There’s always something new to explore at MOTAT (Museum of Transport & Technology). With interesting technology exhibits from the past, present and future and lots of hands-on fun for curious kids (big and small), you’ll return again and again.
Jacque and her family spent the day exploring at MOTAT on LIVE DAY: Flying. Read on to discover everything MOTAT has to offer for a fun family day out.
Taking the tram
Our family (2 kids, aged 2 and 9) had an amazing day out at MOTAT, during their LIVE DAY: Flying. Making an adventure out of the day, we decided to use public transport to get there. It appeared as though there were many options, with minimal waiting times. There was free parking a short walking distance from MOTAT, as well as a paid option at the Aviation Hall.
We arrived before the gates opened and caught the tram to the Aviation Hall. This is a free ride, regardless of whether any tickets to MOTAT or Auckland Zoo have been purchased. Luckily we managed to board the double-decker tram (Big Ben Tram No. 47). The stairs up [on this tram] were quite steep and pushchairs are not allowed but being upstairs gave us a great view all around, as well as some interesting insight into the workings of the trams. To add some authenticity, the tram inspector hands everyone a punched souvenir ticket. The kids really loved this keepsake.
Exploring Aviation Hall
We arrived at the Aviation Hall at 10 am and Mr 2 was awestruck by the plane on display outside the hall. There were two food trailers outside, giving patrons the option of hot drinks or some warm food and ice cream. We entered and were assisted fairly quickly as there were no queues. Even later, we noticed that there was never really a queuing backlog.
Upon entering the hall, the kids were awestruck. Our littlest one wanted to ride and touch, whilst the digital displays were more up the older ones’ alley. There was ample information on each display and it covered a variety of items and topics ranging from medals to engines, to heroes and heroines of the sky.
We were really impressed with the layout – everything is well-spaced, but one can still feel the grandeur of these magnificent beasts. The boys were also interested in the medals bestowed upon the heroes (and heroines) and the routes taken during certain bomb raids.
We were fortunate to catch the new digital experience, Te Kōtiu – stories from the sky. Being projected on the climb on one of the boat planes, it was full of interesting information as it explored the history of aviation in New Zealand. Simultaneously, there was a light show and other projections happening on the floor. Mr 9 listened to the stories but really loved chasing the projected plane as it followed its route. Mr 2 was not far behind, dancing from picture to picture, The voice of the narrator was calm and soothing – it really intrigued the whole family.
Climb aboard the Eagle Police Helicopter
A massive attraction was the retired Eagle Police Helicopter – which the kids can board. The experience is made complete by a display with lights and sound, moving switches and levers, as well as a CB radio that communicates with those waiting in the queue. Such a popular attraction naturally has a longish queue, but MOTAT tries to mitigate this by limiting the time allocated to each family to three minutes. We were kept entertained during this time by the planes hanging over our heads (one even had its wheels descending and ascending).
Just beyond the ever-popular helicopter (which was nearly impossible to drag the kids away from) was an art alcove. Kitted out with tables, chairs and stationery, the kids had a place to unleash their creativity. For those wanting a bit more of a challenge, there were cardboard model plane kits. The boys loved being able to take a piece of MOTAT home with them. The kids alcove also had a reading nook, as well as a little plane with moving wings and buttons, that all the kids seemed to gravitate towards.
We proceeded upstairs to explore more history and the people who have contributed to aviation in Aotearoa New Zealand (like Jean Batten). Upstairs also housed binoculars, allowing a closer look at the planes, as well as buttons that would play sounds of plane engines. Access for those in wheelchairs or pushchairs is via an elevator, so no one feels left out.
It was slightly disappointing that the only baby-changing facilities were in the women’s bathrooms, as this can make it awkward for single dads. Comparatively, MOTAT Great North Road has a unisex baby changing room. Apart from this, the changing mat and the bathrooms were clean and in good working order.
Tanks, trains, and planes
Outside was our next stop. Tanks and other service vehicles were available for the kids to sit on, play pretend, and have a few snaps. One of the volunteers even offered for us to return later, when it was quieter, to open up the trucks for us to sit in.
After some snaps, off to the steam train station we went. Just before the station, demonstrations of handcars were happening – we got to ride in one and the boys were really thrilled to feel like real railroad workers. The boys were amazed to see a real-life choo choo train! We got to see how the locomotive gets attached to the trailers. The excitement of seeing real smoke and hearing the horn really thrilled us all. We disembarked at the next station and ate some home-made food at one of the many picnic tables.
