One of the main things I wanted to do in Wellington was visit Te Papa, The National Museum of New Zealand.
The museum's full name Te Papa Tongarewa roughly means the place of treasures of this land in Te Reo Maori. It opened in 1998, and is both a museum and an art gallery.
I turned up at 10am, ready for a few hours of browsing around the museum. Unfortunately about 100 school kids in hideous blue and green uniforms had turned up too. After taking a quick look at my newly purchased map (Te Papa is mostly free, but if you want a map you have to pay $3 for it) I decided to head up to the top of the building and work my way down, in the vain hope of at least avoiding the screaming kids for some of the time.
There are 6 levels in Te Papa, and Level 6 housed the Sculpture Space and a short-term exhibition about precious metals.
Precious Metals had a bit about the gold rush in NZ and some pieces that were made with the gold. Some of it was pretty disturbing really, like this gold brooch made with a huia bill (a now extinct NZ bird):
There was also some modern NZ jewellery showcased, which did not involve bits of rare and extinct animals. I enjoyed that part of the exhibit a lot more.
Outside in the Sculpture space were two exhibits.... now I don't know much about sculptures, so maybe they were groundbreakingly stunning but to be honest I didn't really see it....
A group of schoolkids caught up to me at the chicken sculptures though, and they seemed to have fun trying to push them over!
Next was Level 5 which is the home of Toi Te Papa - Art of the Nation.
This art gallery showed how art in NZ has changed and been influenced throughout the ages - there were some really great pieces of Maori art, European settler art and modern NZ art. I really liked Goldie's The Widow which looked so realistic I could have sworn it was a photo not a painting from 1903.
In the modern art section I liked the simplistic yet colourful birds painted by Don Binney. I think my favourite piece of artwork overall was Emily Karaka's collage Ka awatea. The worst thing I saw was a piece of modern art which mas basically a blank canvas with the canvas part ripped out leaving only the frame. I really do not understand modern art like this, I much prefer something that looks like some effort was put into creating it. You can check these out at http://collections.tepapa.govt.nz/ but the pictures on there don't really do the real things justice.
Level 4 had several mainstay exhibits. The expat in me appreciated the Passports exhibition, which looked at immigration to New Zealand over the last couple of centuries through personal stories of immigrants.
There was also a temporary exhibit dedicated to my people The Scots!! In particular the Scottish influence in NZ, with some particular focus on the Dunedin and Southland areas to where a lot of Scots immigrated.
The big exhibits on the 4th Level were Tangata o le Moana: the story of Pacific people in NZ and Mana Whenua which looked at Pacific and Maori culture respectively. Some of the Pacific stuff was interesting but much of it I'd seen in similar exhibits at other museums. The most spectacular piece was without a doubt Te Papa's contemporary marae, Rongomaraeroa.
This is a specially designed marae (communal meeting place) for Te Papa, carved by leading Maori carvers. I think it is absolutely stunning, but you do have to see it in real life to appreciate it. I bought a poster in the shop so I could look at it forever.
Level 3 had only one exhibition, but it was my favourite, called Blood Earth Fire - Whangai Whenua Ahi Ka.
Blood Earth Fire looks at the changing landscape of NZ from before the Maori arrived to the cultivation by European settlers and beyond. The list of extinct creatures and plants was quite sobering to see. I particularly liked the NZ forest full of birds now extinct or endangered, along with birdsong to help set the atmosphere of a forest long since destroyed.
Down to Level 2, and almost at the end of my Te Papa day. First there was the Awesome Forces room, looking at volcanoes, earthquakes, tidal waves etc. For anyone who wants to know, this is also where the dinosaur fossils are housed and some other bits and pieces I guess they couldn't figure out where to put them. There was also a cool video showing the Maori creation myth, Papatuanuku.
Next door was Mountains to Sea which will be housing the Colossal Squid exhibit which I was unfortunately 2 weeks to early to see. The rest of this small area looks at the major ecosystems of NZ through animals and plants.
The other big part of Level 2 was Our Space, which I honestly did not get the point of at all. It is a big interactive space with a giant map of NZ on the floor and some massive screens on the wall where you can put up photos electronically. I was being technically challenged as I couldn't get it to work properly. I did enjoy watching two 13 year old girls getting chucked out of Our Space for putting up a massive photo of themselves fake kissing each other. There were two simulator rides as well, the High Ride (which was just an excuse to get jolted around in a theme park ride style whilst watching random video of NZ life) and the much more educational and entertaining Deep Ride. This one took you down to an underwater volcano in the Pacific in a little submarine simulator.
Finally down to Level 1, which is basically the entrance, the shop and cafe and info desk. Outside however is Bush City.
This was a lovely forest environment with a swing bridge and waterfall, a (fake) glowworm cave with stalactites and a sand pit equipped with fossils to dig for.
This made a nice change to the last few hours I'd spent inside. When I got to Bush City there was practically nobody else around, so it really did feel like a peaceful sanctuary away from the bustle of the city and the museum.
So that was Te Papa. It certainly had some fascinating and well designed areas. I really liked it, but in some ways I felt like it was a bit too shiny and commercial, dumbed down for the masses. Sometimes I miss musty old museums....