Te Papa Museum, Wellington
Te Papa Tongarewa, The Museum of New Zealand, to give it its proper name, is a huge concrete building on the waterfront in central Wellington.
Entering, I find the cloak room who kindly look after my coat, and don't even charge for the privilege.
At the information desk the helpful assistant suggests the best way to see the museum is to take the lift to the top floor and work my way down.
So starting on the sixth floor, which has an exhibition of pottery by Peter Stichbury, an artist from Auckland. I can't say pottery is my thing (though I did a little in art class at school) but I did find it interesting.
Moving down to the fifth floor (the sixth had a relatively small exhibition area), artworks from many New Zealand artists, from both Maori and European traditions were on display. It's quite interesting to see how both have added influence from the other into their works over the years.
On the fourth floor, I find an exhibition of Tapa (bark cloth from islands of the Pacific). This is another very interesting aspect of cultures I know very little about. There were a number of huge animal masks which apparently are worn once at ceremonies and then burned to release the animal's spirit.
There was a lot of interesting information about the inhabitants of New Zealand, both Maori and more recent settlers, and the original treaty between them, which is considered the founding document of New Zealand. One thing I never realised is that Kiwi fruit don't actually come from New Zealand, but in fact China. Apparently they were known a Chinese Gooseberries until the Kiwi fruit name was picked as a marketing tool, and has been so successful that it's now used regardless of the origin of the fruit. In an effort to combat this, there's a more recent brandname reserved for New Zealand Kiwis, but the fact that I can't remember what it is suggest it's not catching on.
Also on the fourth floor (well, there's lots of stuff, I'm just picking a few highlights) is an example of a Marae (meeting place), which is a large wooden hut, covered in intricate carvings. It was somewhere around here that I bumped into an Irish couple (I recognised the accent first, but the guy was wearing a Connaught Rugby jersey, removing any doubt), so we were chatting for a few minutes. I had just arrived, while they were on the last day of a month in New Zealand. They were from Kildare, west of Dublin, but one of their mothers lives in Drogheda, where I live, so it really is a small world.
We parted company as we were both running out of time to take in the rest of the museum. The third floor is about geology and animal life of New Zealand, which is a pretty geologically active region (I'd earlier seen some paintings upstairs of beautiful pink stepped terraces that were a popular subject for painters until they were destroyed by a volcanic eruption in the 1840s).
The animal life covered both native and introduced species. I was most interested the Moa, the extinct flightless bird. There was also a special section on protecting the habitat from further contamination. This was cleverly set in a cargo container, full of goods that could be harbouring undesirable invaders.
Down to the second floor, which is sea life, and one of the highlights of the whole museum was the colossal squid that was caught in 2007. It was pretty amazing to see, even though it was only a juvenile at 4 metres long, and adults apparently grow much larger. There was a fun 3D movie about the colossal squids that gave a little more insight into what is known of their mysterious lifestyle.
I think I missed a bit, because I read there's also an earthquake simulator on this level, so I might have to go back.
There didn't seem to be anything on the entrance level. I didn't realise that apparently this is because there are huge rubber and lead shock absorbers that the whole building sits on. You can get down to have a look, so I might have to do that too.
If you find yourself in Wellington, I strongly recommend visiting the museum. It's one of the most interesting and varied museums I've ever visited, and lots of fun.