travels between the two.
The aviation display hall brings history alive, often through recorded stories from the actual pilots. The planes are the real thing, refurbished to the point that most can fly. A few have been put on display to allow us to see their inner workings as well as their exterior.
The aviation display hall is educational and first class. Fighter planes, commercial planes, and dioramas built to scale all complimented by passionate volunteers who share stories and answer questions. There is even an area where New Zealanders can look up their family members to learn more about how they served the country.
A few of the highlights include:
• Tiger Moth biplane
Interestingly, the wire controls used for steering the Tiger Moth biplane hanging near the entrance, use the same method that was developed by the Wright Brothers. The specific plane is yellow as that colour represents training missions. New Zealand pilots were responsible for training most of the pilots fighting for the Commonwealth.
• Lancaster Bombers
Next, we looked at one of the world’s few remaining Lancaster Bombers, a plane famous for “striking hard and fast.” A reliable machine with a reputation for achieving its target. It is bigger and faster than the comparable US B-17. The Lancaster was flown at night and had a groundbreaking radar system. Like many planes on display here, it took 40-50,000 man-hours to restore.
• Solent Class Mark IV Flying Boats
Below is one of only three Solent Class Mark IV Flying Boats (no wheels) remaining in the world. A second one is being refurbished in the work area behind this portion of the museum. These Flying Boats were a commercial plane used to cross the Tasman Sea.
It’s not just the planes, it’s the people that make this visit so unique. In the indoor photo of the flying boat, the two men in the foreground are Wally Halliwell and Alan Taylor, both RNZAF bomber veterans from World War II.
The working exhibits are out back. Here we found a second Solent Class Mark IV Flying Boat. Norm McKelvie, the last surviving Lancaster squadron commander is on the team restoring this airframe.
MOTAT Live Day
The third Sunday of most months is MOTAT Live day at both museum locations.
• Live Day Activities at the MOTAT Aviation Hall
Aside from enjoying the aircraft normally on display, we also had Live Day opportunities to ride on a steam train, examine and ride on a military armoured personnel carrier (APC), and peek into the restoration workshops where volunteers restore a wide variety of planes to their original appearance. Restoration viewing is done from outside the hangar, which is generally closed (open for live days and other special events).
• Live Day Activities at the Main MOTAT Museum
We took the tram to the main museum. Some of the live day activities include a horse and carriage ride, candy making demonstration, Penny Farthing rider, printing press workshop demonstrations, road transport and tram workshops, a blacksmith working in the forge, and the pump house was in operation.
A tram takes visitors between MOTAT’s two locations. It also stops at the Auckland Zoo. On MOTAT Live Day they bring out the double-decker ‘Big Ben’ tram, as well as another heritage tram (weather dependent). We rode on both, one in each direction.
MOTAT Night Events
MOTAT has evening events throughout the year. Some on holidays, others just for fun.
• MOTAT Halloween
An annual event loaded with frightful fun, the museum comes to life in a new way. While it is mostly a family-friendly event, there is generally one building restricted to 18+. Each year has a different theme. Two of my favourites were the Danse Macabre and the A Twisted Victorian Tale.
• MOTAT Christmas Lights
Leading up to Christmas, MOTAT has an annual evening Christmas lights display, with proceeds going to a children’s charity. It’s a super popular event and my best advice is to get there early.
• Night Lights
The seven stars of Matariki are the inspiration behind Night Lights, a bright and colourful annual event at MOTAT Auckland. Matariki is the Māori name for the cluster of stars also known as the Pleiades. The seven stars of Matariki rise in late May or early June, marking the start of the Maori New Year. “Night Lights” is more than just a New Year’s celebration; it’s also a recognition of New Zealand, its artists, and their creativity.
Visiting MOTAT, the Museum of Transport and Technology
- The main MOTAT museum is located at 805 Great North Road in Auckland. The MOTAT Aviation Display Hall is about 2.5 km away on Meola Rd. The combination creates one of Auckland’s best museums.
- They both sit on the edge of the Western Springs Lakeside Park in Auckland New Zealand.
- The Western Springs tram transports visitors between the two locations.
- MOTAT parking is generally easier at the Aviation Hall.
- MOTAT is a stop on the Auckland Hop-On Hop-Off Bus. If you are visiting Auckland without your own vehicle, it is a great way to get to the museum and many other sites.
- MOTAT hours: Open every day from 10 am – 5 pm (excluding Christmas Day)
- There is a cafe offering a nice variety including gluten-free, vegetarian selections, and a decent cup of coffee.
- On Wednesday mornings (at the Aviation Hall), one can book to meet and chat with one of the veteran pilots or aviation engineers from actual missions.
- More information on MOTAT’s official website.
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Have you been to MOTAT Auckland? Do you prefer interactive or visual museums?
Disclaimer: I was a guest of MOTAT for all events above. However, the opinions expressed here are strictly my own.