Located on Queens Wharf in Wellington, New Zealand , the Wellington Museum, formerly known as the Museum of City and Sea, preserves the colonial, industrial, and maritime history of the Wellington region through a variety of exhibits emphasizing the city’s personal narratives and cultures.
Located at the southwestern tip of New Zealand’s North Island near Cook Strait, the city of Wellington serves as the capital city and the country’s second-most-populated urban area, home to more than 412,500 residents as of the 2010s. The Wellington area’s first-known inhabitants were the Kupe indigenous people, who reportedly discovered and populated the island during the 10th century. By the late 13th century, the Maori indigenous people had begun to populate the island as well, naming the area’s harbor Te Whanga-nui-a-Tara. In 1839, the first European settlers arrived in the area via a ship affiliated with the New Zealand Company. As the first planned British settlement in New Zealand, the city of Wellington was planned as a trade center and port city and named in honor of Arthur Wellesley, the Duke of Wellington. In 1865, the city was designated as the country’s capital and became the home of its Parliament, Supreme Court, and other government offices. As the country’s cultural capital, Wellington is home to a variety of cultural attractions and museums, including the Royal New Zealand Ballet, the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra, and the Te Papa Tongarewa Museum of New Zealand, and has been recognized as one of the world’s most liveable cities and hidden cultural urban gems. In 1972, the Wellington Maritime Museum was opened to the public to celebrate the city’s cultural and social history, operated by the Wellington Harbour Board. Control of the museum was transferred to the Wellington City Council in 1989, and over the next two decades, the museum underwent two expansions and name changes, rebranded as the Museum of Wellington City and Sea in 1999 and Wellington Museum in 2015.
Permanent Exhibits and Attractions
Today, the Wellington Museum is overseen and operated by the Wellington City Council, open to the public as a showcase of the country’s cultural and social history, with a focus on maritime, industry, and indigenous peoples. The museum is located within the former 1892 Bond Store historic building along the Jervois Quay area of Wellington Harbour’s waterfront. As a major cultural and tourist attraction, the museum was voted as one of the top 50 cultural institutions in the world by London’s The Times.
Four floors of exhibits are offered, spanning the history of the Wellington area from its early indigenous occupation through the present day. Three theaters are offered throughout the museum, including a giant two-story screen showing films about the city’s history and culture, a Maori-centric legends area, and a multimedia memorial commemorating the sinking of the Wahine ferry. Exhibits span 150 years of the city’s cultural history as the country’s capital, focusing on traditional culture, industrial and cultural expansion, economy, trade, and social and historical events.
The museum’s Bond Store exhibit, located at the visitor entrance, showcases the historic past of the Frederick de Jersey Clere-designed Bond Store building as a former cargo warehouse used to store goods imported into Wellington Harbour. A Frederick de Jersey Clere Room exhibit is also featured within the museum’s Attic exhibit area, focusing on the store’s English-born architect and the construction of the building, from original blueprints to the modern-day structure. A variety of historical anecdotes and cultural legends from the city’s diverse peoples are also presented within The Attic, framed with a steampunk-influenced layout and offering a number of multimedia stations and presentations.
In the Telling Tales exhibit, the evolution of the city from a colonial harbor to a modern-day arts and culture mecca is explored, while in the Maritime History exhibit, a number of the city’s most notable industrial and trade ships are highlighted as part of the Jack’s Boathouse replica area. City government and politics are showcased in the Von Kohorn Room, which recreates the former boardroom space of the Wellington Harbour Board and commemorates important civic decisions and events, such as the Wellington Harbour’s historic declaration as a nuclear-free port. The 1968 Wahine ferry disaster is also documented in the Wahine Theatre through a short film by local filmmaker Gaylene Preston, and a number of exhibits chronicle the culture, legends, and traditions of the area’s indigenous Kupe and Maori peoples, including the Nga Heke, A Millennium Ago, and Nga Hau exhibits.
Ongoing Programs and Education
A variety of tours of the Wellington Museum are offered for small groups and organizations, including curriculum-incorporated student tour groups. The Ship ‘N Chip Tour package is offered on weekday mornings, offering waterfront seafood meals for participants and exploring the Wellington Harbour area via ferry, including exploration of the nearby Somes Island ecosystem. Museum tours are offered as part of the Tales and Rails Tour, which also allows participants to ride the city’s cable car system and tour the nearby Cable Car Museum. A Cup of Curiosity Tour also explores the nearby Beehive building and provides participants with a complimentary cup of locally-brewed coffee.
PO Box 893, Wellington 6140, New Zealand, Phone: +64-44-72-89-04