There is plenty to see and do at the New Zealand Maritime Museum, discovers Gill South.
It's amazing how you can pass a place a million times in Auckland, and not give it a second thought. My boys and I went along to the Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum in the Viaduct on a Sunday afternoon and found ourselves transported back in time to a different world when New Zealanders were utterly dependent on boats for everything they needed.
The museum is light and airy with a nice smell of the sea about it, thanks to all the boats dotted around, including Maori and Polynesian canoes.
If you have a yen for history, you can retrace the steps of the first human settlers to sail to New Zealand. There is a 10-minute animated film, Te Waka: Our Great Journey which tells the story of the arrival of the first migratory voyage to Aotearoa around 1000 years ago.
As soon as we entered the building on the second level, we came across the lighthouse area. The boys immediately headed for the model lighthouse where they practised morse code on each other like schoolboys in an Enid Blyton book.
There is lots to read about the history of lighthouses in New Zealand and the information also explains the physics behind the Fresnal lens used in lighthouses of old. You could easily spend half an hour in this part alone.
If you look over the rails, into the bowels of the building, you can see a large trading vessel, the Rewa, dry docked. The building was built around her in 1993. Another fascinating part of the museum is the Edmiston Gallery of Maritime Art which includes some seriously large model ships, paintings and sculptures.
The exhibition brings home all the ship journeys which have brought thousands of new Kiwis to New Zealand from Europe and beyond.
A quote in this section says: "A nation which depended on ships to reach the world."
A framed display of marine knots catches our attention - a sea scout's idea of heaven. A beautiful display of Maori fishing tackle is around the corner.
Another must-see for visitors is Blue Water Black Magic, a new permanent exhibition dedicated to Sir Peter Blake that reflects on New Zealand's remarkable yachting success. It looks at New Zealand's design and yachting prowess over the years and gets you feeling all patriotic.
A new exhibition has started recently, Children of Tangaroa - Marine Mammals of Aotearoa, which explores the stories of New Zealand's threatened marine species. We would have loved to have seen this but we had a date with the Ted Ashby.
This vessel, by its technical description, is a ketch-rigged deck scow. It was built in 1993 to replicate the vessels popular in the late 1800s which were like supermarket delivery vans of the sea - sailing up and down the coast, dropping off coal, sheep and other supplies. This scow has a motor, fortunately, and we found ourselves in the Waitemata Harbour pretty quickly. The children were all asked to be pirates, helping to put up the four sails, which they thought was fantastic. We tried relying purely on the sails for a bit, but there wasn't much wind and the captain turned the motor on again to travel under the harbour bridge and back.
My eldest son's favourite part was drinking his chocolate milk sitting right at the bow of the boat as it headed straight for the harbour bridge. There were no phones and no interruptions. Quality time.
* Voyager New Zealand Maritime Museum: Cnr Quay and Hobson Sts, Auckland City, ph (09) 373 0800, open daily except Christmas Day, 9am-5pm. maritimemuseum.co.nz
* Prices: Museum entry only: adults $16, children $8, family $32; Museum and cruise combo: adults $26, children $13, family $52.