New Zealand Maritime Museum - Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa

New Zealand Maritime Museum - Hui Te Ananui a Tangaroa
by Celia Walker

Voyaging waka, coastal canoe, sailing dinghy, local ferry, clinker-built whaler, high-tech racing yacht, steam-powered barge: you name it, the Maritime Museum has it – whether in model form, replica or the real thing. With collections extending beyond the museum building out to boats moored at the adjacent wharf, there is a comprehensive assemblage of all things seaworthy.

The craft of boatbuilding is what resonates with me, at its best here in the polished finish and ornamented carved hulls of some of the Pacific vessels in the Landfalls exhibition. The exceptional navigational skills using knowledge of winds and stars are also highlighted here. Traditions of small boat design and racing found at the opposite end of the museum are where my understanding of seafaring comes from, amateur sailors hand-building small dinghies in the garage – but the skilfulness of making, combining efficiency, aerodynamics and water-tightness, relate to both.

The lives of sea travellers take centre stage in New Beginnings – a creaking and rolling migrant ship interior gives a momentary hint of seasickness and other unappealing aspects of long-distance ocean travel, a good reality check for those with romantic ideas about this way of getting places. Blue Water Black Magic is the slickest exhibit – designed as a tribute to Sir Peter Blake, bringing in tales of New Zealand boating design and racing success. The smooth black form of the NZL32 America’s Cup boat dwarfs a P-class below it, the latter being the first racing dinghy for many junior sailors. The carbon twist of a keel that enables a transition to comparative light-speed for later America’s Cup contenders also hangs from a wall.

The finishing touch of a flotilla of small yachts bunched like the starting line of a Saturday morning regatta is a nice touch – a more ordinary person’s experience of sailing in New Zealand. This is where the effect of Pete Bossley’s building extension is most apparent – semi-transparent sea-coloured panels sit above clear glass panes that almost bring the water into the building.

Living history is also on offer: the museum provides harbour sailing experiences on the heritage scow Ted Ashby, vintage launch Nautilus and modern voyaging waka Aotearoa One, and on some weekends the gorgeous little steam tug SS Puke chugs around the Viaduct Harbour.

Image Credits: Celia Walker