The Museum of New Zealand’s Māori name, Te Papa Tongarewa, roughly translates as ‘container of treasures of this land’, which suits it perfectly as the museum is a treasure trove of historical artifacts and modern marvels, all of which have shaped New Zealand into the beautiful country you see today. Covering art, history, the Pacific, Māori culture and heritage, and the natural environment, the interactive exhibitions take you on a journey through the history of New Zealand and on an exploration of the country’s natural and cultural heritage.
Te Papa is located in a landmark building in the heart of Wellington, the capital of New Zealand, and it embodies the harmonious integration of the Māori and European cultures in both its collections and the design of the building itself. Its north face is perched over the harbour and is home to the Marae, an inclusive meeting place for all New Zealanders and international visitors, where a powhiri (a traditional greeting incorporating music and speeches) welcomes all who enter. A contemporary waharoa, or gateway, signals the entrance to the Marae, honouring the original Māoris who made the journey across the ocean, the European navigators (including Abel Tasman and James Cook) and other ethnic groups who arrived in the country. Te Papa’s southern face, on the other hand, is distinctly European – looking out over the city, its walls are brightly coloured and its grid-like interior mirrors that of a European settlement.
Te Papa’s Marae, a permanent communal centre, is just one of the bold, unique ideas at this fascinating museum. The Taste of Treasures tour, for example, gives visitors an insight into Māori culture by both guiding them through the relevant exhibitions and serving traditional refreshments – rēwena bread with pikopiko pesto, kawakawa and mānuka honey shortbread, and kawakawa tea with mānuka honey. For visitors merely wanting to wander around the extensive collections, entry is completely free of charge and, given that it is one of the largest national museums in the world, there is more than enough to see. Multimedia and interactive exhibits mean that children will be just as interested as adults – you can experience what it is like to be in an earthquake or see into the future to what Wellington might look like in 2055.
The Museum of New Zealand is what every museum should be. It is engaging, relevant and vibrant and its ‘container of treasures’ provides an excellent introduction to this beautiful country.