Collection Projects

Our collection team works on various projects which has preserve New Zealand's history and protect national treasures.  If you would like to support one of these projects, visit our corporate partnership or donation and bequests pages. We currently have the following important projects underway:

Conservation of the Sunderland V NZ4115 

MOTAT has a unique opportunity to conserve a Short S.25 Sunderland V Flying Boat. The Sunderland V is an artefact of national and international significance and is part of New Zealand’s Military Aviation History. It is a flying boat that operated from Lauthala Bay, Fiji and at its home base at Hobsonville, Auckland as part of No. 5 Squadron RNZAF from the 1940s to the 1960s.

Our Sunderland is a rare survivor of an entire class of large, four engine flying boats that pioneered both international air travel to Australia and New Zealand and long-range military ocean reconnaissance from the 1930s to the early 1950s. It is one of just three surviving examples of the Short Sunderland flying boat retaining a military configuration. New Zealand was the last military operators of the Sunderland in the world.

Our Sunderland NZ4115 was retired on 22 December 1966, gifted to MOTAT, and moved here on 25 February 1967.

We have started on the outside with painting the aircraft and we seek further funding to ensure we complete the conservation of the Sunderland V to its original Military configuration.

Successful Test Run for the Magnificent Beam Engine

MOTAT staff, volunteers and visitors were thrilled to experience the mighty Beam engine back in action for the first time since 2014. This successful test run came about through a collaborative effort between MOTAT and the Powerhouse Museum (Museum of Applied Arts & Science) in Australia who sent conservators over to New Zealand to assist. 

These steam specialists spent whole week at MOTAT poring over the Beam Engine giving it a thorough assessment, service and clean. The positive prognosis meant the boiler fires were stoked, steam hissed, pistons pumped and the magnificent wheel of the Beam Engine was once again stirred into action.

The Museum plans to demonstrate this significant artefact on a regular basis as soon as possible.

While they were here, the Powerhouse conservators also had the chance to share their specialised knowledge with the MOTAT Team and give input into a maintenance and operating manual to ensure the smooth operation of the engine going forward.

Watch this space for details of when the Beam Engine can next be seen in action.


Relocation Of K Class Locomotive, K900

As part of a regular collection review, MOTAT was advised that hazardous materials in K900 could become exposed over time. In order to avoid this risk, we have moved the locomotive under the guidance of Golder Associates and Alpha Demolition, to our workshop so that it can be thoroughly cleaned and preserved. 

The health and safety of our visitors, team members and environment is of utmost importance to MOTAT. If you have any questions regarding the relocation of K900, please contact us through the website or call us on Freecall 0800 668 2869, Phone +64 9 815 5800.


Digitisation of archival material.

The first stage of a New Zealand Lottery funded project to digitise Walsh Memorial Collections is nearing completion. A two year Lottery grant has enabled the MOTAT Library to make a crucial start on digitisation as part of a collections management programme. This will improve the documentation, preservation and access of paper based items in the care of the library.

The main objective of the project is to digitise and provide public access to 7,000 items from Walsh Memorial Library collections. To date (July 2014) we have concentrated resources on the Walsh Photographic Collections and the Les Downey Rail Collection with over 5,500 items scanned or photographed.

The project commenced in November 2013 with the development of a comprehensive project plan that included policies and standards for digitisation. After analysing historical use of the collections and taking account of future projects, the library identified priority items for digitisation to meet important MOTAT objectives. Scanning and photography has been carried out by a project coordinator while the majority of cataloguing is produced by three part-time volunteers.

Volunteers have been cataloguing these items by adding data to existing records on our collections management (CM) database. One volunteer is also working remotely to create new database records, cataloguing items by viewing images on our Flickr account which now has over 3,500 images online.
To provide public access we constructed a collections online website which enables search and display of records sourced from the MOTAT CM database. Digitised items are also available for search on the Vernon eHive website and NZMuseums portals.

When the first stage of this project reaches completion early in November 2014 we expect to achieve all planned objectives and provide improved public access to our collections via the MOTAT website.

