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Taranaki Stories: Tawhiti Museum

History comes to life in incredible detail at Nigel Ogle’s Tawhiti Museum.

Musket-wielding British soldiers and Māori warriors clash after traversing rivers and valleys, a waka sits at the bush-clad edge of a river, a train carrying stone from a quarry cuts through rugged hills, men on horses drive carts laden with milk, and a sailing ship berths at the port of a settler town.

These are just some of the stories told through stunning miniature dioramas Nigel has created and crafted
by hand at his popular South Taranaki museum,
near Hāwera.

Alongside the thousands of figurines, which are made to scale and intricately sculpted in wax before a mould is made, are about 100 life-size fibreglass figures, created from moulds cast from real people. All the figures are immaculate in their detail and accuracy.

The museum also houses vintage machinery, showcasing the evolution from horse-drawn equipment to powered machines.

But perhaps the star attraction is the Traders & Whalers exhibition, which takes visitors on a boat journey through a realistic depiction of the Taranaki coast between 1820 and 1840. Created in partnership with the South Taranaki District Council, the boat drifts through a world illuminated by lanterns and candles and, through the use of sounds, smells, and sights, transports visitors to another time and place.

Tawhiti has entertained and astonished visitors for more than 30 years, winning numerous tourism awards along the way.

For Nigel, the museum is an outlet for his passions – history and art.

“I love doing what I’m doing,” he says. “It’s creative and challenging, and I love meeting the people that visit.”

Nigel and wife Teresa bought the former cheese factory site in the late 1970s and tidied it up. Soon Nigel, a high school art teacher, began making pottery from the site and collecting a few old wagons.

“One day my neighbour dropped by and said ‘here’s some harnesses for your museum’, and I was like ‘what museum?’ That’s the first time the word museum had come up and it’s grown from that,” he says.

“What interested me more than just collecting the old stuff was displaying it and telling a story – the art side of it.”

With his museum under way, Nigel left teaching to begin developing his now famous figurines and telling the story of the region’s rich history.

“I’m an enthusiast of local history – I have thousands of history books, and read a lot. My aim is to tell our local and Taranaki history, whether it be technological or social history, the history of the Land Wars, inter-tribal wars, and land confiscation issues. And tell it in a way that is empathetic so people can relate to the stories.”

Nigel says he is very proud of the museum and believes it’s just one of many attractions the region has to offer visitors and those coming to Taranaki to live.

“There’s a real vibrancy about the place, and there’s plenty of opportunity to build on that. The lifestyle is fantastic – from the mountain to the coast there is so much to offer.”

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Tony Skilling

Taranaki Real Estate Consultant
Arizto, Licensed REAA 2008
Mobile: 020 486 6975
Email: [email protected]