As with most island nations, New Zealand has a long nautical history that continues to be written.
From the arrival of the first Polynesian people through today, much of New Zealand’s life revolves around the sea.
In Auckland, the country’s largest city, it is said that one in four people have a boat. No wonder it has the moniker “the city of sails”.
Auckland is also home to one of my favourite museums. The New Zealand Maritime Museum takes us through the nation’s nautical history with authentic boats, identified replicas, fascinating stories, interactive, hands-on exhibits, and an opportunity to get out on the water.
It is the best place to discover the country’s nautical history, from the first people to arrive only 1,000 years ago in dugout canoes to modern blue water racing.
And it’s not just for tourists. I live in the Auckland suburbs and visit the museum whenever I am on the waterfront. Especially now that entry for Aucklanders is free.
Today, we share some of our favourite exhibits in the order we pass through them in the museum. Know that there is plenty more to see.
Discover New Zealand’s early nautical history at the Maritime Museum
A variety of vessels were used to travel across the waters in the early days before Europeans arrived. There are plenty of examples of these early Polynesian vessels, both authentic boats and replicas.
In fact, I was so fascinated by the intricacy that I created a separate page to take a closer look at Polynesian outrigger canoes.
Here is one small section of the Polynesian exhibit:
Nautical history of European immigration
Through stories, interactive exhibits, and displays, we get a feel for what it would have been like to be a European immigrant from the mid-1800s to about 1960. The ocean passage was long and not easy.
One exhibit room emulates the interior of a ship, gently rocking back and forth to stimulate smooth sailing days. Sitting in here for just a few minutes makes me glad that by the time I arrived in New Zealand, there was air travel.
There is also a cabin from a more modern ship, as well as information from the captain’s point of view.
Modern nautical history
Blue Water – Black Magic
Blue Water, Black Magic shares New Zealand’s modern nautical history, highlighting the country’s yachting success. In fact, New Zealand’s maritime achievements include holding every significant blue-water sailing trophy in the world at one point in time.
NZL32 Black Magic, New Zealand’s 1995 winning America’s Cup yacht, is on display here, as is information on some of our most successful sailors.
Blue Water Black Magic is, in part, a tribute to Sir Peter Blake (1948 – 2001), New Zealand’s most successful yachtsman, an environmentalist, and a national hero.
In addition, there are hands-on opportunities to electronically design your own boat, race, and tie knots.
More indoor things to see at the Maritime Museum
- Historical whaling from the 1800s to the early 1900s. (Since 1946, New Zealand has been a world leader in whale protection)
- Kiwis and the Coast section offers a replica 1950s beach shop and bach (the name for a small holiday house on the North Island).
- Tools used for navigation.
- There are also collections of innovative smaller modern sailing vessels, outboard motors, and figureheads from the bows of ships.
- A video and painting on the 1863 wreck of the HMS Orpheus, New Zealand’s worst shipwreck.
- A collection of temporary exhibits highlighting some aspect of maritime life or nautical history.
Nautical history continues outdoors
Docked up right next to the museum’s outdoor pier are always several interesting ships. The photos below represent:
- This waka, belonging to the Polynesian Voyaging Society, had been at the Maritime Museum for a while when I took the shot, but I would guess it is gone now.
- SL Puke is New Zealand’s old’s working steamboat and was built in the late 1800s. I have been on it a few times, and offer a warning, especially if you are taking little ones, it’s a working ship and if you touch or lean up in the wrong spot, you get greasy.
- Rigging on the Breeze during a special event entitled “Dangerous Duties at Sea” held at the Maritime Museum. The highlight for my teen was getting an opportunity to climb up the rigging on the Breeze. during a special event entitled “Dangerous Duties at Sea” held at the Maritime Museum. The highlight for my teen was getting an opportunity to climb up the rigging on the Breeze.
- Ted Ashby (see more below)
Sail on the Ted Ashby or one of the other boats in the museums fleet
There are several vessels, representing different aspects of our nautical history sailing from the New Zealand Maritime Museum, but only the Ted Ashby sails regularly.
