Te Papa, Wellington, New Zealand

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa is the national museum and art gallery of New Zealand, located in Wellington. 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”.

Te Papa is New Zealand’s national museum, renowned for being bicultural, scholarly, innovative, and fun. Our success is built on our relationships with and ability to represent our community.

Our collections span five areas: Art, History, Pacific, Maori, and Natural Environment. Our exhibitions are interdisciplinary and interactive, and we have dynamic events and education programmes. We also have thriving commercial enterprises, including a publishing division, conference operations, and retail stores.

The museum’s principles incorporate the concepts of unified collections; the narratives of culture and place; the idea of forum; the bicultural partnership between indigenous people (Tangata Whenua) and non-indigenous people (Tangata Tiriti); and an emphasis on diversity and multidisciplinary collaboration.

The tiny Colonial Museum, Te Papa’s predecessor, opened behind Parliament’s buildings shortly after Parliament moved to Wellington in 1865.

The museum’s first director, Sir James Hector, prioritised scientific collections but also acquired a range of other items, often by donation. These included prints and paintings, ethnographic ‘curiosities’, and items of antiquity.

In 1907, the Colonial Museum was renamed the Dominion Museum and took on a broader national focus.

The idea of developing a public art gallery in Wellington was gathering support, and the Science and Art Act of 1913 paved the way for a national art gallery in the same building. However, it was only in 1930 that this idea started to become a reality, under the National Gallery and Dominion Museum Act.

1930s–1970s: Sharing with the National Art Gallery

In 1936, a new building to house the Dominion Museum and new National Art Gallery opened in Buckle Street. It incorporated the New Zealand Academy of Fine Arts, which sold its land and donated the proceeds to the new organisation.

In 1972, the Dominion Museum became the National Museum.

By the 1980s, the Buckle Street building was full to bursting. The museum, although much loved by visitors, no longer represented its increasingly diverse community.

In 1988, the government established the Project Development Board to canvass opinion and set the scene for a new national museum.

The Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992 (link is external) demonstrated a shift to represent New Zealand’s culturally diverse society and reach a broader audience. Emphasis was placed on collections and the nation’s access to them.

In January 2013 Te Papa management announced the museum would be split into two parts – one operating much as it has in the past, and the other focusing on the future.

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

The National Art Gallery was opened in 1936 and occupied the first floor of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum building on Buckle Street, Wellington. It was originally populated with a collection donated by Academy of Fine Arts. The Gallery was formed with the passing of the National Art Gallery and Dominion Museum Act (1930). Both the Dominion Museum and Gallery were overseen by a single board of trustees. The official opening was by the Governor General in 1934.

The early holding consisted largely of donations and bequests, including those from Sir Harold Beauchamp, T. Lindsay Buick, Archdeacon Smythe, N. Chevalier, J. C. Richmond, William Swainson, Bishop Monrad, Sir John Ilott, and Rex Nan Kivell.

Te Papa was established in 1992 by the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa Act 1992. The official opening took place on 14 February 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. Māori traditional instrumentalist Richard Nunns co-led the musicians at a dawn ceremony on opening day.

The museum is run by a Board appointed by the Minister for Arts, Culture and Heritage (currently Maggie Barry). Board members have included: Sir Wira Gardiner, Fiona Campbell, Sue Piper, Judith Tizard, John Judge, Miria Pomare, Michael Bassett, Christopher Parkin Sandra Lee, Ngātata Love, Sir Ronald Trotter, Glenys Coughlan, Judith Binney Philip Carter and Wendy Lai.

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 floors 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 designed by Jasmax Architects and 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 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 History Collection includes many 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, and the Pacific Collection with about 13,000 historic and contemporary items from the Pacific Islands.

There are significant collections of fossils and archaeozoology; a herbarium of about 250,000 dried specimen; a collection of about 70,000 specimen of New Zealand birds; significant amphibians, reptiles and mammals.

The museum has the world’s largest specimen of the rare colossal squid (Mesonychoteuthis hamiltoni). It weighs 495 kilograms (1,091 lb) and is 4.2 metres (14 ft) long. The squid arrived at the museum in March 2007 after being captured by New Zealand fisherman in the Ross Sea off Antarctica.

The cultural collections include collections on photography, Māori taonga (cultural treasures), and Pacific cultures.

Te Papa has a mixture of long term exhibitions of cultural objects, hands-on and interactive exhibitions, cultural spaces and touring exhibitions. The long term exhibitions of cultural objects focus on New Zealand history, Māori culture and New Zealand’s natural world. The hands-on and interactive exhibitions focus on engaging particularly young visitors and include both indoor areas and out-door areas built and planted for the purpose. The key cultural space is the Te Hono ki Hawaiki marae with very impressive whakairo.

All permanent exhibitions are free. Many of the touring exhibition are ticketed, but there are occasional free days.

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 Archive and the Collected Archives.

The Museum Archive goes 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.

Te Aka Matua Library, previously a publicly accessible library, is now open only to researchers by appointment between 10am-5pm, Monday-Friday. The library is a major research and reference resource, with particular strengths in New Zealand, Māori, natural history, art, photography and museum studies. It is located on the fourth floor of the main building.

Te Papa’s vision for the future is to change hearts, minds, and lives. Our role is to be a forum for the nation to present, explore, and preserve the heritage of its cultures and knowledge of the natural environment.

New Zealanders are engaged in cultural and contemporary issues through participation in Te Papa events, outreach, exhibitions, and activities. Visitors are enabled to better understand Aotearoa New Zealand’s heritage, arts, sciences, and culture through Te Papa’s collections, knowledge, and research.