The Te Papa Museum: a Maori experience tour

We arrived completely soaked although we had only walked the short distance from our Wellington base, the YHA hostel that is barely a 5 minute walk away – it was raining cats and dogs, and we must have looked a sight.

Our guide Richard greeted us with a warm smile and after leaving our soaked raincoats with the bemused employee at the coat check, we immediately felt better and ready to start our 90-min tour of the Te Papa museum. Definitely the perfect day for an indoors activity!

Te Papa Museum, Wellington, New Zealand

Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Interacting with the country

I had no idea what to expect from Kapu Ti, a Maori experience tour. Richard first took us to a huge interactive, backlit floor map of New Zealand – you enter a section of the main hall in the centre of the building, and can literally walk all over the country. It’s relatively dark, but the backlit map on the floor illuminates the hall in what I like to think of as a Star Trek atmosphere 😉 I guess you could call it futuristic. Sensors activate panels on the walls and illuminate additional information on a given area or region, introducing you to facts and figures, or important historical events, for example.

Backlit floor map of New Zealand with panels lighting up on the walls. At Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Backlit floor map of New Zealand with panels lighting up on the walls.

A slightly hobbity window at the Te Papa Museum, Wellington

A slightly hobbity window at the Te Papa

Richard’s tour had a Maori focus, so he showed us the location of his tribe and the tribe of his wife on the North Island, and explained a few Maori names of places around the country.

Maori legends: how the kiwi became flightless

We then progressed through an area of natural history, featuring kiwi birds. Richard explained the significance of the kiwi in his culture. It was an intriguing story he told us about how the kiwi became to be a flightless bird. Maori legend has it that Tane-mahuta, the king of the forest, was looking for help in the animal kingdom to help save the dying trees. He asked all the birds if they would leave the canopy and live on the ground of the forest instead. The tui declined as he was afraid of the dark. The pukeko wouldn’t come down either as he didn’t like the cold damp earth, and the pipiwharauroa also refused, because, guess what – he was too busy. Picture that in an era without phones or social networking! But seriously, the last bird was too busy building a nest, and also declined.

The little kiwi stepped up and signed up for it. The king of the forest was overjoyed, but warned the kiwi that it would have to change its appearance to do the job – grow stronger legs, lose its wings and colour to adapt to its new surroundings. The kiwi accepted nonetheless. What a great little bird to have as the national animal!

The kiwi, New Zealand’s national bird

Te Pounamu

The tour continued and we went to the next floor up to see Maori artefacts, crafts, buildings and ships. There is a huge piece of greenstone, or pounamu, on this level. Again high scores to the Te Papa for making even this one an interactive experience. The greenstone sits in a small pond of water. You can put your hands in, pick up some silica sands and rub it over the greenstone! Apparently doing this means you’ll return to this place again in the future, but really it’s a smart way of having visitors rub the oxide away to expose the green 😉

A huge Maori communal meeting hall, or marae, also featured on the tour. It had the most amazing carvings!

Marae - Maori meeting hall at the Te Papa museum

Marae – Maori meeting hall at the Te Papa museum

Maori houses at the Te Papa museum

Maori cuisine

At one point we were getting a little hungry, and right on cue Richard led us to the restaurant on the ground floor to have a few snacks. Part of our tour is a taster of some Maori dishes. We had sweet potato, some mussels, potato bread and pikopiko pesto made from ferns. Richard made  great lunch companion and told us of how his wife was brought up learning about Maori history, legend and traditions, and learning the language, while he never thought it would help him much or be of much significance in his life. That changed over time, and especially when he met his wife! Interesting what you find out over kawakawa tea and manuka honey!

Snack time at the Te Papa! The food was yummy!

We didn’t want our very social and intriguing tour to end, but Richard obviously sent us off Maori style: with a hongi, a traditional nose greeting. Aw! Thank you, Richard! Ka kite ano!

Hongi, the traditional Maori greeting, with Richard at the Te Papa Museum, Wellington

Hongi, the traditional Maori greeting, with Richard at the Te Papa Museum

The rides!

We were left with only two things to do: the two rides! Yes, Te Papa even has 2 rides visitors can book (for a small fee): the Deep Ride and the High Ride.  We hopped onto both simulators and loved the High Ride. You essentially sit in your seat on a moving platform and watch a series of fast-paced clips made up of New Zealand’s greatest adventures, from extreme sports to walking across farmland!


There are two rides at the Te Papa Museum - the High Ride and the Deep Ride.

There are two rides at the Te Papa Museum – the High Ride and the Deep Ride. Of course Meagaan and I tried them both – verdict: go for the High Ride! It was brilliant!


Where to stay in Wellington

Again I really enjoyed staying at the YHA Wellington City. I had stayed there before, and I went back on purpose. You could not be any more central and yet have a comfortable stay that is excellent value for money. Meagaan and I stayed in a an ensuite twin room, and fell in love with it when we first laid our eyes on that french press! Yes, we even had a little coffee/tea bar with complimentary coffee and tea, which comes in really handy when you’re on a longer road trip and just want to kick back after a few hours driving.

Location-wise the YHA is just a few steps away from the Te Papa Museum, a 5-min walk to the centre and shopping area and moments away from Oriental Parade, which is fantastic for walks along the water or your early morning / evening jog!

There is no parking at the hostel directly, however coupon parking along Oriental Parade will sort you out for a few days and is only a few mins walk away. I’d recommend this hostel and would stay there again for sure. Staff were incredibly friendly and helpful, and there were plenty of sociable folks from around the world.


Disclosure: I received the Kapu Ti tour at Te Papa Museum and a night’s accommodation free of charge at YHA Wellington City as part of my #Blog4NZ  trip, raising funds for the Christchurch Earthquake Appeal. As always, opinions are entirely my own. A huge thank you to the Te Papa Museum and YHA New Zealand for being part of Blog4NZ and for hosting Meagaan and me in Wellington – we had a fantastic time! 

Christina Hegele

About the author: Christina Hegele runs Sandal Road, a blog on her favourite destinations. It just so happened that 95% turned out to be about New Zealand. Follow Christina and her blog on Twitter, like her blog on Facebook, and subscribe to her Youtube channel. Alternatively, subscribe to her email newsletter at the top right of this blog.

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  4 comments for “The Te Papa Museum: a Maori experience tour

  1. 10 April, 2013 at 23:26

    What do I think? I think this tour looked really good! With my penchant for food, it shouldn’t surprise many that my eyes made a “beeline” to the words “Manuka honey” – the honey I had in my time in NZ was like pure liquid gold. And now, thanks to your post, I miss “Te Whanganui-a-Tara”, and in a very good way, indeed. 🙂

    • Christina
      11 April, 2013 at 22:16

      Manuka honey… aaah, I remember the Huka Honey Hive in Taupo. It’s like Christina and the Honey Factory, let me tell you 🙂

  2. 27 April, 2013 at 08:17

    My uncle is staying in New Zealand. This tour looks very interesting. Perhaps when next trip to visit my uncle, I should visit this The Te Papa Museum to understand more about Maori. I am very impress and enjoy watching Haka whenever the All Blacks are playing. So hopefully by that time I can enjoy a live one 🙂

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