Te Papa’s ground-breaking new exhibition zone to open soon

From eggs to earthquakes, New Zealand’s natural heritage will soon be the subject of a ground-breaking new exhibition.

Aotearoa New Zealand’s natural heritage is about to emerge in a spectacular new form as national museum Te Papa, in capital city Wellington, prepares a ground-breaking new exhibition. 

The biggest change to Te Papa since the museum opened will be unveiled to the public on 11 May 2019. 

Te Taiao Nature, Te Papa’s NZ$12 million nature zone, is described as “a bold and immersive journey through the natural world of Aotearoa New Zealand, combining cutting-edge science with mātauranga Māori (knowledge and understanding of the universe).”

The 1,400-square-metre zone is a permanent new addition to the museum and includes four main exhibition themes:

  • Ika Whenua Unique NZ explores New Zealand’s weird and wonderful wildlife
  • Rūaumoko Active Land explores the geological forces that shaped New Zealand 
  • Te Kōhanga Nest focuses on the fragility, beauty and power of the natural world
  • Ngā Kaitiaki Guardians looks at some of the big environmental challenges facing Aotearoa New Zealand  

A priceless moa egg, one of only 36 in the world, will be at the heart of the spectacular new space. The moa was a species of giant flightless birds that became extinct around 500 years ago.

Te Taiao Nature will feature over 1,200 collection items from New Zealand’s natural world, along with dozens of new interactive experiences, from creating your own tsunami to weighing in against a giant moa. While the exhibition is completely new, two old favourites from the original nature exhibition will return: the colossal squid and a revamped Earthquake House.

Te Papa Chief Executive Geraint Martin says the world-leading exhibition “is a brand-new experience, unlike anything else in the world.”

“Twenty-one years ago, Te Papa redefined how New Zealanders see themselves and their country, and Te Taiao Nature is the next twist in that Te Papa DNA,” Mr Martin says.

The exhibition explores pressing environmental issues such as climate change, ocean health, fresh-water quality, and pest eradication. 

The museum’s incredible natural history collections will be showcased throughout, including a moa egg dating at least 700 years, one of only 36 known mostly intact moa eggs in the world. 

Dr Susan Waugh, Te Papa’s Head of Science, says the exhibition will inspire visitors to take action and be a catalyst for change.

“In true Te Papa fashion, the exhibition addresses big ideas in a way that is fun and interactive. Te Taiao Nature is all about sparking curiosity, wonder, and positive action as we embrace our role as kaitiaki of this precious land,” says Dr Waugh.

Te Papa has worked closely with iwi (Māori tribes), communities and researchers to create Te Taiao Nature. 

Rūaumoko Active Land, a partnership between the museum, New Zealand Earthquake Commission (EQC) and GNS Science, is an interactive experience on the forces and risks of natural disasters.

BACKGROUND: Te Taiao Nature

Te Taiao Nature is an exhibition in four parts.

  • Te Ika Whenua Unique NZ: Visitors will experience what’s weird and wonderful about NZ wildlife, from the gigantic to the flightless, from multiple species of moa to a plethora of moths, discover the abundant whales and dolphins in the surrounding seas, and learn about how Zealandia split from Gondwana.
  • Rūaumoko Active Land: Visitors will enter the realm of Rūaumoko, god of volcanoes and earthquakes, and explore the geological forces that shape Aotearoa New Zealand. The Earthquake House returns, revamped to be more interactive and to reflect the latest understanding of quake action. 
  • Te Kōhanga Nest: At the heart of the exhibition is a 70-square-metre, 4-metre-high “nest” woven together from recycled materials. It symbolises the fragility of the natural world, its beauty and power – and hope for the future. Visitors will be surrounded by beautiful bird song and images, and in the centre will be a whole but fractured moa egg. One of the nation’s most precious taonga, it is a symbol of lost mauri [life force] but also of hope. 
  • Ngā Kaitiaki Guardians: This inspiring exhibition looks at some of the big environmental challenges that face us, such as pests, water quality, and climate change, and what New Zealanders are doing to care for their own backyard. Visitors will leave the exhibition energised to play their part as kaitiaki (guardians) of our natural world. The colossal squid, the only complete specimen of its kind on display in the world, returns following a refresh.

About the moa egg

  • There are only 36 known mostly intact moa eggs in the world. Te Papa has four of these in its collection. 
  • One of the moa eggs is from a burial site at Te Pokohiwi-ō-Kupe (the Boulder Bank/Wairau Bar) in Blenheim, home to the Rangitāne o Wairau iwi. 
  • The burial ground is of international significance as it contains the graves of the earliest known Māori. Buried with the moa egg was a necklace fashioned from moa bone, a taonga which is also held at Te Papa.
  •  It is believed to be from a stout-legged moa and dates back to 1280-1300 AD.  
  • It is 194mm in length and 139mm in width and is believed to be the 18th largest known mostly intact moa egg according to a research paper, A Catalogue of Moa Eggs by B.J. Gill published in 2006. The egg has a small hole at one end indicating its use as a water carrier.
  • The moa egg was found in 1939 at the Wairau Bar by a fossicking local schoolboy Jim Eyles. The egg was cracked by a spade when it was discovered.
  • In 1940 it was acquired by the Dominion Museum (a predecessor of Te Papa). 

Te Papa's Te Taiao Nature by numbers

  • Collection items: 1,200+ 
  • Oldest specimen: 140 million years (giant ammonite – shelled squid relative)
  • Physical and digital interactives: 40+
  • Total floor space: 1,400 square metres
  • Height of the zone: 9 metres high (highest point)
  • Width and height of the Nest: 70 square metres, 4 metres high
  • Cost of exhibition: close to NZ$12 million
  • People who visited the old nature zone: 18.5 million visitors
  • Shakes of the old earthquake house: 1.3 million 
  • Biggest change to Te Papa since it opened 21 years ago