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Published: 18 June 2022

By Andy Ross

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Hokitika Museum

This week we visited the Museum in the town of Hokitika, a hop, skip and a jump away from Mawhera Greymouth. 

Hokitika was, in the early days of European immigration to the islands, a major port during the heady days of the 19th Century's gold rush, and the Museum in the centre of town was opened in 1869, only five years after the gold that led to the town's population explosion was found in the Taramakau Valley. The port must have been a very impressive sight back then; an oil painting in the Museum store shows sailing ships packed along the quay while behind them the town's then-new buildings proudly declare the prosperity of the area. 

Nowadays the port is stilled. Hokitika is better known for tourism and for its milk products factory, the third largest in the country, than for its gold deposits or for its contribution to the migration of people into and out of New Zealand. It has a fascinating history though and the Museum aims to tell that and other stories from the Coast. 

A walk through any store or archive is always a treat. There are so many things to see and marvel at. Although it is currently closed to the public, the store is where lots of items are held. A giant working model of a local dredge built entirely of Meccano is most definitely one of the taonga (treasures). There is a stage coach around which the Museum was built so it will remain forever because it is too large to move out. A set of Masonic Lodge items competes with bells and foundry equipment, and small wooden 'planes fly on wires or sit, silenced, on the store shelves. The Museum is home to sets and costumes from The Luminaries mini-series and there are many intriguing boxes, some with photographs of their contents and some with a single word "textile" and nothing else indicating what the box holds. 

Such repositories are valuable. In a country that measures its human history in hundreds of years rather than thousands, these taonga hold remarkable power. One of the most significant finds so far in the Museum's collection has to be a Kakahu - a Maori cloak. Bundled into a box and marked "woven blanket" this piece is very special indeed as you can see in the video below. We will return to the Museum soon for another look at their collection, and I look forward to sharing more stories with you all.