The Mercury Bay Museum

Whenever I go somewhere new my first stop (after a leg stretch and a coffee) is usually to the local museum.  I have a deep fondness for museums and the people who put their heart and soul into their creation and upkeep.  The Mercury Bay Museum was one of those musuems where the peoples love of their town and surroundings was evident.

Our first visit to Whitianga on the Coromandel Peninsula was in the winter and unfortunately the musuem was closed however we had much better luck on our second visit.  Situated on The Esplanade just opposite the wharf, this small but well thought out musuem tells the history of the area beginning with Kupe who gave the local area the name Te Whitianga nui a Kupe or The Big Crossing Place of Kupe.

Originally the site of the museum was an urupa or cemetary for  the local Maori iwi called Ngati Hei up until the 1870s.  But when European curio hunters violated the tapu of the site members of the Ngati Hei removed the remains of their people and reinterred them safely elsewhere.  The Maori history of the area represents only a small part of the musuem and was my one criticism of this otherwise outstanding museum.  The displays of Maori artefacts were not clearly labelled and the display was largely restricted to the walls of the walkway as you entered and could be easily overlooked – personally I think the museum designers may have missed a beat in down playing the 800 years or so of Maori history.

IMG_1657
Examples of Tahanga basalt stone tools (and other random stone tools) – this material was traded far and wide – the lack of information on this dispay was disappointing, only personal knowledge helped be identify what the objects were.
IMG_1658
Poster on the wall about the Tahanga basalt quarry at Opito
IMG_1659
A display of Maori digging sticks.

The Museum is very child friendly – my daughter in particular enjoyed dressing up as Captain Cook who visited the area in 1769 on the HMS Endeavour.  It was he who gave the area its European name of Mercury Bay after taking his longitude and latitude from the viewing of the transit of the sun across the planet Mercury.

IMG_1663
Time to dress up…

As you head further into the museum there is a significant display on the wreck of The Buffalo which gave the local beach its name (Buffalo Beach), the Kauri room and shanty shack – Kauri were an important part of the economy in the 1800s, either as logs or from the fossilied resin/gum – a 1950s school room, a 1960s bach, a smithy, two rooms displaying birds of the area and displays regarding the importance of the fishing industry (commercially and recreationally) and agriculture to the area.  A butter churn display harks back to the days when the museum was once a dairy factory producing butter from cream from all over the Mercury Bay area.  The musuem also holds an extensive collection of photos covering the life and times of Mercury Bay and its residents.

A Second Visit to the Mercury Bay Museum – February 2022

It had been a while since we had visited the Coromandel and even longer since we had been to Whitianga, so after many months of not venturing far from home we decided to have a short weekend break away.

I had heard that the Museum was in the throes of upgrading and improving many of its exhibits. A visit was needed to see for myself the work that was being done. Although the main bones of the museum are still intact and there is still work to be done, it was obvious the direction the museum was taking. Early Maori and their subsequent interaction with James Cook and his crew when he arrived in the bay was the focus for the front section of the museum.

The rest of the museum was divided into distinct sections, the story of the Buffalo now had it’s own dedicated space, along with the story of the Kauri forests and the wildlife (past and present) of the area. Farming and fishing – the two main industries of the Coromandel – also had obvious and dedicated areas. Within each space there were opportunities for visitors to engage with the exhibits such as the ‘excavation’ of remains from the Buffalo or the watching the process of a milking pump.

All in all it was another enjoyable visit to the Mercury Bay Museum – I look forward to visiting again when all the work has been completed. The following are a few photos of this most recent visit.

A good use of space under the ramp leading down into the museum connecting the panels on early Maori to the time of Cook’s visit to the bay.
An audio visual presentation of Captain Cooks visit to the area alongside sections of his journals.
The brand new section on the past milling/logging and long term protection of the kauri forest.
An information board on the different types of fishing methods – good to see that traditional methods have been integrated as part of the story.
Everyone’s favourite – the moa…
There is a tendency for museums to over stuff the displays when it comes to rural life in the past – it is often hard to absorb information when there is so much clamoring for your attention. The above display was easily digestible with just the right amount of information to hold a visitors attention.
A small but perfect display on the Women’s Institute.
www.mercurybaymuseum.co.nz

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.