World Famous in New Zealand: Albertland Heritage Museum, Wellsford

The first ever Buzzy Bee is on show here.

Pamela Wade

The first ever Buzzy Bee is on show here.

Whichever direction you’re going in, heading along SH1 towards Northland or down to Auckland, you’re going to be reluctant to stop in Wellsford. You’ve either barely settled into the journey, or your destination feels almost within sight – why would you want more than a takeaway coffee? It’s hard to detach yourself from the endless surge of vehicles through town – but you should.

why go?

Because, 15 kilometers over to the west, if things had gone as planned, there would be a city bigger than Auckland. The Albertland Heritage Museum, just off the main road, tells the story of persuasive planner William Rawson Brame, the duped settlers and the eventual failure of this grand scheme to create a home for Nonconformist believers, who came mainly from Birmingham.

There's a wide range of exhibits at the Museum.

Pamela Wade

There’s a wide range of exhibits at the Museum.

Named after Queen Victoria’s recently-deceased consort, Albertland was described as a haven of opportunity and free thought, and thousands signed up. In 1862, 800 of them set off in two ships on the non-stop voyage to Auckland, enduring almost a hundred days of unrelenting discomfort, but buoyed up by the promise of 40 acres of farmland each.

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The museum’s portraits, diaries and personal possessions relate the stories of disappointment when the emigrants, expecting shovel-ready land, found themselves trying to scrape a living in ferny bush beside an arm of the Kaipara Harbour, far from any roads.

Photographs make the settlers' hardship plain to see.

Pamela Wade

Photographs make the settlers’ hardship plain to see.

No town, no houses, only tents: it was horrendously tough, for every man, woman and child. Few had any idea how to farm or even garden and, despite some dogged persistence, the dream finally died. Just two families did eventually get to use the pianos, croquet set, printing press and china tea sets in the museum that they had so optimistically brought with them.

Settlers’ descendants do remain in the area, and an important function of the museum is to trace ancestors for those who may have connections.

Rows of portraits help the history come alive.

Pamela Wade

Rows of portraits help the history come alive.

Insider tip

It’s not all about Albertland. You can gaze here upon the first-ever Buzzy Bee, made by the Ramsey brothers in 1939, plus his less successful companions Richard Rabbit, Peter Pup and Dorable Duck. Find out too the sad stories behind the examples of the ‘dead man’s penny’.

There are lots of intricate model ships, including the First Four to Canterbury, plus cameras, old groceries, rocks, kauri gum, farm equipment and much more.

The 'Dead Man's Penny' is worth investigating.

Pamela Wade

The ‘Dead Man’s Penny’ is worth investigating.

On the way/nearby

It’s only a short drive down to Port Albert itself, a sleepy little settlement with a long pier sticking out into what is one of the world’s biggest harbours. Not coincidentally, the General Store’s fish and chips here are highly recommended – eat them down at the domain on the point. If it’s Monday or Tuesday, the stockyards in Wellsford will be busy; otherwise, Te Hana just to the north has a Māori cultural center offering a range of experiences, and accommodation.

The Museum is not far from the main road.

Pamela Wade

The Museum is not far from the main road.

How much?

Just $5 (adults) for all this and heaps of volunteer teacher enthusiasm and knowledge.

Best time to go

Open Wednesday to Saturday, 11am to 3pm, Sundays 1-3pm.

See: albertlandmuseum.co.nz

Stay safe: New Zealand is currently under Covid-19 restrictions. Follow the instructions at covid19.govt.nz.

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