The constantly evolving Museum of New Zealand, Te Papa, rewards repeat visits – you can spend an entire day among the exhibits and still not see them all. A couple of cafés help sustain long visits.
This $350-million celebration of all things New Zealand occupies a striking purpose-built five-storey building on the waterfront and was opened in 1998 after extensive consultation with iwi (tribes). Aimed equally at adults and children (including hands-on kids’ activities in dedicated “discovery” spaces), it combines state-of-the-art technology and dynamic exhibits. Well worth $3 is the Te Papa Explorer guide, outlining routes such as “Te Papa Highlights” or “Kids’ Highlights”. Alternatively, book one of the amazing guided tours.
The hub of Te Papa is Level 2, with its interactive section on earthquakes and volcanoes, where you can experience a realistic quake inside a shaking house, see displays on the fault line that runs right through Wellington, watch Mount Ruapehu erupt on screen and hear the Maori explanation of the causes of such activity. There’s also the hi-tech multimedia centre OurSpace, where you can project your own text images onto a giant screen, The Wall, and board two simulator rides ($10 each, or $18 for both): The High Ride, whirling you through the 3D world of The Wall, and the Deep Ride, journeying into a virtual underwater volcano. Level 2 also provides access to the outdoor Bush City, a synthesis of New Zealand environments complete with native plants, a small cave system and swingbridge. From November to March, the hour-long Taste of Treasures tour (11am; tickets must be bought before 10.45am; $24) includes traditional Maori refreshments made from bush plants.
The main collection continues on Level 4, home to the excellent main Maori section including a thought-provoking display on the Treaty of Waitangi, dominated by a giant glass image of this significant document. There’s also an active marae with a symbolic modern meeting house quite unlike the classic examples found around the country, protected by a sacred boulder of pounamu (greenstone); check behind the cupboard doors at the back for some imagery that shows both a sense of humour and the incredible significance of the place. Temporary exhibitions include displays by different iwi showcasing that particular iwi’s art and culture.
Adjacent to the marae, look out for displays on New Zealand’s people, land, history, trade and cultures including Michel Tuffery’s bullock made from corned beef cans, and Brian O’Connor’s paua-shell surfboard.
Level 5 is the home of New Zealand’s national art collection, displaying a changing roster of works on paper, oils and sculpture representing luminaries of the New Zealand art world past and present; Colin McCahon, Rita Angus, Ralph Hotere, Don Binney, Michael Smither and Shane Cotton are just a few names to watch for.