Day 123: A museum that really makes you think


New Year’s celebrations overseas and alone can be hit and miss.

Solo for New Year in Iceland was amazing.

I spent NYE 2014 on a tour going to see different bonfires around Reykjavik and, when the clock struck midnight, the fireworks were incredible, going on for almost an hour.

New Year’s Day there was great too. I joined another tour, this time to see waterfalls and geysers while bonding with an Irish couple over our despair at how comically terrible the tour guide was.

I didn’t enjoy NYE 2015 in Bologna. It felt like a very family orientated event and being alone, I didn’t feel part of the proceedings. An early night in my hotel eating chocolate that night.

NYD however was a completely different story.

I went out and stumbled into a brass band marching up and down the streets, playing outside cafes that were open as a thank you for being open and people came out to dance.

I walked the porticoed walk to the San Luca Basilica on the hill, expecting to be on my own, but it seemed that everyone in Bologna was walking too. The streets were closed to traffic and everybody was out just strolling.

When I came back into city, all of the restaurants were open and after lunch (spaghetti bolognese naturally) I stepped out into a large demonstration which ended with a dance in one of the historic buildings in the centre.

Best NYD ever.

So, back to New Year 2019 and after a marvellous NYE at the Carter Observatory, what would NYD in Wellington offer?

Christmas in New Zealand coincides with the start of the Summer holidays so everyone leaves town and heads for the countryside and seaside.

Wellington has been a quiet capital city experience so I didn’t expect a lot to be happening.

It was quiet today.

A small number of cafes, on my late morning walk into town were open, but only until 2.30pm. By 5pm, on my return cafe more of the city centre bars and eateries were opening but trade appeared to be slow.

So what did I do today?

Te Papa was open. I made a beeline there.

So did everyone else apparently.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is New Zealand’s national museum, located in Wellington. Known as Te Papa, or ‘Our Place’, though the full name means ‘Container of Treaaures’.

It opened in 1998 after the merging of the National Museum and the National Art Gallery and it really is a container of treasures though it took me a little while to appreciate that.

The biggest queues were for the earthquake house and the exhibit about New Zealand’s Gallipoli experience. Other exhibitions were quieter.

Te Papa is a fantastic museum. Initially and unfairly, I was looking around thinking: “Well, this is great for kids,” (which it is) “but I’m not sure there is much here for me.”

How wrong I was.

It’s a very child friendly museum, and I think museums should be – learning should be fun. There are lots of stations for kids to be creative, to draw, to build, to write down their thoughts and play.

It’s also a museum that doesn’t allow you to passively absorb information. It actually challenges you to think about and question the information you’re being presented with.

Protecting the kiwi is a high priority in New Zealand but Te Papa asks visitors to consider, why the kiwi and not the eel (which is also endangered)?

The exhibition on climate change included this display asking people their views on sustainability against price. The museum offers a great mechanism for understanding understanding people’s views.

Once I realised the way the museum challenged, I was exploring with a different perspective. It also helped that several of the exhibits played strongly to my Public Health geekery.

Yes, I’ve had another Public Health day out.

New Zealand’s geology – earthquakes and volcanoes – inevitably features heavily here. It’s not a dry presentation of statistics at Te Papa though.

The exhibition weaves Maori creation legends – like Space Place does – through the explanations and descriptions of the geothermal activity. It’s a great way of telling a story.

The museum has also updated its display since the White Island eruption in December 2019, asking people to leave a note of their thoughts and feelings about this.

This approach is based on work undertaken after the Christchurch earthquake in 2011, when a university student left blackboard around town and asked people to comment.

The boards had to be wiped every three hours.

This project has clearly created a guide for how to support people through a traumatic environmental event. Being able to share their experiences about how they were impacted by a disaster can help support resilience.

Additionally, art work created in response to the Christchurch earthquake was displayed, highlighting the respite it provided: “When our hands were busy it became possible to forget for a while“.

There was also artwork on display – capturing the history of New Zealand and all of its peoples – though after such a strong presentation on climate and environmental crises that asked visitors what they can do to protect the planet, I was a little surprised to see a vast installation comprised entirely of plastic confetti.

Bouquet – that’s a lot of plastic.

The exhibitions drew together the threads of the stories and issues that I’ve learned about in different places across the country – the impact of logging, the destruction of the native flora, the invasive species, the history of Maori and Pacific peoples and, of course, community action.

This was a great museum in which to conclude a month’s visit to New Zealand.

Te Papa – on the Wellington waterfront, open every day 10am-6pm and free. Donations appreciated.

Categories: New Zealand, Public Health, TravelTags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

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