Sunday, November 7, 2010

Te Papa

I thought of two more things for my list of differences between New Zealand and Canada:

1. Parking lots are called "car parks".
2. Sidewalks are called "foot paths".

Today I went to pull my bag of cereal out of my backpack and it came out slightly damp… definitely not a good sign. Upon further investigation I found that the bundle of Mandarin oranges I had bought two days ago (!) contained two rotters, which were leaking fetid juices into the shopping bag. Thankfully, all my food is in plastic ziploc bags, so nothing was damaged, but I still had the delightful task of weeding out the few remaining edible oranges, and then washing the bag. By the time I was done my appetite for breakfast was somewhat diminished.

However, the rest of the day was pleasant: I spent it at Te Papa Tongarewa, the National Museum of New Zealand. ("Te Papa" means "Our Place" in Māori.) If you are ever in Wellington you *have* to go; admission is free (a few visiting exhibits require payment), but the architecture of the building and the presentation of the exhibits alone - let alone their content - are worth your time.

Sculptures in front of Te Papa

Having learned my lesson at the Auckland Museum, I didn't attempt to look at everything in Te Papa; I skipped the exhibits that were of lesser interest to me. This included most of the Māori artifacts, but that was because I saw so many of them at the Auckland Museum. It also included about half the animal and plant exhibits, and that was more because I was running out of time and I had left them until the end. I did, however, see the giant squid, which is the only one of its kind on exhibit in the world. It's quite a site to see: at over four metres long, they're not kidding when they say "giant"! It was caught accidentally by a New Zealand fishing ship off the coast of Antarctica in 2007, and donated to the museum by the fishermen, who realised its significance. It was preserved in formalin, and is now exhibited in a specially-designed tank/case.

The first thing I noticed upon coming through the door of Te Papa was a "what's on" board, announcing the Elios String Quartet would be playing a one-hour concert from 12-1 in the Expresso Café on level 4. Never one to pass up a free concert, I bought myself an L&P and had a seat in one of the café chairs, where I ate my lunch (bread and butter and salami, yum) and was treated to the sounds of Mozart's Rondo Alla Turca, di Caupa's O Sole Mio, and several other pieces whose names I can't recall at the moment, but whose melodies were familiar enough that I knew them right away.

The concert finished, I started wandering around and looking at exhibits. Here are some I visited:

Passports: Voyages of migrants to New Zealand

The Mixing Room: Stories of young refugees to New Zealand

20th Century: The story of New Zealand since 1900, including exhibits on the effects of the great depression, the world wars, the country's anti-nuclear stance, the fight for gay rights, and the abortion debate. I had a bit of a shock at the 1950s section, where an interactive display about the increasing prevalence of television in New Zealand started playing Stan Freeberg's "Tele-Vee-Shun".

Blood, Earth, Fire: The story of human settlement in New Zealand, and the devastating impact it has had on native species and the landscape (finally! Admittance that New Zealand is not the pristine untouched wonderland that the tourism brochures proclaim it to be).

My Place: The stories of seven different contemporary New Zealanders and the part of New Zealand they consider home

Awesome Earth: An exhibit all about plate tectonics, the earth's structure and composition, earthquakes, volcanoes, water (erosion), and tsunamis.

In all of the exhibits, I was delighted by the accessibility and readability of their presentations: they combine traditional reading and viewing with hands-on interactive touch screens, audio visual presentations, and kinaesthetic models that one could manipulate and physically interact with. Whenever I found myself getting overwhelmed with reading, I would turn the corner and a video or interactive exhibit would catch my eye and keep me engaged. Anyone who thinks museums are boring obviously hasn't been to Te Papa.

Before I knew it it was 5:30, and with the museum closing soon I headed back for a 15-minute walk along Wellington's seafront to the hostel, where I cooked myself a spaghetti dinner with veggies (yum). Tomorrow morning I catch the 8:00am ferry from the Bluebridge terminal just across the street, but check-in time for foot passengers is 7:15am (ugh), so I had best get to bed. Here's hoping the ferry crossing is relatively smooth!

Te Papa across Wellington harbour


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