Visit Te Papa: The Museum of New Zealand, Wellington City

Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand Credit: J McLellan

Te Papa, Museum of New Zealand Credit: J McLellan

A visit to Wellington is not complete without a trip to Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand. This museum is educational, interactive and a great deal of fun. Te Papa is the Museum of New Zealand, located in the heart of Wellington City. A vibrant museum, Te Papa was built over a 4-year period and opened in 1998. Since that time over 17 million people have visited this place. Unlike many museums, Te Papa has people heading back for multiple visits.

A Brief History of Te Papa

The Colonial Museum was opened in 1865, a mere 25 years after the signing of The Treaty of Waitangi, which made New Zealand a nation. The museum was small, and over the years it changed name. A national Art gallery was opened, but both facilities were limited. In 1988 a Project Development Board was put together by the New Zealand Government. From there, the board traveled around New Zealand talking to iwi (tribes) and other people to find out more about what was wanted in a National Museum. In 1992, the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act was passed. The act held the lofty goals of the project, which among other things wanted to link the past, present and future.

Construction of the building began in 1994, with many wondering what the building was going to end up looking like. Questions were raised about the non-traditional design. However, opening in 1998, Te Papa became an instant icon, and the building was applauded. The Museum collections break into 5 areas: Art, History, Pacific, Maori, and Natural Environment. Most amazingly, the museum does not charge at the door, and those doors are open every day of the year.

What to see at Te Papa

The Colossal Squid Credit: J McLellan

The Colossal Squid Credit: J McLellan

Some exhibits are permanent, and not to be missed in a trip to Te Papa. The Natural World exhibit with walk-through rainforest, ocean and bird life is visually stunning. Here the Colossal Squid is housed, along with a 3D movie experience about life under the sea. Awesome Forces looks at the physics of planet earth, from within the core, to earthquakes, volcanoes and tsunami. Finding out more about how tectonic plates have formed the country is a valuable and somewhat scary experience.

Moving upstairs on one of the floors of Te Papa, the Mana Whenua exhibit is always a must see. Displaying the taonga (treasures) and stories of different iwi in New Zealand, the exhibit is fascinating. Each iwi has 18 months before the display is changed to another group. The taonga are priceless. Walking through to the Marae is always special, especially with the pounamu (greenstone) guardian outside. Rub the pounamu to help shape it and bring out its beauty.

One of the more unique collections is called “The Golden Age”, looking at recent life in New Zealand. ‘Kiwiana’ abounds, from motorcycles to corrugated iron cars to a pair of seaman’s trousers, each piece has its own story to tell. The Treaty of Waitangi exhibit stands proudly in the centre of the museum on the 4th floor. Here you can see and hear the stories of the treaty that united Maori and Pakeha, as well as learning about the challenges posed by the document itself.

Visiting Te Papa with Kids

The Poumanu in the Marae Credit: J McLellan

The Poumanu in the Marae Credit: J McLellan

Visiting some museums with small children can be a daunting prospect. Te Papa is designed with children in mind as well as the discerning museum goer. Children can run through the rainforest, walk on the swing bridge, dig for dinosaur bones, marvel at the glow-worms, take a virtual bungee jump and ride in the earthquake house. There are interactive rooms built within each section of the museum with hands-on activities for children with guides present to show kids what to do. Learn traditional Maori games or remix a hip-hop anthem. Walk down under Te Papa and see the technology in place to secure the building in case of an earthquake.

Some spaces are designed to be touched. The giant illuminated map of the country is a fascinating way of showing kids where they are in the world. Take photos and upload them on the digital wall. Take virtual thrill rides. Slide tectonic plates around to see the changes. Lift rocks from different parts of the earth to see how heavy they are. Te Papa has created magic moments for children.

A Whole Day in the Museum

Spending a whole day in Te Papa is easy. Lifts and escalators assist in scaling the floors of the building. Cafe’s and restaurants are found within Te Papa, with fantastic food on offer. However, bringing your own lunch is also fine, as there are areas for families and individuals to eat. Often performances or special activities are being held which you can join in with. Te Papa is a must see attraction in Wellington. A trip to Wellington, or to New Zealand, would not be complete without visiting Te Papa, the Museum of New Zealand.

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