Te Papa is a museum like no other
Rated by Lonely Planet as one of their top 500 places on earth, New Zealand’s interactive national museum is a must-visit
The museum's full name translates to 'container of treasures', which is an apt description for a museum considered the home of New Zealand stories. Over 30 million visitors have come through the door since Te Papa opened in 1998, and once you start wandering between exhibitions, you won't be wondering why this museum is so wildly popular.
Te Papa is so rich in stories that even its staff are constantly learning. Anny Mawson, a museum host and one of the 'public faces' of Te Papa, says she didn't expect how much new information she'd take on in her role. She shares these cultural, scientific and historical insights while hosting tours, drawing on her background in education to keep visitors engaged and entertained.
Anny says her favourite thing about working at Te Papa is the people - both her colleagues and the visitors she looks after. This reflects a Māori proverb that explains the most important thing in the world: "he tangata, he tangata, he tangata", or: "it is people, it is people, it is people".
For visitors who are unfamiliar with Māori culture, start with the Mana Whenua exhibition. Spending time in this space is a powerful way to understand New Zealand's indigenous people, with a blend of artefacts and modern art that explains how our nation's heritage is so essential to our modern-day culture.
Te Papa is one of Tripadvisor’s top 25 museums in the world
Now that you understand a bit about Kiwi culture, explore some of the national art collection in Toi Art. This set of galleries both maps the evolution of Kiwi art and hosts newly-commissioned contemporary works. From a giant three-dimensional social media page to an immersive space where your mood controls the lighting, Toi Art is proof that art is about so much more than paintings on a wall. Museum host Anny Mawson says there's visible excitement on the faces of people seeing these spectacular installations. Her favourite is Indra's Bow, a huge rainbow piece by Tiffany Singh that even smells amazing, so you can enjoy it with your eyes closed too.
You'll also want to set aside some time aside for reflection in an exhibition that's true to Wellington's famous spirit of collaboration. Te Papa have joined forces with Weta Workshop to create an exhibition that hammers home and humanises the stark realities of war. Gallipoli: The Scale of our War follows eight ordinary New Zealanders through the Gallipoli campaign, using their real stories and words to explain this harrowing event.
The exhibition opens with literally larger-than-life models of these real Kiwis, expertly crafted at 2.4 times human size. This monumental scale reflects the monumental impact of this event, which is explained through models, 3-D maps, interactive displays and miniatures.
If you want to know more about New Zealand’s creatures and critters, head to Te Taiao Nature, an exhibition that celebrates our weird and wonderful wildlife. It tells the story of our shaky isles and their seismic history, how this influenced our incredible native flora and fauna, and what we're doing today to protect our natural treasures.
And once you've learned about our natural wonders, head out to Bush City for some fresh air. This living outdoor exhibition is a bushwalk with a difference, with thousands of native plant species and some fun family-friendly activities too.
Museum host Anny Mawson says that having returned to New Zealand after years living overseas, working at Te Papa has made her fall back in love with her own country. Once you've experienced this museum's magic, it's hard not to feel the same way about New Zealand.