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  • Writer's pictureHelen Avaient

A day in Wellington New Zealand

When your cruise ship docks in the capital city of Wellington, head for the amazing Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa. This is a place that you want to spend all day exploring. Even then, there will be many of their exhibits that you just don’t time to see in one isolated day.

Head up to the sixth floor and observe the best vantage point to see the town, then work your way down floor by floor. With five extensive floors of wide-open spaces, there is truly something for everyone to admire and learn from.

Wellington New Zealand as seen from the foreshore. Many multi storey buildings crowd together with Mount Wellington as a backdrop. The oceanfront has a boardwalk around it where people can walk and admire the ocean

The three large boulders outside the museum symbolise the museum’s commitment to the land and people of New Zealand. The left boulder made of andesite lava is the largest and symbolises Papatuanuku (Mother Earth). The middle boulder is Karamea granite and symbolises the people of New Zealand. The andesite lava boulder on the right represents Tangata Whenua, the Māori people of the land.

three large boulders sit outside the museum of New Zealand, symbolising Mother Earth and the New Zealand people

The Gallipoli Exhibit

There was quite a lengthy line of people waiting to enter and it was worth the time invested. As you enter the exhibit, you are confronted with the first of eight giants. Each of the giants is 2.4 times human size. These truly lifelike statues were a joint project between Te Papa and the Weta workshops (the people behind Lord of the Rings). “The story of Gallipoli is told through the eyes and words of eight ordinary New Zealanders who found themselves in extraordinary circumstances.” – words from the exhibit. 2,799 Kiwis (New Zealanders) lost their lives at Gallipoli. This exhibit brings the campaign to life with miniatures, models, dioramas, maps and stories.

The first giant is 29-year-old Lieutenant Spencer Westmacott. Even the hairs on the statue’s arm move in the breeze. Mine were also standing up when I read his sad story. He was one of the first men to land on April 25th, 1912, and reinforced the Australian line at Baby 700. His right arm was smashed by a bullet while holding off a Turkish attack, and he was evacuated that night.

a statue of a soldier wearing 1912 military uniform fires a gun at the unseen enemy. His mouth frozen in a yell and his eyes closed as he fires. his uniform is khaki green and the brown leather of his kit bag look real, even though they are 2.4 times the size of the real life person

Forty-five-year-old doctor Lieutenant Colonel Percival Fenwick was no stranger to war, having fought in South Africa fifteen years earlier. He treated hundreds of Anzacs on the beach in his two months at Gallipoli before being shipped out, ill and exhausted. As I stood and admired the handiwork of the sculpture's creators, I was reflective of the sadness they had captured in the mournful look on his face. It seems he was looking at an unseen soldier that he could not save.

the statue of a military doctor is so lifelike, even the hairs of his moustache blow in the breeze. a stethoscope hangs from his neck and he mournfully looks down at an unseen wounded soldier. He kneels upon one knee, his face sad and reflective of sorrow

Through interactive screens we learn about their lives and these people become real to us. Not long dead heroes, but tangible people who sacrificed in a terrible campaign. The exhibit brought tears to my eyes as I read and saw their stories. I had visited Gallipoli in Turkey the previous year and could remember just how close the trenches of the opposing sides were. It was a reminder and an educator of the horrors of war.

Te Puni Aroaro

The artwork of four wahine Maori artists, using industrial materials such as truck straps and reflective tape, show how ordinary objects can be instruments of beauty.

the light shines through a woven web of truck canvas tie down straps creating a pattern of light and shadow upon the floor below

The histories of water, light, atua and wahine Māori focus on the beauty of these everyday disposable products. The waste items have become beautiful works of art by these creative geniuses. By moving around the exhibits, the different ways the light reflects on and through them makes you reflect and refocus your own thoughts. Blue water moana is made of 60 panels of tarpaulin, folded, sewn and slashed.

the cut up and restitched blue tarpaulins look like the floor of a waterfall as it cascades down from the ceiling and across the floor.


The portraits in this display are of ancestors, both settlers and mana whenau, the people of the land. An interactive display board shares details of the artist and the subject. The two painting of a husband and wife was commissioned in 1885 and never collected. They were found in 1995 under a bed in Blenheim. (top two paintings below). The unidentified Māori girl (middle left) was painted in European clothing, unusual for the 1870s. Dr Hassell (middle right) was painted about 1906.

four painted portraits hang on a red painted wall. all four are in gold frames. the top two are Mauri husband and wife, the bottom young lass is Mauri and the bottom male is a European doctor born in New Zealand.

Māori culture

Visit various Māori meeting houses and homes that have been recreated and on display in the museum. Every carving has a meaning and purpose.

A wooden Mauri meeting house adorned with traditional figures, on stilts. White painted eyes are on the figurines

Boats using traditional skills and materials have been recreated are on display.

two sail of woven reeds in decorative patterns adorn the mast of this traditional wooden Mauri ship. Men would have sat on the open deck. It reminds me of a modern day catamaran with the two long hulls.

The Treaty of Waitangi

Signed in February 1840, this powerful document between the Queen of England and the Natives of New Zealand gave Māori the rights of British subjects and considered Māori ownership of their lands and other properties. Copies of the treaty are encased on site and large proclamations adorn the walls with the words of the three articles of the treaty. One is in English and the other in Māori.

The three articles of the Treaty of Waitangi in English are etched on large tablets on the walls of the museum
The three articles of the Treaty of Waitangi in Maori are etched on large tablets on the walls of the museum

New Zealand flora and fauna

Displays of native flora and fauna allow visitors an up-close look that they often do not get a chance to observe in nature. Interactive screens allow further investigation and information.

cases of New Zealand bird life, animals, plants, shells and insects can be seen in front of screens where visitors can read more about the flora and fauna on display

Life like theatre

Holographic displays of life aboard a ship bound for New Zealand to start a new life entertains guests. Look out for the rat that scampers around the boat and has the figures chasing after it. It is highly amusing.

a traditional ship has a holographic display of people projected onto it, depicting what a journey across the ocean would have been like in the 1800s for the native settlers.

There is so much to see and do in the museum, my discoveries only cover a small part of the museum. There are several coffee venues and souvenir shops inside.

Bush City

Step outside the museum and over 1,400 native plants can be seen in the Bush City. The silver fern, the unofficial symbol of New Zealand, can be found in the garden here. The fern can grow up to heights of 10m (33 ft) with the mature fronds around 4m (13ft) long. The silver white colouration on the underside is useful for laying along tracks for night walking. Māori hunters would bend the leaves at an angle to catch the moonlight and illuminate the path home.

the silver fern tree has fond leaves that are green on top but a silvery white underneath, when turned over they make a vivid contrast with the different colours

At the end of the wharf near the museum is the Well_ngton sculpture, where you can put yourself as the I in Wellington. At 2.2m high and 8.9m wide, the iridescent chrome wrap changes colour throughout the day, ensuring that no two photographs are exactly the same. I personally love the sculpture and now feel that I will always be a part of Wellington!

at 2.2 metres high this sculptures letters spell out Wellington without the middle I. That place is taken by visitors standing where the I should be.

For those people interested in statistics, the population of urban Wellington in 2022 was 212,00 and a metro population of 435,000.

map of New Zealand showing Wellington at the bottom of the North Island

Happy Travels!

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1 Comment

Neil Spurgeon
Neil Spurgeon
Mar 20, 2023

Regrettably the only couple of days I was in Wellington I was in hospital with a seriously cricked neck. However your description fills in a glaring but annoying hole in my own experiences so thank you very much.

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