Awesome Forces exhibition entrance

Awesome Forces 

Long-term exhibition
Level 2
Nature; Family 

New Zealand is a young and active land, from a geologist’s point of view. Awesome Forces shows how plate tectonics, earthquakes, volcanic eruptions, and erosion have shaped one of the most dynamic landscapes in the world.

Visitors exploring Awesome Forces, Level 2. Photographed by Norman Heke. Te Papa. 2011

Starting with a model of the Earth’s interior, the exhibition explains the forces that change the surface of the globe. It shows New Zealand’s position astride two mighty tectonic plates, and explains how the movement of the plates is measured.

A video describes New Zealand’s split from the supercontinent Gondwanaland 85 million years ago. It also presents geological evidence that the ancestors of New Zealand's unique fauna and flora may have travelled on the New Zealand 'continent' when it split from Gondwanaland. These biological treasures, both living and extinct, include the flightless moa, the tuatara – a dinosaur-age reptile – insects such as wētā, and giant land snails.

New Zealand's seismic activity and volcanic eruptions, and their effects on people and the land, are brought to life through large screen projections, animations, a shake-house simulating an earthquake, and interactives including a seismic station. The effects of rainfall and extreme weather events – by-products of New Zealand's unique location – are also demonstrated.

Because anyone who lives in New Zealand is at high risk from natural hazards, Awesome Forces has a strong human dimension. The role of the Earthquake Commission (EQC) – a national agency which provides natural disaster insurance – is explained on a computer interactive. 

Finally, a sound and light show presents the Māori account of creation and explains the enduring relationship between the land, its people, and the forces of nature.

Explore Awesome Forces

Awesome Forces education resource and game