10 FABULOUS FREE THINGS TO DO IN ROTORUA Enter email for instant access
Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa
2017 - The Museum is closed until further notice due to earthquake damage.
The Rotorua Museum of Art & History building has sure packed a lot into it's relatively short history.
Our Museum of Art & History in springtime
History Of This Heritage Building
From it's opening date in 1908 to the present time it has been a spa Bath House, restaurant, nightclub and now a museum. The latter is much more in keeping with the appearance of the building.
Dr Arthur Stanley Wohlmann, from England, was the visionary for the Rotorua Museum building. He was a Balneologist (a physician who specialises in therapies involving mineral waters).
Appointed by the government, his job was to advise on how to improve Rotorua's spa facilities. Within a year of his arrival in 1902 he came up with the design concept for The Bath House building.
Rotorua Museum, also known as The Bath House - view to the Blue Baths
With one stipulation the museum was built on land gifted by the Ngāti Whakaue people of Rotorua. It had to be, "a place for all the people of the world - hei oranga mo nga iwi katoa o te Ao."
And that, it surely is. We get thousands of visitors each year from what seems like every country in the world.
The building was only partially completed when it opened in 1908 it. From 1983 to 2011 major works were carried out, at a cost of about NZ$23,000,000, to bring the original vision to fruition.
Wow, is it imposing now! The museum dominates the Government Gardens. I know it did that before, but now it's gone to a whole other level.
Rotorua Museum Building Style
This gorgeous building is built in the Elizabethan half-timbered style
otherwise called Old English style - native timbers such as Kauri, Rimu,
Totara, Matai and split dry Puriri are used throughout.
Elizabethan features are the symmetrical facade (symmetrical now that it
is completed) with a north and south wing, there is a lovely large
central foyer with high ceilings, a central light-well and a sweeping
old grand staircase coming down both sides of the foyer.
The towers and viewing platform in this side view pic
Finials and towers are numerous (one with a viewing platform and great views around Rotorua), as are windows of grid mullions and horizontal transoms with square leaded panes between.
One feature that Dr Wohlmann insisted on adding were the verandahs which were never part of the elizabethan style. He wanted his patients to have a place to promenade after finishing their treatments.
Rotorua Museum - The Bath House Vision
Initially it was built to attract the wealthy from the northern hemisphere. There was a vision that it would be the 'great south seas spa'.
What wasn't taken into account (or known about at the time) were the
corrosive effects of hydrogen sulphide (sulphur) (pic on the right) and the acidic waters.
corroded the metal piping and turned paint black causing maintenance
costs to spiral out of control. Little did they know that something as
simple as polyurethane piping could have negated a lot of these effects.
Other factors were the lack of a casino (like the
european spas), a change in medical fashion, two world wars and a
depression. The doors were finally closed on this period in history in
The Nightclub Years
At one point the building was in danger of being pulled down.
Thankfully this didn't happen due to the lease being taken over with
first, a restaurant, then a cabaret and finally the Tudor Towers
nightclub (referred to as the Towers by locals).
A sunken dance floor was built above the main foyer (30 tons of steel was taken out when it was removed during the renovations).
Later a faux Tudor multi-tiered stage was also erected where the bands and dancers performed.
lot of local New Zealand singers and musicians cut their teeth here
during the nightclub years. Some also went on to become national and
international singers of note.
One of the not so good things over these years was the fact the the
neo-classical sculptures housed in the building were damaged. Fingers
and toes, noses, wing-tips, arrows etc were broken off. There was no
appreciation for the fine pieces of art that they were.
Rotorua Museum corridor with two of the neo-classical sculptures
As an aside, I don't know how we didn't break our necks coming down the staircase in the nightclub years.
I well remember, as I know a lot of other people do, being off my face with alcohol, lurching down the stairs in stilettos.
You can take it as said, that these were fun years.
I think about it now it seems sacrilegious that this fine old building
housed a nightclub. On the other hand, if it helped to stop the building
being torn down then it was worth it.
When the lease ran
out in 1990 that was it, the end of another era and the beginning of
what is now The Rotorua Museum Of Art & History.
The Rotorua Museum Of Art & History - Now
Dr Wohlmann's original vision has now come to fruition and what a grand vision it was. The finished building is amazing.
To the right of the foyer are housed the galleries featuring the history
of the Rotorua Te Arawa people. How they got here, how they coped with
and adapted to this new land and what has happened since.
the left of the foyer is a walk through the history of the Bath House.
'Taking The Cure' is the theme. Here you get to see the treatments
taken, the damage from the sulphur and mementos from that time.
You can go down into the basement to the mud bath rooms or up through the roof spaces to emerge onto the viewing platform.
There are a number of areas that hold exhibitions that change periodically.
One good thing is the onsite cafe where you can kick back and relax as it takes a good wee while to go through everything.
"We are a family of four from Sydney Australia and love nature - bush to beach. We love your website and found your tips on things to do in Rotorua very valuable - exactly what we look for in destinations." Anita —Sydney
"Thank you Karen! I think you site is wonderful. We followed your ideas today for blue lake and green lake, and went to the Landing Cafe first, brilliant we would have missed Lake Tarawera otherwise and it is so beautiful and peaceful." Rosie
"Thank you for your prompt response. I have managed to get a great deal through 'book me', so once again thank you so much. Great service. " :-) Chris
"Awesome website all about Rotorua. Well done Karen Shelford." Amiria Tomoana - Global Traveller
"Yes, really worthwile information for those visiting Rotorua. Take it from someone who used it. Thank you, so much easier." Karen Hubbard - Sydney, Australia
your website is the best resource for planning a trip there that I have
encountered! It answers all of the questions you end up having after
reading other sites, and presents information in such a clear and
concise way. ... wish I'd encountered your site before printing off reams of info that will probably be whittled down to one page. ... hope the local government and tourism people realise what a great asset and ambassador they have in you! :P" Vicky Fairchild - Auckland, New Zealand