Inventory and cataloguing project.

This major project to inventory MOTAT’s collections and address an historic backlog of cataloguing and other registration issues began in February 2013. Envisaged to run for five years, within an ongoing commitment to improved data management, the first two years have been funded by a New Zealand Lotteries grant and focus on collections currently held in storage.

The core aim of the project is to improve the quality and completeness of information available on the collections and through this enable more effective collection management and greater access to the objects.

Due to historical practises a large part of MOTAT’s collection is not recorded in the museum’s database, the accuracy and detail of existing data is variable, and links to important object documentation have been lost. Significant improvements have been made over recent years but it was identified in 2011 that a systematic approach to the entire collection was needed.

The project entails inventory staff individually checking each object, creating detailed location data, recording or updating core object information including condition, photographing, reorganising collection storage and re-housing individual objects where necessary. Research is also being undertaken where required to resolve historical data discrepancies. As at the end of July 2014 - 4,900 objects have been audited and had their records updated, over 3,000 objects have been photographed, 2,400 unnumbered objects have been identified and recorded for further research and assessment and over 500 objects have been catalogued.

With only a small percentage of the collection able to be displayed at any one time, the inventory project, combined with the current library digitisation project and a project in 2012 to digitise object documentation, will assist in making the collections and archives available to the public through online and other digital strategies. It will also greatly improve MOTAT’s ability to undertake its responsibilities of care and accountability.

Conservation of the Solent Flying Boat.

MOTAT is undertaking a major conservation project for the Solent flying-boat ‘Aranui’, to return it to its ‘coral route’ appearance, this being the heyday of Tasman Empire Airways Limited’s (TEAL) flying-boat era. The coral route was labelled the most romantic airline route in the world by those who flew it. TEAL introduced the service in 1951; ferrying passengers from Auckland's harbour across to Fiji, Samoa, Tahiti and the Cook Islands in luxury Solent flying boats.

TEAL’s four Solent Mk. IVs were the last big Short flying-boats to be manufactured. They were built at the Short & Harland factory at Belfast in 1949. The Aranui operated a Tasman and South Pacific service from 1949-1954 and then was located exclusively in the South Pacific operating the coral route until 1960. The final coral route service was flown on 15 September 1960. The fate of the flying boats was mixed.

ZK-AML “Aotearoa II” and ZK-AMN “Awatere” were sold to Aquila Airways and were eventually scrapped in Lisbon, Portugal in 1971.

ZK-AMM “Ararangi” was cut up for scrap at Auckland in 1955 following an engine fire during maintenance.


Only ZK-AMO “Aranui” survived arriving at MOTAT in 1966 making the Aranui the only remaining Short Solent Mk IV in the world. It was restored by the Solent Preservation Society (SPS) in the 1980s. The Society not only restored the vessel but also extended their fundraising to help build the first aviation display hall to house the Solent.

In 2010 an assessment of the Aranui was undertaken to ascertain how degraded the interior had become and to understand how it had originally been constructed back in 1949. During this process it was learned what repairs had been carried out when the vessel was in service from 1949-60, and what restorations had been undertaken by volunteers up until the 1980s. This information revealed the condition of the interior of the vessel to be very poor and a plan for repairs was drawn up.

These works, focussing on the interior of the aircraft, were made possible by a significant donation from Air New Zealand, who succeeded TEAL and celebrated their 75th Anniversary earlier this year. MOTAT is now actively seeking funding to complete the restoration and begin work on the exterior.

Now, to ensure the long-term preservation of the aircraft, MOTAT has engaged consultants, International Conservation Services (ICS), to develop a new conservation management plan for the Solent. The conservation management plan will focus on the entire aircraft exterior and interior to provide the necessary conservation guidance to ensure the Aranui is preserved for future generations. The team from ICS include conservation expert Julian Bickersteth and aviation expert David Crotty. Julian and David have met with staff and aviation volunteers and documented the aircraft in detail. The conservation plan will provide a work programme to conserve the aircraft, based on its significance and condition.