You might have searched the internet and found a few key museum experiences to tick off such as Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington, The Auckland Art Gallery, Auckland Museum and a couple in the South Island such as The Christchurch Art Gallery and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery.
New Zealand is a big place and there are many smaller museums and art and culturally focused attractions that you could add to your list while travelling the country.

Here are some we have visited and highly recommend including in your New Zealand itinerary.

Hundertwasser Art Centre, Whangarei

The Hundertwasser Art Centre in Whangarei is a mesmerizing blend of art, architecture, and environmental consciousness, offering a unique and immersive experience for visitors. Designed by the visionary Austrian artist Friedensreich Hundertwasser, this vibrant cultural hub is a testament to his belief in the harmonious integration of humanity with nature. With its undulating lines, bright colors, and organic forms, the building itself is a masterpiece, inviting exploration and contemplation. Inside, visitors are treated to a diverse array of exhibitions showcasing Hundertwasser’s eclectic works. 

While there, wander the rooftop garden, the waterfront and visit the included Wairau Maori Art GalleryWhangarei Art MuseumQuarry Arts Centre and Hihiaua Cultural Centre. That is worth a day, if not two and we haven’t talked about gardens, clock museum or the Camera Obscura.
If open – a visit to Megan Dickinson Gallery is also a great place to find contemporary local art for purchase.

Whangarei is two hours north of Auckland. While the Hundertwasser Centre can be done in a day with us – we recommend 2 days one night, and include a visit out to the Whangarei Heads or Mangawhai to add some beach to your cultural adventure.

The Kauri Museum

The Kauri Museum, Matakohe

This fabulous museum tells the story of our Kauri tree.
“Celebrating everything to do with kauri and the people of northern New Zealand/Aotearoa, the Museum has stories of the Māori of the north eastern Kaipara, of European pioneers, of foresters and sawmillers, gum diggers and farmers, and of business people, fishers and the families who have made this area their home.”
The museum is located around two hours north of Auckland on the way to either Whangarei or the Hokianga area at the top of the Kaipara Harbour. It is a must see for those interested in our history. Just being in the room full of beautiful Kauri gum and is reward all its own, let alone standing next to the incredible scale of some of these trees.  

Grab a bite at the cafe across the road before heading off further north.

Auckland War Memorial Museum

Located in the Domain, between the city and Newmarket, Auckland Museum sits high atop its hill overlooking the Waitemata Harbour. Originally designed as a War Memorial Museum and opened in 1929 it is one of New Zealand’s finest heritage buildings. With several recent archutectural additions, Auckland Museum now proudly holds its place among the “Best of” lists.
Discover our Maori and Pacific heritage via an amazing array of objects including a full scale Pataka (food storage house), Whare Nui (rememeber to take your shoes off) and Maori war canoe (Waka Taua). 
If you are with a group – book ahead for the Aotearoa Uncovered Tour, otherwise don’t miss the regular cultural performances.
There is a great gift shop here too.

Tawhiti Museum, Hawera

Tawhiti Museum, Hawera

This fabulous museum in Hawera is a must see if you are on a North Island loop and visiting the Taranaki region. 
Nigel Ogle started the museum in 1975, and his vision, skill and craftsmanship has turned this regional history museum into a unique experience focused on the region, its European colonisation and ensuing conflict with Maori. The unique aspect of this museum are the amazing dioramas created by Nigel that will leave you speechless.
The museum comprises several different experiences, a cafe. Parking is available.

Check the website for current opening hours when you are planning your visit.


Good Bones exhibition 2024, The Dowse, Artist Michele Beevors

The Dowse Art Museum

The Dowse is only a fifteen minute drive from downtown Wellington, in Lower Hutt. Unique in that it is one of the few “Art Museums” in New Zealand and has its own collection of New Zealand ceramcis and art.
We love visiting here when on tour in Wellington. It always offers a unique blend of craft, art and contemporary jewellery over two floors and several galleries. Another unique aspect is the carved storehouse Nuku Tewhatewha (Pataka Whakairo) commissioned in 1856.
With adjoining cafe for great coffee, a gift shop with work by local makers and close to the Petone Settlers Museum this is definitley worth your time.

Check out what is on before you visit The Dowse. 

Len Lye Centre and Govett Brewster Art Gallery

Len Lye Centre / Govett Brewster Art Gallery, New Plymouth

The Govett-Brewster Art Gallery, established in 1970, is New Zealand’s first contemporary art museum. It showcases a diverse range of contemporary artworks. Founded by a benefactor with foresight, Monica Brewster, the excellent adjoining cafe bears her name.

