New Zealand: Invercargill's biggest tourist attraction may surprise you

Who knew that I'd be excited to learn about the world's only functioning Texaco tanker … but here I am, listening intently as sales manager Luisa Kuresa tells me it is one of only three Texaco tankers left in the world. To be completely transparent, I had to sneakily ask my husband what Texaco stood for, but an hour later I'm clued up on all things Texaco … and transport in general.

I have to be honest here – I'm not a transport lover. Sure, I like taking a scenic drive and can appreciate duel-zone airconditioning and heated leather seats, but that's as far as it goes. I don't talk cars or engines or petrol pumps. Yet here I am at Bill Richardson Transport World – Invercargill's biggest tourist attraction – and somehow it all seems more interesting. It probably helps it's not all cars. There are plenty of trucks and petrol pumps and a couple of interactive exhibits too.

When I need a break from all things automotive, I sneak off to an upstairs section of the museum where there's a wearable arts exhibition. Later, when my husband and Luisa are in deep discussion about the Ford letter car collection, I find another upstairs section, this one fitted out with memorabilia from the 1900s that takes me straight back to long lazy days at my grandmother's house. There are antique high chairs and bassinets, a grand old sewing machine, and a cabinet filled with china that looks just like a set gran used to have on display. For kids, there's a LEGO construction room and a replica jail where they can dress up and play on the Ford Model T Paddy Wagon.

The highlight for most people is the hundreds of cars, trucks and tankers on display. Spread out across five sheds, the museum takes up a whole city block – an area of 15,000 square metres.

The vast and varied collection was started by Bill Richardson, an Invercargill local and aficionado of cars and trucks. Bill's first vehicle purchase was his grandfather's 1933 International D1 Truck in 1967 and from there his collection rapidly grew. When he passed away in 2005, aged 65, he owned 170 vehicles (as well as a range of petrol pumps and automotive memorabilia).

After his death, his collection was further developed by his family and the museum was opened to the public in 2015. In 2016 the company acquired Classic Motorcycle Mecca (a collection of about 300 motorcycles); and in 2017 Dig This Invercargill was opened (a heavy equipment playground where guests can operate their own machinery in an adult-sized sandpit).

Bill's daughter, Joc O'Donnell, looks after the logistics of the business today and as I roam around the sheds I notice just how immaculately maintained everything is and how interestingly the information is presented. Luisa tells me the company has its own full-time team of mechanics who ensure vehicles are in tip-top shape, with many of them still fully functional. Each car and truck has its own placard beside it too, with a story about where it came from.

It was Joc who decided that the museum needed to house more than just car paraphernalia, opening the various other interest spaces to appeal to a greater audience. The concept works well. While my husband is on the phone to his dad about the Kombi caravan collection (a more recent collection of Joc's), I'm watching a rerun of Goodbye Pork Pie (there's a cinema in the museum too). I also spend a bit of time in the various bathrooms … because as odd as it sounds, they are another cool feature of the museum.

All of the bathrooms in the complex have been decked out thematically, with funky colour palettes and design features used to make that necessary visit a little bit more exciting. Sadly for us girls, the best bathroom is the male one located underneath the glass elevator, where you can do your business while looking out into the museum through a one-way window.

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FLY

Air New Zealand offers daily flights to Invercargill via Christchurch from Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, with connections available from across Australia. See airnewzealand.com.au

STAY

The Lodges at Transport World were opened in 2017 and are across the road from the museum. There are six boutique rooms, each one with its own design theme.

EAT

The café on-site – The Grille – offers delicious and well-sized breakfasts and lunches. In the café there's a great kids' play room and a few smaller dining areas designed to depict other eras.

Tatyana Leonov travelled as a guest of Tourism New Zealand.

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