Awesome Forces Earthquake House – self-guided education visit

Feel the earth move and learn how to prepare for the big one on a self-guided visit to Te Papa.

  • Education type Self-guided resource
  • Suitable for Up to 15 people

Duration: Allow five minutes – it’s a two-minute looping show, but you might need to wait

Where: Awesome Forces, Level 2

Why visit?

Visit our Earthquake House to:

  • feel a 6.6 magnitude simulation of an aftershock from the Edgecumbe earthquake of 1987
  • see some of the damage earthquakes cause
  • get a compelling reminder to quake-safe your own house
  • start a broader exploration of earthquakes and volcanic activity in our Awesome Forces exhibition.

A visit to our Earthquake House appeals to those who learn by doing and supports the following topics:

  • Disasters
  • Earth science – earthquakes and volcanoes
  • Pūrākau (storytelling)

Things to do

Once you’ve booked your self-guided visit, bring your class and try the following activities in Awesome Forces.

  • When it’s your turn, enter the house and let the shaking begin.
  • Find out if there’s been a real earthquake in New Zealand today – check out ‘What’s shaking’ and ‘Quakes online’ next to the Earthquake House.
  • Pick up a Quake-safe your home pamphlet from the mailbox at the Earthquake House exit.
  • Try our ‘Get ready for the Big One’ interactive in the ‘EQC’ section.
  • Look at the carved figure of Rūaumoko, the Māori god of earthquakes and volcanoes. Then walk underneath the carving and into our theatrette, Papatūānuku, to watch Māori mythology stories.

Book a guided education visit to get more support and expertise during your time at Te Papa.

Suggested questions for your class

  • Do you know of any other famous earthquakes around New Zealand?
  • What would be the best materials to build your house with in an earthquake-prone area? Why?
    Wood is a good material because it is more flexible than concrete or steel.
  • What are the differences between the Modified Mercalli scale and the Richter scale?
    Compare the different ways of measuring earthquakes and tremors.
  • Do you know what to do if you experience an earthquake at home? At school?
    Discuss what to do in an earthquake, for example, hide under a table.
  • What kind of damage occurs during a large earthquake?
    Discuss what happened to the chimney outside the Earthquake House and decide how you could prevent this kind of damage.
  • Has anyone been in an earthquake? Where? When? What happened?
    Use tact. Earthquakes can be traumatic experiences.

About earthquakes

  • Wellington sits on an active fault – similar to Kobe in Japan and San Francisco in the United States.
  • There’s at least one shallow earthquake recorded under Wellington every week. Every year, there are over 15,000 earthquakes recorded across New Zealand.
  • Rocks in the Earth’s crust are stretched, squeezed, and twisted by the movements of tectonic plates. Eventually, they give way to the strain and break, cracking and tearing to form long fractures called faults.
  • When the crust is stretched apart, one side of the fracture slips down below the other, filling the gap.
  • When the crust is squeezed, rocks crack and one side of the fracture gets pushed up over the other. It was this kind of movement, on the White Creek fault, that caused the Murchison earthquake in 1929. This is called a ‘reverse’ or ‘thrust’ fault.
  • When two sides of a fault slide past each other horizontally, like at the San Andreas fault in California, it’s called a ‘strike’ slip fault.
  • Faults often show a combination of sideways and vertical movement.
  • The Modified Mercalli scale is a way of measuring the observable effects of shaking on the environment – the higher the earthquake’s rating, the greater the damage. The Moment Magnitude Scale, commonly referred to as the Richter scale (a term no longer used by scientists), is a way of measuring the vibrations of the earthquake to tell how much energy was released at its source.

Related information

  • The Earthquake House is free.
  • Wheelchair access is at the rear of the house, through the exit.
  • Please consider other museum visitors.

Activity trail

– print and fold into a booklet to assist your class visit.

Around Te Papa

Quake Braker, outside our main entrance
Go underground to peek at the technology protecting Te Papa from a large earthquake.

NatureSpace, Level 2, through Mountains to Sea
Examine our collection of igneous, metamorphic, and sedimentary rocks, and read books on earth science and geology.

Bush City, Level 1, outside Te Papa Cafe
See the Wellington Fault from our lookout, then explore to discover a layered rock wall and volcanic ash layers.

Useful resources

Earthquake Commission
Get ready. Prepare for the big one.

Check out the latest earthquakes in New Zealand.

Wellington Fault – GNS Science
Learn about one of the most active faults in New Zealand.

Awesome Forces : The Natural Hazards that Threaten New Zealand
Hamish Campbell and Geoff Hicks, 2012. Te Papa Press in association with the Earthquake Commission and GNS Science.