World famous in New Zealand: Tawhiti Museum, Hawera
This private museum of local South Taranaki history has a touch of Disney to it.
WHERE/WHAT IS IT?
A personal passion and a public delight, this is a private museum of local South Taranaki history with a Disneyland touch, located 4km from Hawera.
Owner/artist/enthusiast Nigel Ogle is the driving force behind and creator of this collection of life-size displays and intricate small-scale dioramas that combine history and art with a skill that fascinates and amazes in equal measure.
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If not for the history, then for the jokes. Ogle was an art teacher and knows how to keep youngsters — and adults — interested, so there's plenty of humour in this converted cheese factory, especially in the life-size scenes of domestic and rural life featuring bawling babies and mischievous kids.
In the minutely-detailed historical dioramas, accurately reproduced local landscapes are the backdrop to characters like whaler Dicky Barrett, who lived in a cave on Motoroa Island. There are other whalers too, settlers, soldiers and Maori from almost 200 years ago, frozen in moments of drama or daily life.
In the separate Traders and Whalers, Weta Workshops has helped Ogle create a Disneyland-type ride through history. Literally: sitting in a boat, you'll glide through the dark to a Maori village, witness a barter of flax for muskets, duck a battle at a pa where cannons fire across the bow. Water drips, moreporks and seagulls call, people laugh and shout, there are glow-worms and a wild pig, ferns and trees. It's 4D history, and it's a delight.
There's also an extensive collection of farm machinery, horse-drawn and engine-powered, and an outside Bush Railway in a relic from the region's logging past that runs through the bush on reclaimed tracks. But it's the models that are the real marvel, giving literal meaning to the label on Ogle's studio: Body Shop.
Even if Mr Badger's Cafe is crowded, don't share the table by the window — or if you do, don't expect much conversation from the person already seated there. But do enjoy the Wind in the Willows theme.
ON THE WAY/NEAR
Don't miss Kevin Wasley's Elvis Presley Memorial Room in nearby Hawera, the result of a lifetime's obsession with the King. Appropriately dressed right down to the sideburns, KD will guide you around his extensive private collection:elvismuseum.co.nz.
Climb the Hawera Water Tower — 200-plus spiral steps for a 360 view that's dominated by Mt Taranaki.
Even if it's not rhododendron time, Puketarata Gardens are well worth a visit: lush, well-tended and always something to admire: puketaratagarden.co.nz.
Adults $15, accompanied children $5 for the museum, and the same again for the Traders and Whalers ride. The museum's opening times are seasonal: Sundays only through winter.
The bush railway is $6 and $3, and runs on specified Sundays. For all opening times check the website: tawhitimuseum.co.nz
BEST TIME TO GO
The advantage here is that most of the attraction is inside, so the weather doesn't matter. Make sure to arrange to be there for lunch at Mr Badger's Cafe (that's him sitting too close to the fire).