Mother and children looking at an animated display in Santa's Cave

Santa's Cave

Santa’s Cave is a much-loved Palmy institution, a favourite holiday treasure that’s been enchanting generations for more than 100 years! For some, it is a magical trip down memory lane. Others find its kitsch-factor totally endearing. There are those who even find it curiously creepy… but all agree, it wouldn’t be Christmas in Palmerston North without the Cave. Since 1918 its sparkle and joy has put a smile on the faces of thousands of visitors every year.

Santa’s Cave is open daily from 10am-5pm from 11 Nov 2023 – 7 Jan 2024. (closes 3pm Christmas Eve, closed Christmas Day, Boxing Day and New Year’s Day)


Christmas events

Every year Te Manawa complements the Santa’s Cave season with a programme of events. Some are new ideas, while others are community favourites that have been running for years. Keep an eye out here and on our events calendar to see what we’re offering.

Photo of Santa Claus holding a wrapped present

Santa's Cave Shop

Visit the Santa’s Cave shop for souvenirs, unique decorations and the perfect gift for that special someone who has everything. Take home your very own Santa’s Cave kitten, ceramic elf or t-shirt. Every purchase made in the Santa’s Cave shop supports Te Manawa in keeping the Cave alive for future generations.

You can even buy your Santa’s Cave memorabilia online!

Photograph of Leo Collinson and John Cunninghame

C&Cs - Where it all began

In August 1904, Leo Henry Collinson and John Cunninghame started a clothing store on The Square in Palmerston North. Their partnership was a roaring success, and by 1910 the business of Collinson & Cunninghame Ltd employed more than 50 people. When members of the Collinson and Cunninghame families sold the business to Farmers Trading Company in 1983, C&Cs (as it had become known) was considered to have been a true family business built on delivering value, quality and excellent service.

Picture of Toyland, in C&C Department Store, 1923

Collinson & Cunninghame traded for 79 years. From its early days as a mail order business to the lavishly decorated department store that many felt at home in, C&Cs had come to occupy a place in the hearts of Palmerston North locals.

‘Toyland’ was the store’s toy department, in 1923. Before Santa’s Cave opened in 1918, Santa would be visited by children in Toyland.

Pandemic - rebuilding a community through Christmas cheer

1918 saw the end of the First World War but also the arrival in New Zealand of the influenza pandemic, which swept across the world in October and November that year, killing more than 8,600 New Zealanders. Concerned citizens, including Leo Collinson, organised relief aid for many people afflicted by sickness across the town. Across Palmerston North, 5,000 toys were distributed – one for every child under 10.

Santa waves to the crowd from the balcony of C&C’s, 1930.

1918 - Santa's Cave Opens!

To generate a spirit of optimism throughout the community, C&Cs decided to go ahead and open Santa’s Cave, which it did on Christmas Eve, 1918. On that day, the Manawatu Standard ran an advertisement describing the Cave as “130 feet of winding maze”, a “wonderful subterranean maze and tunnel”, and “dimly lit, fun, surprises, laughter, presents. Big prizes for all.” Admission was one shilling (the equivalent of $11 today). Children under the age of 14 were allowed in from 6.30 to 8.30pm.

Santa waves to the crowd from the balcony of C&C’s, 1930.

Clowns and acrobats

In the windows of the store, displays included an electrically run toy circus complete with clowns, acrobats and animals. Santa’s Cave grew enormously in popularity in the aftermath of WWI. One of the store’s catalogues recorded that in 1921, 11,000 people visited. Numbers continued to grow as each year a new set of displays was added.

Santa waves to the crowd from the balcony of C&C’s, 1930.

The Monkey Band originally wore green uniforms, and were installed in time for the 1965 re-opening of Santa’s Cave.

Making the displays

Merchandising in department stores has always required the skills of display artists and designers. Shop windows were usually filled with specially built displays showing off clothing, fabrics, toys and other goods. The display artists who worked at C&Cs were responsible for creating the displays in Santa’s Cave.

Sometimes the displays were themed around a particular event. After World War Two, a model Victory Parade was built. In 1952, an elaborate scene celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. This included parades of lead soldiers and a royal carriage fixed to a constantly running conveyor belt. A large-gauge railway set was also added.