Because of its relatively young age (New Zealand is one of the last countries to have been “discovered” in written history), New Zealand’s past isn’t as extensively documented as that of its colonizers, for instance. Thankfully, however, that didn’t hinder the powers that be in this country from coming up with an institution as intriguing as the Museum of New Zealand.
The country’s eponymous museum is arguably its most innovative and interactive. If you were only in NZ for a limited time and wanted to visit an attraction that allowed you to explore all of its great treasures and stories (its unique natural environment, Maori culture, art heritage, and what we know of its history), Te Papa Tongarewa has your name on it.
To further entice you to put this venerable institution on your itinerary, here are ten of the coolest trivia about its past, present, and future:
1. The Museum of New Zealand was established in 1992 by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongerawa Act.
However, it wasn’t officially opened until Valentine’s Day 1998. By then, building costs had gone all the way up to NZ$300 million.
2. It’s called “Te Papa Tongarewa” in the Maori tongue.
This broadly translates into “The Place of Treasures of this Land.” Given how the museum’s principles incorporate the narratives of culture and place, and how these relate to the bi-cultural partnership between indigenous and non-indigenous people, such a translation is quite appropriate.
3. A modern five-story hotel previously occupied the museum’s present-day site.
To make way for the museum, the said hotel was pulled off its foundations onto numerous rail bogies and transported 200 meters down the road to where it currently sits. It’s now called the Museum Hotel.
4. Among the permanent displays of the museum are the remains of a colossal squid.
At 495 kg and 4.2 metres, this rare specimen is the largest of its kind to have been captured in living memory. It was captured by New Zealand fishermen in the Ross Sea off Antarctica and was subsequently enshrined in the the museum in 2007.
5. Back in 1998, a controversial art work displayed at the museum drew vehement protests from Christians.
It was Tania Kovats’ “Virgin in a Condom,” and it featured a 7 cm-high statue of the Blessed Virgin sheathed in, well, a condom. The Christians hated it, big surprise.
6. There is an extensive library on Maori art and history on the fourth floor of the museum’s main building.
Called the Te Aka Matua Library, it used to be open to the general public. These days, it’s only open to researchers who can make appointments to conduct their studies within between 10 am to 5 pm, from Mondays to Fridays.
7. The museum’s history collection includes dresses and textiles that date all the way back to the sixteenth century.
Philatelics (i.e., those who like to collect stamps) will also be delighted by the 20,000 stamps in the New Zealand Post Archive in this area.
8. Since 2013, the museum has been split into two parts.
One has been operating the same way ever since the institution opened, and the other one focused on exhibitions that showcased the future of New Zealand art and culture.
9. NZ-developed technology was used to strengthen the main building’s base against earthquakes.
Base isolation, which involves seating the entire building on supports made from lead, steel, and rubber, was invoked to diminish the effects of an earthquake on the museum and all of its precious contents.
10. The Museum of New Zealand maintains an active events calendar.
For instance, this month alone, they’ve got the “Nga Kai o Matariki,” which celebrates traditional Maori New year cuisine; “Tiramarama,” a storytelling session involving some of Aotearoa New Zealand’s best-known tales in both Maori and English; and “Theatre: Fire in the Water, Fire in the Sky,” where three Pasifika performers interpret concepts like climate change, colonization, and Christianity through theater and dance.
The Museum of New Zealand is located at 55 Cable Street, Wellington Central, Wellington, 6011, New Zealand. Entry is free of charge and save for Christmas Day, is open every day from 10 am – 6 pm.