The Len Lye Centre, opened in 2015, is dedicated to the work of Len Lye, featuring a comprehensive collection of his kinetic sculptures, films, and drawings. Lye’s innovative approach to art, characterized by movement, light, and sound, is celebrated through interactive displays and immersive experiences, offering visitors a glimpse into his groundbreaking contributions to modern art.

Best architecture for selfies!

Render of the new Sarjeant Gallery courtesy of the Gallery

The Sarjeant Gallery, Whanganui

As of May 2024 the restored Sarjeant may be some months away from opening but has already made major lists of top cultural attractions in the world in 2024. 
The original Sarjeant Gallery is the heart of Whanganui’s thriving art scene. Opened in 1919 with a generous founding collection, now numbering over 8000 works, this home of art on the hill will be an international art destination come November 2024.
Spend a few days here, exploring Whanganui, its Modernist architecture, regional museum, galleries, studios and Glassworks as well as its riverside charm. If you are scheduling a visit in March – consider planning around the annual Open Studio weekends.

Yet to be scheduled – but check the website for opening in late 2024.

The Suter Gallery, Nelson

The Suter, Nelson

The Suter Art Gallery Te Aratoi o Whakatū, commonly known as The Suter. It has been a cornerstone of Nelson’s cultural landscape since its establishment in 1899. 
Like many a city gallery, The Suter is a place to centre yourself before exploring the Nelson and Tasman regions. With a cafe that looks across an inner city park and lake, a rich collection and a central location I find a visit here is always a rewarding experience.

Nelson is a hotbed of art, ceramics, glass and contemporary jewellery. Spend a few days exploring the region, and don’t miss The Hidden Sculpture Garden in Tapawera.


Ravenscar House Museum, Christchurch

Ravenscar House Museum, Christchurch

This uniquely designed and award winning architectural gem is a must see when you are in Christchurch. I recommend taking the tour. 
The house museum recreates the earthquake destroyed interior of a local collectors home in a contemporary concrete pavillion with original art and craft. Small, with orginal furniture, artwork, garden and library – this an hour of your time well rewarded.

The House Museum is a reimagining of Jim and Susan Wakefields’ stunning home in the Christchurch coastal suburb of Scarborough, which was damaged beyond repair in the February 2011 earthquake.

Visit the website and book a tour. 

Nearby is The Art Centre, where you can visit The Central GalleryFrances Nation for contemporary locally made homewares. 

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

Toi Tu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin

The museum showcases the story of Dunedin’s early settlers, from the indigenous Māori to the European immigrants who arrived in the 19th century, shaping the city’s identity and development. Through a variety of exhibitions, artifacts, multimedia displays, and interactive experiences, visitors can explore the struggles, triumphs, and everyday lives of the people who made Dunedin their home.

From the rugged landscapes of Otago to the bustling streets of the city, the museum provides insight into the diverse communities that have contributed to Dunedin’s cultural mosaic. Whether you’re interested in history, anthropology, or simply want to delve into the past, the Otago Settlers Museum offers a fascinating glimpse into the heritage of this vibrant New Zealand city. 

Visit on a Saturday morning and you will enjoy the Farmers Market at the nearby and visually stunning Railway Station, and don’t miss the famous, authentic and harmonious Chinese Garden.

Eastern Southland Museum, Gore

Eastern Southland Gallery, Gore

Gore, New Zealand’s country music capital, and home to one of our most interesting small art museums. An hour from Invercargill and 1.5 hours from Dunedin and The Eastern Southland Museum is home to several small donated collections. With contemporary and modern New Zealand works, a series of rotating temporary shows, and all in one of New Zealand’s original Carnegie Library buildings. 
Visit here and catch Director Jim Geddes for a chat, and if open, venture across the road to his other project, the Hokonui Moonshine Museum (Currently under renovation.). Jim is a great character and has several restoration and art projects under way in the town, turning Gore into a significant art destination in the future. 

Visit the website for current exhibitions and say hi to Jim from me.

Visit Te Papa

Te Papa Tongarewa, Wellington

Our national museum is located on the waterfront in Wellington. Hosting a wide variety of exhibits and special shows, discover everything in a hands on way from earthquakes to our war stories. 
Art is located on level four and five. Te Papa holds the national art collection, rivaled only in scale by Auckland Art Gallery. 
When we last visited in February 2024 there were several exhibitions on including painting, ceramcis, craft and works from New Zealand’s art history. All telling their own stories of “Our Place”.

The website also holds a trove of information, and does get busy, especially in cruise season.

Use the handy map below for a more comprehensive (but not 100% guaranteed) location of Aotearoa New Zealand’s galleries and museums.

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