Te Papa unveils plans for exciting new nature zone

Te Papa is building an exciting new nature and environment zone, opening in the museum early 2019.

Free to visitors, the zone will replace the existing nature exhibitions which have been in the museum since it opened in 1998.

Artist’s impression of Te Papa’s new natural environment exhibition, 2017. Te Papa

The spaces closing for construction after Easter 2018 include Mountains to Sea, home of the Colossal Squid, Awesome Forces with the Edgecumbe earthquake house, and the NatureSpace children’s play area on Level 2.

Visitors will be able to see rare specimens and exciting new interactive experiences when the new nature zone opens. And a few favourites will be back too – including the celebrity squid, and a revamped earthquake house with a new interactive story about recent seismic shifts in Aotearoa.

The redevelopment of the nature zone follows the opening of Toi Art, Te Papa’s new art gallery and interactive family spaces on Levels 4 and 5, in March 2018 – the biggest change to Te Papa since it opened.

Dr Dean Peterson, Head of Science at Te Papa, says it’s time to create bold new exhibitions to reflect the changing world.

“It’s going to be a huge space, with lots of chances to see some of the rarest specimens from the collection, like real huia feathers, a mummified moa foot, beaked whale skulls and fragile plants collected on Captain Cook’s first voyage to New Zealand,” says Dr Peterson.

“There will be plenty of opportunities to get involved in hands-on activities, and to delve deeper using digital tools.”

“We’re exploring so many great ideas to show the wonders of our environment – perhaps you could dance like an albatross, smell a kākāpō, or test your intelligence against a kea.”

“Whatever ideas we choose, there’ll be something for people of all ages, and plenty of ways to get involved in conversations about the future of our planet,” says Dr Peterson.

The new exhibitions will explore what’s weird and wonderful about our land and wildlife, what forces underlie the land’s formation, and what environmental challenges are most on New Zealanders’ minds today.

Research about nature and human impact on the environment has changed substantially over the past two decades,” says Dr Peterson. “These new exhibitions tackle the tough challenges facing us today, and tell more of Aotearoa New Zealand’s stories.”

Te Papa is developing the new exhibitions with the science community, iwi, environmental organisations, community groups, universities, Crown Research Institutes, and Māori scholars.

“It’s taking a community to build this zone,” says Dr Peterson. “We’re looking at how things are explained through mātauranga Māori (Māori knowledge) alongside science. The research is grounded in so many different perspectives and areas of expertise.”

The rest of the museum will remain open with plenty to see and do – including the spectacular new art gallery, Toi Art, the new iwi-in-residence exhibition, Ko Rongowhakaata: The Story of Light and Shadow, dedicated spaces for kids to play, and the hugely successful Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War.

Sneak peek: What will be in the new nature zone?

The three new exhibitions will explore the natural world, active lands, and today’s environmental challenges, including spaces dedicated to:


A new active, hands-on space for people to find out about earthquakes – why they happen, and how they’ve shaped our country, both the physical and social impact.

“Our understanding of earthquakes in New Zealand has changed dramatically since 1998,” says Dr Peterson. “As the national museum, it’s important that we reflect and explore the science, impact and human experiences of the last decade of seismic upheaval, especially the Canterbury and Kaikoura earthquakes.”

“The earthquake area will be a space of activity and action, with experiences like the updated earthquake house, but also a place of reflection and contemplation,” he says.

Fresh water

Fresh water will be one of the featured environmental issues, with space for conversation and debate about this pressing topic.

“Water is vital to the health of our people, communities and environment – but it’s fast becoming a scarce commodity around the world,” says Dr Peterson. “It’s a hot topic which needs urgent action.

“The new exhibition will explore fresh water in Aotearoa: the amazing creatures that live in it, who uses it, and how we take care of our water for the future.”

The new nature zone is the second phase of renewing Te Papa’s permanent exhibits – following the opening of the new art gallery, Toi Art, in March 2018.

The zone is an $11 million commitment to the natural environment, which includes a $2 million grant from the Lottery Projects of National Significance Fund, and support from EQC and GNS.



Andrea Tandy andrea.tandy@tepapa.govt.nz


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