The Ted Ashby
Ted Ashby is a replica ketch-rigged deck scow built by museum staff and volunteers in 1994 that takes out passengers for a 1-hour sail. You can sit back and relax, or help hoist the sails. Either way, we loved the experience and the classic views of the city.
Weather dependent, sails take place every Tues – Sun at 11.30 am and 1.30 pm.
Heading out on the boat comes with an additional fee for everyone, including Auckland residents. Reserve your Ted Ashby tickets in advance here. It includes the museum entry (and therefore may not be a better deal for Auckland residents).
While we have not yet sailed on it, we did get on the Breeze during a special event entitled “Dangerous Duties at Sea” held at the Maritime Museum. The highlight for my teen was getting an opportunity to climb up the rigging on the Breeze.
Other boats that sail from the New Zealand Maritime Museum
- The Breeze: traditional recreation of a brigantine style ship used in New Zealand coastal and inter-Dominion trades.
- Aotearoa One: This modern reconstruction of a traditional waka used to live in Gulf Harbour. It offers special sailings through Te Toki Voyaging Trust.
- SS Puke (tug boat): On special occasions, visitors get out in the harbour on this 19th-century steam tug.
- Nautilus: A vintage motor launch.
Visiting the New Zealand Maritime Museum
- The museum is on Auckland’s Viaduct Harbour, at the corner of Quay and Hobson Streets.
- It’s open nearly every day from 10 am – 4 pm.
- Entrance to the museum is free to Auckland area residents. Pricing for non-Aucklanders is on their official website. Similarly, if you want to go on one of the boats, check the optional sailings schedule.
- Passionate volunteers lead group tours on Saturdays and Sundays at 10:30 am. (Not currently available)
- The museum is the check-in location for the Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari and the Explore groups America’s Cup Boat racing. If you are interested in either of these events, you can often find great deals at Bookme. Check for America’s Cup Boat Racing discounts OR Auckland Whale and Dolphin Safari.
- The Maritime is one of the best museums in Auckland.
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These are our go-to companies when we travel. We believe this list to be the best in each category. You can’t go wrong using them on your trip too.
- Flights: we use Expedia for the best and cheapest flight options.
- Accommodations: we use Booking.com (hotels) or BookABatch (self-contained).
- Cars (gas or electric): we use RentalCars to search for deals and dealer ratings.
- Campervans or Motorhomes: we use Campstar where Albom Adventures readers get a 3% discount
- Activity discounts: we check Bookme.com for discounts of up to 70% on activities.
- Private guides: we love the private guides at Tours by Locals
- Travel Insurance: our go-to is World Nomads*.
Check out our travel resources page for more companies that we use when you travel.
*World Nomads provides travel insurance for travellers in over 100 countries. As an affiliate, we receive a fee when you get a quote from World Nomads using this link. We do not represent World Nomads. This is information only and not a recommendation to buy travel insurance.
Will you visit the Maritime Museum? Have you sailed on the Ted Ashby?
More from Auckland you might also like … starting with these 75 free and nearly free things to do in the city
Fascinating looking museum. I’m from Nova Scotia and we have a great maritime museum in Halifax, which includes an awesome Titanic exhibit.
I keep hearing about that Halifax Maritime Museum. Now it is on my bucket list.
Those sock are VERY red.
I too like these topical museums. Was there anything showing nautical history that wasn’t colonial in nature. ie pre-colonial?
Those are the actual red socks.
The nautical history starts with the first people to come to New Zealand. I touched up on it in the first photo. There is plenty at the museum.
Julie K Pick
This is such a fascinating museum! All of the little details like the lucky red socks, make it even more special.
Great picture of the suitcases! I have been to various maritime sites in Nova Scotia, Canada when I was young and I’ve sailed on a replica Viking knarr out in Newfoundland to search for icebergs (we found one!), but it’s been a while since I’ve been near the sea.
Wow. I would love to do that. A Viking ship, Newfoundland, and icebergs, what a magical combination.
Interesting museum with even more interesting artifacts! Island nations do have a strong nautical history and its always wonderful to read about it.
Sean @ His and Her Hobbies
Maritime museums are always a lot of fun. We went to the one in Halifax a few years ago and loved it. The highlight there was artifacts that were retrieved from the ocean surface from the Titanic.
