With great anticipation, I arrived outside the new Te Taiao Nature Exhibition Zone for the Friends of Te Papa Preview.

First we were treated to an entrancing performance by the TuRongo Collective. Beautiful melodies culminated in a dramatic combination of song, piercing bird calls, and physical interpretations of these creatures’ distinctive movements.

Then, entering the exhibition, these sounds and gestural actions were revisited in a film starring Maui integrating with nature. Moving on, New Zealand’s unique creatures with their quirky idiosyncrasies are highlighted.

Full marks for the rich variety of presentations and stimulating interaction possibilities. It was delightful to see different generations learning together through play and sharing. The touch screen games are intriguing. I helped birds to plant tree seeds and looked on as a grandmother and her charge tuned in to the concept of sustainable fishing. 

It was fascinating to sniff a “whiff” of Kiwi odour, feel the texture of a squid’s beak, be surprised by the grunting wild boar and peer through submarine portholes into dark ocean depths, Curious creatures abound. If you need more detail, it’s available in fun interactive ways.

A highlight for me is the huge nest (Te Kōhanga), lit inside by dappled bush light. Our native birds and a treasured moa egg are featured. Touch the egg next to each species and a burst of beautiful birdsong is released. Sadly many of these birds are now permanently lost to us or in extreme trouble in the survival stakes. Even our cheeky keas are struggling with just 5,000 left.

Throughout, I felt a pressing focus on our individual and group responsibility to protect, treasure and maintain our natural world. Current concerns such as climate change, pollution and pests are confronted and solutions proposed in engaging ways. Examples are shown of everyday New Zealanders making a difference. Opportunities are presented, encouraging us to make a personal commitment. I’ve signed up for planting a tree every year now and felt validated posting my opinion for all to see on banning petrol cars by 2030.

If you’re nervous about earthquakes and tsunamis, you’ll be even more so after visiting the Active Land section. The power of Rūamoko, Māori god of volcanoes and earthquakes, mingles with the reality of the massive forces active here. Hands on, you can create volcanoes and tsunamis, even split New Zealand down the fault line. The well loved Earthquake House has been revamped to simulate the shudderings of the 2011 Kaikoura quake.

I’ve come away enlightened, a little unsettled, yet keen to commit now to meaningful action for a positive present and future. These inspiring words at the end of the exhibition, help sum up the importance of our understanding and our integration with our natural world.

Tihei mauri ora!     I’m awake, I’m aware

Ko au te taiao     We’re all part of nature

Me mahi tahi tātou     When we work together for the land, water, forests, air

Kia whakamāui ake     The mauri, life force thrives


Dana Jackson

Member, Friends of Te Papa