The present building of the Auckland War Memorial Museum was opened in 1929 and a very considerable addition was completed in 1960. The museum displays cover the general fields of zoology, botany, and ethnology, with representative collections of ceramics and period furniture. There is a large section devoted to the display of material emanating from the two world wars. Highlights are the display of Maori material, Pacific canoes, and a planetarium. There are large research collections, particularly strong sections being concerned with Maori and Pacific ethnology, mollusca, birds, moa bones, and plants. The Dominion Museum, Wellington, is housed in a large, comparatively modern building shared with the National Art Gallery. Specialist displays include Maori and Pacific ethnology, a reconstruction of a moa, fish casts, and a section devoted to relics of Captain James Cook. Of special note in the research collections are those of mollusca, insects, fishes, moa bones, whales, plants, and old firearms.
The Canterbury Museum, Christchurch, has a large addition (opened in 1959) carefully grafted on to the original building. Two major displays are unique in New Zealand. The bird hall consists of diorama studies of New Zealand birds mounted in natural surroundings, with the cases all lit internally. The historical section is built around a reconstructed early Christchurch street with fully furnished shops and a cob house. Displays of period costume and furniture provide the fullest three-dimensional representation of colonial history. A planetarium is also in operation. Research collections of special note are those of birds, including skeletons and subfossil bones, terrestrial invertebrates, and, in ethnology, the well-documented “moa hunter” material.
Otago Museum, Dunedin, has an additional number of halls finished and recently opened to the public. Displays of special note are those on Maori ethnology, especially that relating to Otago, Greek pottery and sculpture, fish skeletons, and the projected and partly completed Hall of Marine Life. Research collections are particularly rich in Maori ethnology and Otago natural history. Southland Museum, Invercargill, is in the process of reorganising its displays. The building is modern (opened in 1942) and houses collections especially pertaining to Southland. Napier Museum, combined with the art gallery, has been rebuilt and periodically enlarged since the earthquake of 1931. Successive directors have maintained a high standard in the use of modern techniques in display. The museum concentrates largely upon local history, ethnology, and natural history, one noteworthy item on display being an old Napier-Taupo passenger coach.
Taranaki Museum in New Plymouth is housed in a new building, opened in 1960. Displays concentrate upon the history of Taranaki and local Maori artefacts. The present building of the Wanganui Museum dates from 1928, although a previous building was opened in 1895. The museum has extensive collections in ethnology and natural history, although in more recent years relatively greater effort has been concentrated on the fields of local Maori and Pakeha history. Nelson has two museums, one maintained by the Nelson Institute concentrating upon the ethnology and history of Nelson, the other, supported by Cawthron Institute, being devoted largely to natural resources and agriculture in the province. Gisborne Museum is also combined with an art gallery. The newly opened Stewart Island Museum concentrates upon the natural history and human history of Stewart Island.
Numerous small museums with a historic basis have developed in New Zealand and there is every indication that the number will increase slowly but steadily. Some of these museums are associated with historic houses. Outstanding are Waitangi Treaty House, Pompallier House, and the historic private family home, The Elms, Tauranga. Others are concerned with the history of a restricted area. The largest of these is the museum of the Otago Early Settlers' Association in Dunedin, but other examples are the Lakes District Centennial Museum at Arrowtown, the West Coast Historic Museum at Hokitika, the South Canterbury Historical Society at Timaru, the Melanesian Mission Museum at Auckland, and the Pioneers' Memorial Museum at Waipu.
All the above-mentioned museums are display museums which devote a considerable part of their resources to making their material available to the public. Museums can, however, be primarily research museums with restricted public access. Such a museum is that of the New Zealand Geological Survey at Lower Hutt.
An institution which has shown interest in preserving and ultimately displaying methods of transport is the Old Time Transport Preservation League in Matakohe. It is also proposed to form a Museum of Industry and Transport in Auckland.