Sean at His and Her Hobbies
That would be very cool to see artifacts from the Titanic. I will have to remember that should I ever get to that part of Canada.
Paul F. Pietrangelo
Once again I loved your photos. Now I know where I left my red socks. Ha,ha,ha. Really, I do have a red pair of socks, & yellow & green & blue. I love your adventures Rhonda. Keep going giving us some more of them. See ya.
C. Lee McKenzie
What a great place to visit. I can see a whole day if you include a sailboat trip.
It really depends which boat you pick. If I remember correctly, the Ted Ashby was only an hour. Plus it takes a few hours to see all the exhibits.
Brilliant…I love museums so interesting and educational too 🙂
Have a nauticaltastic day 🙂
Elen @ Elen G
Imagine the stories that go with all those pieces of luggage! Love the kiwi boats.
Funny you should say that, directly across from the luggage on the wall our cards. Each visitor is encouraged to take one, which will follow the story of one immigrant. At the end of the exhibit you can learn of their fate.
One fun thing about traveling is the chance to see small boat designs. I’ve always enjoy seeing the (sometimes very) different approaches that cultures took to essentially the same problem of near shore exploration and fishing.
I love all things nautical, but you already know that. I would love to visit this museum. A. Lot.
Have a fabulous day. 🙂
I did know that, I even threw in the last question just for you, so you wouldn’t see my biased towards all things with sails.
That looks like a great museum. A big nautical museum in my hometown Bergen, Norway too. I particulary like the personal touch to them – when they bring the historical persons back to life – and seems they have done that on yours. Good one:-)
I don’t think we’ve visited the Maritime Museum in Bergen, as we went to one in Oslo only a few days earlier. It was very different then New Zealand as it was based around Viking ships.
I love museums! That picture of all of the suitcases stacked up like that is a great shot.
I’m not a boat person. Because I can’t swim well, I’m afraid of water.
I enjoy museums that give insight into the personal side, like the mock up of the inside of the ship. Fascinating to imagine what it was like for the people there.
It is a really cool exhibit. In several of the bunks, they show continues video to give you a feel of what you would really be like to be there. Each of those bunks held a family, not just one person.
Ellen @ The Cynical Sailor
Yet another place we never visited when we lived in NZ! I always wanted to go, but for some reason never made it there which is crazy as I only lived a few blocks away. Fortunately, I can visit it online through your post 🙂
I have to admit, I was surprised to read this. You and Scott are boaties, this seems like such a natural for you. Plus, as Aucklanders, it was free. Maybe when you get back here we can go together. I am still giggling at the idea that you never visited.
We are just back from New Zealand and I just loved it! Auckland is a gorgeous city but we didn’t have enough time to visit any museums, guess we have to go back!!
Museums show us fascinating things. Thanks for sharing these little treasures
This is one of my favorites, and it seems to be somewhat different than other Maritime Museum we have visited around the world, jazz this one has such a strong Polynesian influence.
love the lucky red socks!
Hi Rhona – I didn’t know anything about Sir Peter Blake, but popped over to Wiki, I’m sure I knew his name – but not the story … how very sad … but I’m glad his memory is being kept alive through the Blake Trust. Black Magic … must be magical to see so close … and I love the look of the rest of the museum .. and especially your first photo .. gorgeous shots for us to look at and learn from …cheers Hilary
There are many things named after him, a big yacht race is the one that pops into my head. As for Black Magic, there is a video on the Maritime Museum’s webpage showing how they got it in up there. That was part of the magic too.
A fun and interesting post, Rhonda, but I’m sad to learn that Sir Peter Blake’s life was cut short by pirates. That’s tragic. I’d love that museum, though. Thanks for the tour.
It was tragic. He was a true hero and sportsman. It was just before we moved to New Zealand. I am sure the nation cried.
Looks like a cool museum.
gorgeous ships! and thanks for all the added info and maps – i’ll be all set (must check out that k-road!)
happy a to z-ing!
I love the shot of the suitcases – and the lucky socks made me smile!
Alex J. Cavanaugh
I would enjoy that museum. Like the lucky socks.
I have taken many people here, and everyone seems to like it. Maybe one day you will get to New Zealand and I will bring you here as well.