Te Papa Museum, Behind the scenes

Published: July 26, 2018

The Te Papa Tongarewa museum, broadly translated as “the place of treasures of this land”, is a veritable cultural attraction in New Zealand. While some would be happy admiring the collections that are accessible to the public, others look for a unique and private cultural and artistic immersion. Because of a lack of space and need for conservation, 80% of the pieces of art in Te Papa are not in the public exposition. Once Upon a Trip offers you the possibility of accessing the highly secure basement of the museum to admire all the treasures found within.

Our visit started off with an introduction to the main museum and the guide gave us a summary of New Zealand’s history. The era of the first settlers was then told with passion, from the methods and conditions of the transport they used, to the controversial Waitangi treaty : the founding act of New Zealand as a nation. The passionate stories that the guide told us left us speechless, but we soon got taken over by our curiosity and started asking any question that came to mind. The guide was delighted to answer and took the time to share their knowledge with us.

Next, we moved onto the basement. The access to the basement is through an immense warehouse door locked with a code : this made our imagination run wild with what sort of treasures one might find within. Once we had gone through the door, we were astonished by the amount of exposed items which left us speechless. After being welcomed by the conservator, we began to contemplate the numerous items which are all carefully numbered and set up. We took the time to look at every detail of the pieces of art that we found; warrior spears, jade and whalebone knives, the portraits of tribe chiefs, jewellery, sculpted wood… we were full of admiration.

After an hour in the main room, we continued on to the room containing the capes and flags. We had the chance to touch various kiwi-feather capes that once belonged tribe chiefs, and even admire the flag that was present during the Waitangi Treaty in 1840. In fact, many families find old items and donate them to the museum. For some there is a real attachment to these rare items that were handed down from generation to generation, which is why some families come to gather around these precious objects once a year.

These rooms that are accessible to the public only through credited agencies, open the doors to a true immersion in Maori culture. It is by far the best cultural experience I have had in New Zealand. It is very spiritual : you even have to rinse your hands and flick the water over your face at the end of the visit to keep the spirits from escaping the rooms.

I whole-heartedly recommend the Te Papa Behind the Scenes Experience if you are looking for a cultural and authentic activity with a touch of spirituality.

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