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

See you in November!

Santa’s Cave is a much-loved Palmy institution! In fact, our favourite holiday treasure has 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.

2021 visitor information

Santa’s Cave closes on 24 December, 2021. Covid-19 restrictions apply. Please plan your visit accordingly to avoid disappointment. More than 12,000 people visit Santa’s Cave each year during the holidays, and this year the Covid-19 pandemic brings with it some additional challenges:

  • Grown-ups will be required to wear a mask or present an exemption certificate upon entry
  • Groups will be limited to ensure adequate physical distancing and will need to book their visit in advance
  • Santa will be distanced to help keep him safe
  • Additional hygiene measures will be in place, which means the carousel interactive will be unavailable

When New Zealand reaches a 90 per cent vaccination level and moves to the new Covid-19 Traffic Light alert system, these requirements will change and enable us to ease some of these restrictions. Until then, we apologise for any inconvenience!

Picture of a laptop showing the Santa's Cave web-page
Please click below to book your Santa's Cave visit via eventbrite. Restrictions on numbers us manage physical distancing in Santa's Cave as required by the Government's Public Health Guidelines under Covid-19 Alert Level Two.

Online Tours!

If you're out of town, out of the country, or otherwise can't make it in to see Santa this season, our online Santa's Cave experiences are the ideal thing for you. Andi is giving live tours of Palmy's favourite Christmas exhibition, and will even be able to answer your questions in real time!
Photo of Santa Claus holding a wrapped present

Santa's Cave Shop

The Santa's Cave shop offers a variety of special trinkets for unique gift-giving. Choose from our range of themed Santa's Cave merchandise, Christmas collectibles, games, puzzles and handmade toys from the Manawatū Woodworkers' Guild. By supporting the shop, you're helping keep the cave alive.
Photograph of Leo Collinson and John Cunninghame

C&C's - 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&C’s (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, or ‘C&C’s’ as it came to be popularly known, ran 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&C’s 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 marked 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&C’s 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 $11.00 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 WWII. 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&C’s 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, while in 1952, an elaborate display celebrated the coronation of Queen Elizabeth. This included parades of lead soldiers and a royal carriage fixed to a conveyor belt which ran constantly. A large-gauge railway set was also added.