Mangawhai Museum an impressive sight both inside and outside

By Emma Gray, Museum Manager, Mangawhai Museum

In 2003, six years before actual building on the new museum began, the displays it would contain were being planned, and Chris Currie, a specialist museum designer, was engaged.

When the building plan was finalised with its unique stingray shape, designed by David Foster, and commanding location, the display planners knew that they had to come up with interior stories that would live up to the impact of the building.

The museum stands out on the main approach to the town

The Mangawhai Harbour is the theme of the new museum and has played a central part in the history of the area. The harbour provided a landing place for Hongi Hika on his way to the battle of Te-Ika-a-Ranganui near Kaiwaka in 1825. It provided shelter for a thriving ship-building industry and a firm beach to land on for early air services. The harbour enabled early European settlers to farm the land and export kauri gum. Today it provides shelter for critically endangered birds such as the Fairy Tern – but mostly the harbour and surf beaches are known as a great place to visit and enjoy the great kiwi tradition of holidays at the beach.

It took almost eight years to gather all the display material and create the exhibitions. In all there are eleven stories represented by artefacts, models, large visuals and liberal use of audio-visual technology. A small theatre plays a documentary recounts “the big dig”, where locals banded together to save the harbour.

One of the highlights for long-time beach lovers is a trip down memory lane with a display that has a replica of an old tram. These were popular as baches when they were retired from their public transport roles in Auckland.

Building a replica of an Auckland tram as part of one of the displays 

With only one full-time employee the museum has to rely on volunteers and businesses willing to provide goods and services at favourable prices.

Many organisations provided valuable advice and mentoring. Other museums were unstinting in their help and support. Auckland Museum and Te Papa were of great help, as were those close to Mangawhai.

The museum’s forty or so volunteers donate time and expertise, at the museum or at homes and workshops round the district. Many volunteers start by spending three hours on a Tuesday or Thursday morning cleaning and cataloging the many items donated to the museum. “I am new to the area and it has been a great way of meeting people, and providing an interest in my retirement” is a comment often heard.

Work continues on receiving, cleaning and cataloguing

The museum has a gift shop and café, which, like everthing else, were set up by donation and volunteer work. Both are open 7 days and whilst the café has two part-time mangers that share the 7 day roster, all the other assistants are volunteers.

The grounds of the museum will form part of Mangawhai Park, which is also being developed by local volunteers. This means that as the park is developed the museum will sit in an area that offers a variety of walks and activities. Plans by local art groups to have a gallery and a workshop close by will also add interest.

In common with many volunteer organisations, a small group of volunteers are committed to the extent their involvement becomes a full time job. Three such people are Christine Bygrave, the Chair, Bev Ross, the historian, and Jim Wintle who has managed the building. All of them have been involved from the very beginning. Their jobs have been made easier, however, by the fact that there is a wealth of specialist skills in the area that they could call on.

Jim Wintle and Christine Bygrave at the museum opening

Years of dedicated fundraising and the support of major funders, ASB Community Trust, The Lotteries Commission, Pub Charities and Kaipara District Council, meant that the $1.8 million build could be completed , and the museum could start its first day on the 6th December 2014, almost debt free.

Mangawhai is only an hour or so from Auckland, and is a popular place for tourists and day visitors. Currently the majority of homes in the town are owned as holiday homes, but this mix is changing with a growing number of retirees choosing the town as a permanent home. After three or four years of hiatus the town is buzzing again and builders’ order books are full. This can only bode well for the long-term future of the museum.

In the background is a full size replica of the diving bell used to recover gold from the Niagara