Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is the national museum of New Zealand. It is branded and commonly known as Te Papa and Our Place; "Te Papa Tongarewa" is broadly translatable as "the place of treasures of this land". The museum collection's code is MNZ.

The museum's principles incorporate the concepts of unified collections; the narratives of culture and place; the idea of forum; the bicultural partnership between Tangata Whenua and Tangata Tiriti; and an emphasis on diversity and multidisciplinary collaboration.


The first predecessor of Te Papa was the Colonial Museum, founded in 1865, of which James Hector was the founding director. It was built on Museum Street . Halfway the 1930s the museum moved to a new building in Buckle Street, where the National Art Gallery of New Zealand was housed too.

Te Papa was established in 1992, by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992. The official opening took place on February 14, 1998 in a ceremony led by Sir Peter Blake, Prime Minister Jenny Shipley, and two children. The first Chief Executive of the Museum was Dame Cheryll Sotheran.

The museum had one million visitors in the first five months of operation, and between 1 and 1.3 million visits have been made in each subsequent year. In 2004, more space was devoted to exhibiting works from the New Zealand art collection in a long-term exhibition called Toi Te Papa: Art of the Nation

Filmmakers Gaylene Preston and Anna Cottrell documented the development of Te Papa in their film Getting to Our Place.


The main Te Papa building is on the waterfront in Wellington, on Cable Street. Inside the building are six stories of exhibitions, cafés and gift shops dedicated to New Zealand's culture and environment. The museum also incorporates outdoor areas with artificial caves, native bushes and wetlands. A second building on Tory Street is a scientific research facility and storage area, and is not open to the public.

Te Papa was built by Fletcher Construction . The 36,000 square metre building had cost NZ$300 million by its opening in 1998.

Earthquake strengthening of the Cable Street building was achieved through the New Zealand-developed technology of base isolation - essentially seating the entire building on supports made from lead, steel and rubber that slow down the effect of an earthquake.

The building's thousands of lights are under state of the art computer control, adapt with the changing environment, and can be controlled from one central location.

The site was previously occupied by a modern five-storey hotel. This was jacked off its foundations onto numerous rail bogies and transported 200 metres down and across the road to a new site, where it is now the “Museum Hotel” .


Online access to Te Papa's collections is available at Collections Online

The collections of Te Papa include:


The History Collection counts around 25,000 items, of which some 7,000 are dresses and textiles, the oldest of which date back to the sixteenth century. The History Collection also includes the New Zealand Post Archive with around 20,000 stamps and related objects. A different part of the History Collection is the Pacific Collection with about 13,000 historic and contemporary items from the Pacific Islands.

Natural history

These includes collections on:

The museum holds the world's largest specimen of Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni, the colossal squid. The half a ton, long specimen arrived at the museum in March 2007, after being captured in New Zealand waters a month before.


These includes collections on:


The Archives are located in a separate building at Tory Street and are open for researchers on appointment. There are two categories of archive collections:

  • The Museum Archives, that go back to the founding of the Colonial Museum in 1865 and that comprise the archives of James Hector. The archives of the National Art Gallery are also part of these archives.
  • The Collected Archives. These fall apart in two groups:


Te Aka Matua Library and information centre is open for visitors to see books and magazines related to the collections and exhibitions of Te Papa. There is also a selection of photographs from the Picture Library available.


Some of the exhibitions are long term exhibitions. Although the content of these exhibitions may vary, the exhibitions themselves are permanent:

  • Awesome Forces (level 2)
  • Mountains to Sea (level 2)
  • Bush City (level 2)
  • Blood, Earth, Fire – Whāngai, Whenua, Ahi Kā; the transformation of Aotearoa New Zealand (level 3)
  • Mana Whenua and The Marae (level 4) about Māori life and heritage.
  • Tangata o le Moana (level 4) – the story of Pacific people in New Zealand
  • Signs of a Nation (level 4) – about the Treaty of Waitangi
  • Golden Days (level 4)
  • Passports (level 4)
  • Toi Te Papa Art of the Nation (level 5)

Some of the temporary exhibitions of Te Papa were/are:

  • On the Sheep's Back (11 Nov. 2003 – 22 April 2007)
  • Stamped (16 July 2005 – 15 January 2006)
  • Whales Tohorā (1 Dec. 2007 – 11 May 2008)
  • Made in New Zealand

Upcoming Exhibitions

Due to open in 27 September 2008 is Te Papa's interactive multimedia exhibition space Our Space. This interactive space is being constructed with the production company Gibson Group and will contain digital images, photographs and clips that reflect local and regional stories, promote the New Zealand identity in all its diversity and show the experience of life in Aotearoa / New Zealand.

The exhibition will have are two spaces where digital material will be displayed in a multmedia environment.

The Map - visitors will be able to interact with a large satellite map of New Zealand laid out on the floor. Images (moving and still) giving a flavour of various localities will play on screens behind a dark glass wall. These screens will only be brought to life by visitor footsteps on the map - i.e. feet touching tiny sensors under the floor will ignite the relevant screen out of 30 regional screens in total. The images will be supplied to the screens via an Image database.

The Wall - visitors will be able to select images and media from the Image database using touch screens. Images from contributing photographers , filmmakers and artists from all over the country will combine with images from the Te Papa collections and slices of television clips and music videos to make up the database. This will all be available for the visitor to construct their own mural/story on a 2 metre high Wall. This is a collective space that is about the visitor having their say about who they are and what they are into. All media in the Wall space may be cropped, rotated, drawn on or looped.

Contributions of digital material to Our Space are being sought via the Our Space website and also via the Our Space Flickr group


The museum has sometimes been the centre of controversy. The siting of the nation's most important collection of historical artefacts at the water's edge on reclaimed land next to one of the world's most active earthquake fault lines has resulted in concern by some people. There has been criticism of the 'sideshow' nature of some exhibits (primarily the Time Warp section). There has also been criticism that some exhibits were not given due reverence. For example, a major work by Colin McCahon was at one stage juxtaposed with a 1950s refrigerator in a New Zealand culture exhibition.

In March 1998 a 7 cm high statue of the Virgin Mary sheathed in a condom called Virgin in a condom, an art work by Tania Kovat attracted protests by Christians.

In December 2005, Te Papa announced a postponement to the long term Toi Te Papa: Art of The Nation exhibition, that was to coincide with the Wellington Arts Festival. The museum instead repeated a Lord of the Rings exhibition while not updating their website to reflect the change. This caused outrage amongst many in the New Zealand art community.

In October 2006, the New Zealand Defence Industry Association held their annual conference at Te Papa for the fourth consecutive year. Protesters blockaded the front entrance of the museum, preventing access to visitors. In a similar protest the previous year twenty people were arrested.

The museum's logo, a thumbprint, caused considerable controversy when it was publicised that its development had cost $300,000 - which was actually the cost of the entire branding effort.

New Zealand art commentator Hamish Keith has been a consistent critic of Te Papa at different times referring to it as a "theme park", the "cultural equivalent to a fast-food outlet" and "not even a de facto national gallery"

See also


External links

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