Once our tummies were full, we headed inside and were helped by Hugh, who was really helpful and patient in answering Mr 9’s questions on the planes and train. We were informed of a plane wing demonstration that was to start shortly. There was adequate seating for those wishing to rest their legs or watch. The kids were really enchanted by the Avenger’s wings folding in and out.
Exploring more of MOTAT
This concluded our visit to the Aviation Hall. We got on the tram (about 1 pm) to head back to MOTAT Great North Road. It must have been a peaceful trip, as Mr 2 fell asleep.
Upon arrival we were told that the library was open and that there was a really cool activity. We were also told that we might be able to relax with the little one on the bean bags. We headed to the library, where Dad sat with Mr 2 in a comfy beanbag, whilst Mr 9 completed the activity. We learnt how items are filed in the archive and even filed our own item (a MOTAT book, which we got to take home) and earned a certificate for our efforts.
Technology from the past
We left Dad with Mr 2 while we went to explore the technology from the past section. The different styles of TVs through the ages and the morse code and gaming section were of particular interest for Mr 9! Next was the vehicle section, where we learnt some road codes and how wheels can bend to avoid water in racing. No vehicle section at MOTAT is complete without one that you can sit in. This was no exception – there was a cool car to sit in and pose for photos, or pretend to drive.
Outside we met Dad and the recently roused Mr 2 and enjoyed some of the games (quills and cornhole being just two of the really neat fun games that they had).
The Pumphouse was next, it was really amazing to see how things used to work and how some very clever people must have designed these contraptions. Just outside the Pumphouse, the whisper shields provided some interesting fun. Making our way to the dome, we just had to pose by the MOTAT sign! Inside the dome, the boys tested their mettle at making some paper planes and seeing whose could go the distance!
We headed to the mini train model tunnel, where the incredible train model does its rounds on the awesome track. After a few laps, we headed past the café. Although we didn’t step inside, it looked like a great place to grab a bite. There was a lot of interesting things here – from Mr Whippy, to the lolly man, to a VR experience for the WaterCare Interceptor. Beyond this was a line of Ford Model A’s and other vintage cars. They were allowed to sit in one and all was peaceful, until they found the horn!
Once they had their fix of cars, we headed off to the tram section. Along the way we discovered the Under 5’s room (with Tākaro tribe playing on the TV). There were smaller versions of some of the other MOTAT exhibitions, as well as foam blocks. The younger ones definitely felt that they had their own space. Mr 9 was also not shy to join in. The biggest attraction here was the working steering wheels along the walls.
No trip to MOTAT would be complete without a trip to the Machine Makers – an exhibition dedicated to simple machinery used to make complicated tasks easier, with explanations of the physics behind it. They loved the bridge and walking wheels!
We headed to the Village where we met a police officer who “locked” the boys up, which was loads of fun. We then got to see a blacksmith in action. He was extremely patient with the children asking lots of questions. We enjoyed visiting the historical buildings (churches and houses) and a really nice touch was one house was a dedicated sensory overload house. If one is feeling overwhelmed, they can head to this calm space, where there are noise control ear muffs, simple decor, and relaxed activities.
We looped back up again (the alley with the printing shop and females in tech exhibitions were closed for renovations, but the boys got to see the diggers through the fence, which caused some amazement), and found a little play area. After a quick play, we headed off to the pay phone booth. This was the perfect introduction to the telecommunications room. Complete with dial-up phones, replicas of the first phones, morse code, party lines and, of course, operating phones and switchboards. It was so nice to be able to explain to the younger ones of today of the pains of older technology, without coming off as preachy. Once they learnt how to dial, they were in their element, calling each other and anybody who’d pick up. The remainder of our time was spent here, until it was announced that it was five minutes until closing. Where did the time go? We headed to the last tram of the day and got to the bus stop that took us home.
Overall the staff were super friendly, interactive and helpful. A full day is required to be able to see and experience everything as there is so much to see and do that appeals to so many different interests. We really enjoyed the touch and feel interaction everywhere. Definitely a great adventure for all ages, even the tiniest, as there is something to captivate everyone! I love how items are relatable across generations and age-gaps.