Strike Wellington on a fine day and you’ll think you’ve hit the Riviera of the South. Wander the waterfront, take a ferry ride on the harbour or just sit in the sun at one of the many cafes in the inner city and enjoy the vibe.
However, Wellington has another, less dazzling side to it’s weather, often making indoor pursuits the most sensible way to spend a day. Set on the edge of Cook Strait, which separates the North and South Islands, Wellington can attract the kind of weather that sends sailors scuttling and seabirds soaring into the gusty skies. If your first day in Wellington proves to be one of these then head for the Te Papa museum.
Te Papa Tongarewa, or Te Papa (Tay Papa) as it is known locally, is Wellington’s museum. It is also the national Museum of New Zealand. Set on the edge of the harbour close to the inner city, it’s a strikingly contemporary building housing a constantly changing selection of exhibitions and displays. And although relatively new (it opened in 1998) it has quickly become a go-to place to learn more about New Zealand, it’s history and it’s people.
One of the most important places to visit is Te Marae, a vibrant 21st century example of a working, living marae, or communal place. Maori communities have always been based around their marae which serves as the central hub of the community. Te Marae serves this same function within Te Papa, and welcomes people of all cultures to come and experience it’s sacred setting. The museum offers this explanation – “All people have a right to stand on this marae through a shared whakapapa (genealogy) and the mana (power) of the taonga (treasures) held in Te Papa’s collections.” A visit to Te Marae will also give insight into the importance the Maori culture is given within New Zealand society.
But Te Papa is also fun – hop into Earthquake House and feel the earth move beneath your feet. It happens quite often in New Zealand. Take time to sit through a sequence of Golden Days, an experiential visit to the earlier days of New Zealand’s modern history, where Kiwiana comes alive in a dusty junk shop setting.
From floor to floor Te Papa is filled with fascinating exhibitions of early New Zealand art, ecology, culture and natural history. There are break-out areas for the kids, one-off visiting exhibitions from overseas and several cafes to feed the soul. Entry is free, although parking isn’t. If you’re travelling around Wellington by car there is a parking area to the southern side of the museum or you can park further out around Oriental Bay. Pick up your car from Hertz Wellington Airport Car Rental.