Seeing New Zealand’s Fiery Side at The National Army Museum

“I don’t know what I been told!” Yes, that’s right, today we are going to the National Army Museum. Who knew that about 30-minutes from Taihape is the base of the New Zealand army in Waioumu. Because of the relentless wet weather, we have decided to do the most cliché wet weather activity out there: go to the museum.

On the way to Taihape yesterday, we spotted the various tanks displayed outside The National Army Museum as we passed through Waiouru, so kept it in mind for things to do near Taihape. Now, here we are driving back to the museum.

Robin is ready to drive a tank

The rain is coming down loud and proud as we park up to the museum, but that doesn’t stop some mad tourists outside getting their photo with the tanks. People are really into their tanks! As is Robin, who thinks that now he has driven our massive campervan, he is ready to drive a tank.

Early Maori weapons Early Maori weapons
Robin trying out the guns Robin trying out the guns
What's inside a tank? What's inside a tank?

The bridge to the memorial

Once inside, we cross the bridge from the cafe, ticket and gift shop area to the main museum. The bridge crossing some shallow water, almost as if to represent a moat, leads to a memorial area with a delicate water feature pouring down a greenstone wall while the rest of the walls are covered in individual fabric poppies.

A tough decision

We are then faced with two doorways: one going up the stairs to start with New Zealand’s earliest wars (what Laura is interested in) or to go downstairs to see New Zealand’s modern day wars (what Robin is interested in so he can drive a tank). It only makes sense to go chronologically.

Weapons from the early Maori wars are on display in this first area, and Laura has a lot of reading to do about how the Maori used to engage in battle. As we turn the corner, the story then changes to how the early Europeans settlers used weapons and impacted how the Maori fought with these new weapons.

The boat that sucked

Uniforms, medals, sashes, swords, ancient bibles, mannequins re-enacting a scene from New Zealand’s past, and other relics are on display. There is not a single wall that isn’t covered with something to look at. There are even the army’s epic fails documented, for example, a battleship that was built, never tested, bought by the army, then it was never used. “It quickly became obvious that the boats would be useless against anything other than a defenseless enemy in calm waters.” To be honest, we are in stitches after reading this story.

Robin signing up to the army to the face of the museum worker we just talked to. Spooky... Robin signing up to the army to the face of the museum worker we just talked to. Spooky...
Having some banter in front of a mortar Having some banter in front of a mortar

The story behind the mannequins’ faces

As we travel through the wars: the Anglo-Boer War then see what life was like as a prisoner of war, we then cross the bridge to where World War One begins, including the story of Gallipoli – the war that marks the public holiday, ANZAC day. The sound of gunfire, flashing lights on the walls and the eerie sight of gas masks really depicts what a horrific war it was.

The mannequins, which are pretty well-made, really help visualise the wars and the people involved. As a museum worker notices us looking at some mannequins holding onto a ship’s ropes on the way down to the first floor, he tells us that all the mannequins had their faces molded by people who work in the museum. Sure enough, we see his face on the mannequin signing people up to join the army for World War Two.

Check out these guns! (No, not Robin’s biceps)…

tanks and guns

On the first floor of the museum, this is where all your army vehicles and tanks are on display. Robin has to kill the kid inside him that wants to jump all over these tanks, as there are clear signs saying “Do not climb”. The museum has spoken: Robin will not be driving tanks today.

The finale for us is seeing the evolution of weapons from all over the world! It’s crazy to see how much guns have changed, not only in New Zealand, but from our own countries as well.

We don’t know how much time we spent in the museum getting lost back in time to some of New Zealand’s darkest days, but it is still raining outside. The organisation of the museum coupled with the wealth of things to see and learn has been pretty impressive in the National Army Museum, even competing with  (and maybe even surpassing) some of New Zealand’s larger museums, such as the Auckland Museum.

Planning our day in the Gumboot capital

Back at the Rusty Nail Backpackers, we chill out with Garrat from Hungary who is planning his next section of his travel around New Zealand. We are ecstatic to notice a map for Taihape pointing to a gumboot throwing lane. As the Gumboot Capital of New Zealand, we HAVE to go throw some gumboots. So that is our plan with Garrat tomorrow before we go our separate ways: him to Ohakune and us to Palmerston North.

See you then!

Laura and Robin

Have a look around the National Army Museum
Have a look around the National Army Museum Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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