Review: Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington shares the stories of a nation, NZ inner banner

Review: Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington shares the stories of a nation, NZ

No visit to Wellington would be complete without lifting the lid on the treasures held by Te Papa Tongarewa. Prepare to be amazed.
Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa. Image: Shutterstock
Review: Te Papa Tongarewa

Since merging the collections of Aotearoa New Zealand’s National Museum and National Art Gallery in 1998, Te Papa Tongarewa in Wellington has welcomed well over 30 million visitors.

The name, in its full Māori interpretation, means ‘our container of treasured things and people that spring from mother earth in New Zealand’. It’s an apt title. Te Papa is indeed packed with wonderful things and personal stories, and continues to delight and inspire New Zealanders and international visitors alike with its mix of art and artefacts. And whether it’s your first or umpteenth visit, there’s always something new to discover.

I remember visiting Te Papa for the first time in the early 2000s and being astounded by the colossal squid preserved under glass. I had never seen anything like it. A replica of Burt Munro’s speed record-breaking motorcycle — The World’s Fastest Indian — was on also display at the time, and I was astonished that something so small could reach such incredible speeds. Then there was the shaking house that simulated the Edgecumbe earthquake of 1987. As a ten-year-old who had experienced the real event, it was not something I wanted re-live. However, Te Papa is a place that examines the entirety of our shared experience, and powerful moments like this one resonate throughout the museum.

Watch our video of this experience: 

Explore modern Māori art at Te Papa, Wellington | Curator interview – The Big Bus

Welcome to The Big Bus tour and travel guide’s YouTube channel. In this video, we take you to New Zealand’s home of history and culture – Te Papa Tongarewa -…

Don’t miss seeing the permanent Te Tiriti o Waitangi: Ngā tohu kotahitanga (The Treaty of Waitangi: Signs of a Nation) exhibition. Te Tiriti (The Treaty) is the founding document of modern New Zealand, and much has been said about the differences between the versions signed by the Māori and British Crown in their respective languages. This exhibition offers an insight into the challenges and benefits the treaty has presented to the people of New Zealand over time.

Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa. Image: Wellington Tourism

Te Taiao (Nature) is another of the museum’s must-see sections. This permanent exhibition has something for everyone: from displays relating to New Zealand’s unique topography and wildlife, to the quake house and giant squid I mentioned earlier. You’ll also learn how Mātauranga Māori (indigenous knowledge) complements western science in many wonderful ways. There are lots of interactive activities, and fascinating exhibits from every corner of the country.

Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa. Image: Shutterstock

The exhibition that impressed me most on a more recent visit was Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War. It’s been hugely popular since it opened in 2015 and when you see it, you’ll understand why. It shares the story of the World War I campaign through the eyes of eight ordinary New Zealanders embroiled in the conflict. Created by special effects masters Weta Workshop using cutting edge technology, the giant figures are incredibly lifelike. Their large dimensions accentuate the details of each moment depicted, and you can’t help but walk away with a true sense of the sacrifice and tragedy that defined the Gallipoli landings. The exhibition was due to close in 2019, but has been extended until 2022.

Te Papa Tongarewa
Te Papa Tongarewa. Image: Shutterstock

Te Papa is spread over six levels, and if you’re a first-time visitor I would suggest setting aside at least half a day to do it any justice. The museum brings together under one roof much of what’s important to, and valued by the people of New Zealand. It’s a treasure chest like no other.

Te Papa Tongarewa is open every day of the year, except Christmas Day. General entry is free, but there may be a charge to see visiting exhibitions. The museum is located on the waterfront — just a short walk from the city centre. Te Papa offers several guided tours, which are a great way of getting the most from your visit. They can be pre-booked online.

For more information, visit

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Additional images: Bigstock

Karllie Clifton

About the writer

Hailing from Aotearoa New Zealand, Karllie Clifton is an avid midlife traveller and blogger who loves an adventure. At the end of 2015, Karllie left her teaching profession, sold her home and became a nomad for the next few years. It sparked a real passion for budget solo travel, which she now loves to inspire others to do. In the last few years alone, Karllie has visited over twenty countries and ticked off more than 50 cities across three continents. She loves the great outdoors — especially hiking and anything to do with the ocean.



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