Waikato Museums: From Maori taonga (treasure) to classic cars

Whether your interest is in Māori history, New Zealand’s gold and coal mining heritage, contemporary Kiwi art or the Waikato region’s geographical past, a visit to one of the Hamilton and Waikato region’s museums is sure to satisfy your curiosity as they are amongst the best of the Waikato tourist attractions.

The Waikato Museum

Waikato Museum, Hamilton

The Waikato Museum is a large and impressive regional museum, located in Hamilton’s central city and hosting more than 100 events a year and opening a new exhibition every two weeks.

The museum boasts a diversity of exhibitions, offering frequency, variety and colour: Exhibitions that tell the stories of the Waikato region sit alongside both national and international touring displays.

One of the Hamilton museum’s highlights is a 200-year-old carved waka taua (war canoe), which overlooks the Waikato River. The waka taua was gifted to Hamilton City by the late Māori queen Te Arikinui Dame Te Atairangikaahu in 1973.

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Te Awamutu Museum

Te Awamutu Museum houses the largest collection of documented Māori and European archival material in the Waikato region.

At the heart of the museum’s collections are taonga Māori and Pasifika artefacts, as well as heritage material related to Waipa’s colonial period and the New Zealand Wars.

Firth Tower Museum, Matamata, NZ

Firth Tower, Matamata

Te Awamutu Museum is also home to an early Maori carving of Uenuku. In Māori mythology, Uenuku is the god of rainbows and is particularly special to Tainui Māori.

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Firth Tower Museum

Located in Matamata, the distinctive Firth Tower Museum was built in 1882 by Josiah Clifton Firth, to provide a lookout over the countryside. It was used as his estate office and as sleeping quarters for single men.

The tower is 16 metres high and is the museum’s centrepiece. The scenic grounds also feature several heritage buildings, including a jail, post office settler’s cottage and school, along with several farm buildings.

Classics Museum Hamilton

Classics Museum

Car enthusiast Tom Andrews opened the Classics Museum so that visitors from New Zealand and overseas could get up close to his impressive collection, built over five decades. The museum is one of Hamilton’s top attractions and draws between 20,000 and 30,000 visitors from around the world each year.

Aside from its collection of 200 rare and vintage cars, the Hamilton car museum also houses the biggest collection of original car advertising signs in the world, as well as vintage petrol pumps, bonnet emblems, and a collection of micro-cars.

Mr Andrews has travelled the world to source pieces for his classic car museum. Hamilton now benefits from this extraordinary collection, which includes a 1957 Corvette, which he used to drive, and an old Chrysler which he drives in car rallies.

Visitors to the museum can also visit the on-site American-style diner decorated with early Elvis and Abba posters.

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Tirau Museum

Owned by collector Geoff Ernst, the Tirau Museum is a treasure trove of paraphernalia he has picked up throughout his life and on his travels. It houses everything from military memorabilia, tobacco and honey tins, to furniture, clocks and lamps. You’ll also find tractors, horse drawn vehicles, petrol pumps, and more.

Museums in other Waikato towns

Waitomo Caves Discovery Centre, Waitomo, NZ

Waitomo Museum of Caves

Other notable museums in the Waikato region include Raglan Museum, which features an exhibition of Maori artefacts such as wooden paddles, obsidian knife blades, pounamu tattooing chisels and bone fishhooks, not to mention a popular surfing exhibition; Morrinsville museum, which includes a 17 metre section of the Maori waka (canoe) Maungaturoto and a genuine pioneer cottage, furnished with many items from the 1800s; the Waitomo Museum of Caves, which provides an insight into early cave exploration, and the unique wildlife inhabiting the caves and several more.