New Zealand Historic Places Trust







Concept Masterplan

Design & Build


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This is an example of a boutique approach for smaller museums and heritage properties. Fyffe House is New Zealand's oldest whaling cottage. We created a small exhibition inside the Cooper’s Cottage, the original two-room building that housed Thomas Howell who made barrels for whale oil. 


The concept for the experience followed the same approach we take for all heritage properties. We consulted extensively with the local stakeholders and spent a lot of time in the building trying to gain insights into not only the stories, but also the best way to approach creating a visitor experience with a specific space.

The wider site is a whaling station set along the beach in Kaikoura. This small cottage represented the end result of the hard, precarious life that early European whalers led on this coastline. The Cooper’s Cottage was where the barrels were made to house the precious whale oil that would be shipped off to London for use in lamps.

CoopersCottage04 040610

But well before whalers arrived, local Māori were established here and had a long and intimate history with the landscape. This is fundamentally important to most sites in New Zealand, and is always a core aspect of any concept.

The Exhibition Design

The small exhibition centres around two key pieces - the Thousand Years of History Interactive and the Whaling Miniature dioramas. These pieces were created specifically with this room in mind to be low key, compact and detailed. We worked with expert furniture designers and model makers to create the aesthetic and finish that would suit the time period and the room.

A Thousand Years of History is a bi-lingual interactive animation. In a similar approach to the Northland History Map, we tell the ancient stories of Ngai Tahu using elegant, hand-drawn depictions of myths and ancestors. The interactive can toggle seamlessly between English and Te Reo, and is extremely popular with international visitors who love the cadence of Te Reo while watching the animations.

Whale view

Whaling Dioramas - The interpretive models and stories are housed in hand-made oak cases, with all curves created using the ancient coopering technique. The models tell the story of how a whale gets turned into a barrel of oil, and what it ends up getting used for. These highly detailed scenes paint a sequential picture and are popular with all ages.