On arrival at the Yaldhurst Museum, first impressions might lead you to believe you’ve arrived at a 10-minute-coffee-stop museum – a ‘stretch of legs’ whilst en route somewhere else. On entering the reception area there’s a standard shop and café. But then, without presumption or grandiosity, the fascination begins as you enter through a nondescript door to your right. You are instantly hit by a full and rich experience of New Zealand’s technological past.

General Manager Jon Everitt shows me around the first of many dusty cavernous barns that are full of examples of early transport vehicles. Yaldhurst Museum has amassed an eclectic mix of road transport including one of the largest and finest collections of horse-drawn vehicles in the country.

“This one’s of great interest to many,” states Jon, pointing to a 1886 glass-sided hearse, said to have carried the body of New Zealand prime minister Richard Seddon at the time of his death in 1906. It’s one of two left in the country. A motorised hearse replaced it in 1922.

Unassuming and unpretentious entrance to the museum

The museum was opened on Boxing Day 1968 by Alfred Thornhill Cooper (locally known as ‘Jake’), great-grandson of John Taylor who originally built the grand homestead on the Yaldhurst Museum site. In the early 1960s, Jake bought the 1877 homestead and the eight acres of land as a location to realise his vision of setting up a motor museum; he had been interested in old vehicles for some years and acquired a piecemeal collection of old cars.

“He was a bit of a hoarder,” confides Jon. “He wouldn’t try to seek out any particular item or hunt for certain vehicles, but he spent plenty of time looking in suitable places and then he would buy on impulse.”

In this way the collection gradually expanded. As the museum became more established, people came to know about it and the passion of its owner, they began to offer items that were special to them but that needed to find a good home. Wherever possible, items in the collection were retained in their original unrestored condition and can be seen like this today.

The Antler café is another reason to visit

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