Te Papa

30 Dec

Samoan musical instruments

I love museums. In London we visit them all the time, I’m quite the connoisseur. So when I read that Te Papa in Wellington is considered to be one of the world’s best museums, it was added to must do list.

It didn’t disappoint. I’d go so far as to say that it’s the best museum I’ve ever visited. I know that sounds like wild exaggeration, and I’ll be the first to admit that I can exaggerate with the best of them, but in this case, it’s true. It really is a wonderful place.

Te Papa can be roughly translated as the place housing the treasures of the nation.  Or something like that.   But it does more than just house the treasures, it attempts to encapsulate what it is that makes New Zealand unique and what it is to be a Kiwi.  Actually, it doesn’t just attempt it, it achieves it magnificently.

The first level covers the natural history of New Zealand, the highlight of which has to be the colossal squid, the only one of its kind on display in the world. It has eyes as big as footballs!  Well, one eye as big as a football, its lost the other one.

The next floor up is all about earthquakes and volcanoes, which we skipped, having done a lot of that stuff in Hawaii.  We could have happily spent three days in the place, but sadly only had one.

The third level, and the one on which we spent the most time, is all about nationhood and the human influences on New Zealand.  The Maori artefacts are beautifully displayed, with buildings you can enter and a real Marae (meeting house) that was commissioned from the best Maori carvers living today.

The South Pacific section includes a cow made from tins of beef, Captain Cook’s Hawaiian feather cloak and a film about the long sea journey’s taken by people from all over the Pacific to New Zealand cleverly projected onto a model of a boat, bringing it alive.   There’s also lots of information about the modern South Pacific influence on New Zealand, which is considerable, not least because of the numbers of Islanders who’ve immigrated here.

Other sections on this floor covered recent immigration and of course, the British influence.  The whole thing is done with a lack of formality and a good dose of dry Kiwi humour. There can’t be many museums that use fake grass, caravans and flip flops, sorry jandals, to muse on what nationhood means.

One of the highlights on this floor is a junk shop that literally comes alive, telling the story of 20th Century New Zealand. The top two floors are dedicated to art, and I had a brief look at some wonderful photos by New Zealand’s most famous photographer, Brian Brake, who was a member of Magnum.

In all areas of the museum are thoughtful children’s sections, which are fully integrated into the main sections, with real exhibits, presented in a way that’s engaging for children. So as well as the usual dressing up, we did Maori flax weaving, had a ukulele lesson, played in a 1950’s corner shop and beat mulberry bark into paper.

Throughout the museum the staff were knowledgeable, enthusiastic and keen to answer whatever question we asked, if they didn’t know the answer, they did a google search for us.

We came away with a really good picture of the country, it’s influences, natural history, geology and what it means to be a citizen. New Zealanders are very proud of Te Papa, they have every right to be.

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One Response to “Te Papa”

  1. Rachel 02/01/2011 at 4:28 pm #

    I found this post so interesting as I think it shows that a place like Te Papa perfectly demonstrates the difference in what you get out of travel. The same building was a completely different visit to us as New Zealand identity is now so ingrained in us through the family – they live in Northland and we HAVE many of the trinkets in that part of the museum sent to us over the years – that the Maori floor was flitted past, and I did’t realise how much our children had absorbed from us about their heritage. What they loved was the old toys bits, the natural history, the volcanoes and earthquakes as we had just come from Rotorua and Napier – nearly all of which they could have seen back in London but of course was so relevant that they found it fascinating RIGHT THEN. So glad you love NZ as much as we do…Happy New Year xxxx

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