Deep in the heart of Tauranga City Library is a collection of city treasures rarely pulled from their fireproof home to see the light of day.

The shelves of archives, including rare books, art and artefacts, is stored in the Nga Wahi Rangahau Research Collections under the watchful eye of specialist information librarian Stephanie Smith.

This week is local history week in Tauranga and 2016 also marks the 40th anniversary of the research collection, formerly known as the New Zealand Room.

To mark the occasion some of the city's most prized collectibles have been pulled from storage and shown to the people of Tauranga - to whom they ultimately belong.


Among the archives is a small collection of watercolour paintings - mostly dating back to the battles of Gate Pa and Te Ranga during the 1860s.

"That was an absolutely crucial period in the history of Tauranga and a very sad period," Mrs Smith said.

The surprisingly vibrant watercolours cannot be on display as they would deteriorate under the bright lights of the library.

The collection includes works by both professional and amateur artists, some by unknown soldiers who used watercolour to capture the landscape.

"There was something very useful to be able to do a quick sketch of the land," Mrs Smith said.

The work had the immediacy of something that was done at the time - while you were here, she said.

There is also a hand-drawn map of Tauranga in April, 1864 plotting swamps, estuaries, sandy spits and solid land, as well as troop movements.

Among the collection are works by soldier, Horatio Robley, who sketched and painted mostly people.

The most famous being 1865 Sentry at Maketu and a watercolour of the Boxing Day waka race off The Strand.

"He was fascinated by, what they would have called in those days, native races, and people's customs, costumes and appearance. He had a wonderful eye for movement and energy," Mrs Smith said.

Among the collection are two watercolours by amateur artist Emma Mary Vogan who moved to Tauranga with her family in 1881 and a streetscape of Devonport Rd painted by visiting artist Cheng Jih Li in 1998.

The fireproof room - where moisture and temperature levels are carefully controlled - also houses a selection of rare books donated to the library by residents.

Among them is a Latin Bible dating back to 1585 which was re-bound during the Victorian era.

Another is a 1779 book outlining Captain James Cook's voyages around the world.

One of the most stunning is The Art Album of New Zealand Flora Volume 1, printed in London in 1889. The encyclopedia, aimed at dispelling the myth that New Zealand plants were not colourful, was so costly to produce that it sent its publishers bankrupt and Volume 2 of the book was never published.

The tiniest book in the collection is a guide to ballroom dancing etiquette dating back to 1859.

The library collections can by viewed by appointment at the Nga Wahi Rangahau/Research Collections on the first floor of Tauranga Library.

Local History Week will conclude with a tour of the Mission Cemetery today followed by a tour of Brain Watkins House and afternoon tea tomorrow.

Today: Mission Cemetery Tour
- Where: Marsh St, Tauranga central
- Time: 2pm to 3pm
- Meet: at the cemetery gate, wet or fine
- Free

Tomorrow: Brain Watkins House open day and afternoon tea
- Where: Corner of Elizabeth St and Cameron Rd, Tauranga central
- Time: 2pm to 4pm
- Cost: Tour is free. Afternoon tea is $5 per person.