Kids can get a feel for life at sea in the Navy's hands-on museum Alex Tully.

"Avast ye scurvy landlubbers!" my 5-year-old son called from his position on a Japanese submarine gun, looking smart in a Lieutenant Commander's uniform.

"Umm. I don't think naval officers say that kind of thing. What about 'Man the guns'?" I suggested.

"Man the guns!" he obligingly boomed out in a voice like a cannon going off, looking pleased with himself.

As a parent of two museum-loving boys, I adore finding places that cater for kids, like the newly relocated Navy Museum in Devonport. The look-but-don't-touch approach of the traditional museum wears thin with most children, their enthusiasm wanes and the whining pleas to leave begin. But you won't have any such troubles at the Navy Museum's new home at Torpedo Bay.


We had been to the museum a year or so earlier when it was located at the Devonport Naval Base and was basically a look-but-don't-touch collection. So I was surprised when we entered the museum, housed in the historical submarine mining station sheds, and the kids discovered a room with things that looked like they were for touching.

"Are we allowed to put them on?" one of them asked, pointing to a rack of naval uniforms. "Can we really lie on them?" the other one said, stretching his hand towards the narrow bunks that lined the wall.

"Yes. Yes, I think you can," I replied, after searching for hidden laser beams that would zap anyone who put an officer's hat on their head.

We spent a very happy half-hour playing in this touchy-feely room, issuing commands on the phone, sleeping in the bunks, having tea and toast in the galley and alternating between dressing as officers and ratings.

When the kids had had their fill, we bought a treasure map of the museum and set about searching the collection for the interesting items marked on the sheet. After showing the completed maps to the museum staff, the boys were rewarded with a free Torpedo Bay pencil.

The Navy Museum also offers an Aye Spy hunt for older children where a clue sheet is used to search for secret code letters. Once the code has been cracked, participants can do a lucky dip for a prize. We are saving that one for next time.

One of the best times to visit the museum is during the school holidays when a new programme with a nautical theme is offered. We are all looking forward to the holiday activity for the spring school break — Peeking, Sneaking Periscopes. For $4, children will be helped to make their own periscopes to spy on enemy ships ... or their siblings.

The session will also include learning about the crazy Spar Torpedo Boat that was based in Devonport — one of them at Torpedo Bay — in the 1880s; one of the few naval vessels in New Zealand to use a periscope.

As an extra bonus, there will be a special exhibition created and curated by children from Point Chevalier School.

The We Are Curative exhibition is the end result of a programme called Kids Curate! which gave a class from Auckland the opportunity to create artworks inspired by pieces from the Navy Museum collection and then turn them into an exhibition.

My family will be visiting the Navy Museum again. We might see you there. I'll be the one watching you through a periscope.

Further information: The Torpedo Bay Navy Museum is at the end of King Edward Parade, at the base of North Head, Devonport. Call (09) 446 1829.