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Exploring New Zealand


Organised chaos of the Transport and Toy Museum, Wanaka

When you mention Wanaka, you tend to think of lakeside walks, skiing and other activities associated with a resort town skirting the foothills of central Otago. What wouldn't spring to mind is a Transport and Toy Museum. And certainly not one requiring two aircraft hangars to house the collection.

But adjoining the airport on the eastern side of town is just such a museum. It's home to thousands of toys, hundreds of cars and dozens of vans, trucks, fire engines, motorbikes, bicycles, aircraft, military vehicles, farm machinery and oddities defying a simple label, such as a rickshaw and wool wagon. The word eclectic was invented to describe the collection.

Colourful rickshaw at the Transport and Toy Museum, Wanaka

The museum is the work of Gerald Rhodes, who acquired the items over a period of years and first put them on public display at their Wanaka home in the mid-1990s. There are three main buildings as well as open areas and a shop.

Those used to pristine exhibits, informational posters, interactive screens and cappuccino bars are in for a bit of a surprise. It's more of a loving display of collected items than a museum. The sort of thing you'd produce yourself if you wanted to show the world your collection of toys and vehicles.

Which is not to say it's bad. On the contrary, the lack of a color-coordinated sponsored catalog means there's a little surprise around every corner.

Jar Jar Binks looms ominously over visitors

The toy collection, for example, is housed in the entrance building and will have you reminiscing about "the good old days."

Highlights include hundreds of Barbie dolls and a very comprehensive collection of Star Wars memorabilia (including - original film purists look away now - a "life size" latex model of Jar Jar Binks). Other collections cover model farm equipment, toy soldiers, Tonka toys, mini cars, board games, steam engines...the list goes on. Hundreds upon hundreds of toys of all provenances and eras.

Row of model aircraft perched on cars at the Transport and Toy Museum, Wanaka

Most of the vehicles are housed in two purpose-built hangars, though there are a few outside and some sharing space with the toys. Sharing quite literally in many cases. Several vehicles double up as toy display cases. So don't be surprised to see a smurf-infested car or a row of vintage Fords with a model plane on each roof.

Fire engine all the way from Fukuoka, Japan

The vehicles themselves include a few rarities, such as a 1924 McLaughlin Buick Limousine, and are as mixed a bunch as you can get. Where else would a one-man hovercraft rub mechanical shoulders with a 1968 MiG fighter plane, Centurion tank, a Japanese fire engine and a 1930 Harley Davidson?

Steam traction engine outside the Transport and Toy Museum, Wanaka

Many vehicles are vintage, with several dating back to the 1920s. Others are just a few years old. So it's a treasure trail for enthusiasts, turning up little transport gems in among the mundane as you wander around the hangars.

Considering most of the exhibits were bought locally, you have to doff your hat at Mr. Rhodes and his dedication. And if you fancy toasting his efforts, there are snacks and drinks available in the entrance building. No surprise to also find a proper toyshop there, too. So if the kids want to take an exhibit home with them, you can at least offer them an adequate alternative.

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