New Zealand art and culture: The Hobbit village movie set, plus our top galleries and museums
November 6, 2014 | By:

From risky contemporary pieces at Auckland’s Artspace, to Maori art at Wellington's national museum, art is in abundance, and of course there’s the Hobbiton movie set, says Oliver Bennett

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The traditional Maori poi dance

See Maori art at The Suter Art Gallery in Nelson

In a long history, the Bishopdale Sketching Club became the Nelson Suter Art Society which then morphed into The Suter Memorial Art Gallery in Nelson. It’s the key gallery for Nelson region, full of excellent Maori artworks, next door to pretty Queens Gardens – and with a great café. 

Go to Auckland’s Artspace gallery, renowned for its risky contemporary art

Artspace is where you head for contemporary art – not just in Auckland, but in the whole of New Zealand. It’s dedicated to presenting innovative art and ideas, and makes the perfect continuum to the Auckland Art Gallery. artspace.org.nz

Check out Wellington’s Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa Tongarewa

The Colonial Museum in Wellington started in 1865 in a small wooden building in 1865. Since then it gradually changed, and in 1998 was reopened as Te Papa Tongarewa to reflect a more balanced view of New Zealand’s history and within you’ll find natural and historic artefacts from dinosaur fossils to an earthquake simulator.   

Visit the Shire and Hobbiton movie set

JRR Tolkein may have set his fantasy novels in England, but it’s New Zealand that is now their home, thanks to the successful film franchise.


The Shire and Hobbiton movie set, in New Zealand’s North Island

So visit Middle-Earth and the Hobbiton Movie Set, The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit Trilogies – and after visiting Bilbo Baggins’ home you can even have a drink in the Green Dragon Inn: in character if you wish. hobbitontours.com

Stroll through Cathedral Square to Canterbury Museum in Christchurch

The Canterbury Museum in Christchurch’s Cultural Precinct is one of New Zealand’s greatest assets and the pride of the South Island. The grand 19th century building has had various additions in its 150-year lifespan, and the big draw is its natural and human history collections. Great walks outside too. 

Watch Maori wood carvers at work in Rotorua

Many of us know that the Maori’s have a rich culture of decorative art – right down to their tattoos. Wood-carving was vital, not only for beautifying houses, boats and jewellery but also a means of communication: Māori did not have a written language until the 19th century. Click here for more on Rotorua

Take the Art Deco heritage trail in Napier

A huge earthquake in 1931 meant that much of the buildings in the North Island town of Napier was destroyed. Rebuilding happened pretty quickly, however, much of which was in the now classic Art Deco style.

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Napier: famous for its pristine 1930s buildings

The city now has a great legacy of this sleek, curvilinear architecture and it’s now seen as one of the best preserved of its type, being nominated as a World Heritage Site in 2007. Click here for more information on Napier.

Visit MTG in Hawke’s Bay

In Napier for the cricket in 2015? Dose up on culture at the MTG. Standing for ‘Museum, Theatre and Gallery’ and in Napier’s cultural precinct, it’s housed in no fewer than three buildings: an Art Deco gem, a modernist classic, and a gallery that gazes across glorious Hawke’s Bay. Inside you’ll find art, objects, film and performances.

Check out the Ohinemutu Maori village set

Want to combine nature and culture? Near Rotorua is the Maori village of Ohinemutu, home to the Ngati Whakaue tribe, which journeyed from the Pacific homeland around 1350AD. It’s a living village with plenty of carving as well as boiling hot water vents and to see the outdoor bathing sheds. 

Hidden gem: The Red Art Gallery, design store and cafe, Nelson

Red Art Gallery & Café is one of Nelson’s great finds – an art gallery, design store and café that stocks art, design and great gifts from around the world.  It’s also a great and informal spot for food and coffee, housed in one of the city’s oldest buildings, Red Art Gallery.

High50 has partnered with Tourism New Zealand to bring you this guide. To discover more about New Zealand and to book, visit newzealand.com.