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Active Earth

Take a look inside the Whakarūaumoko | Active Land exhibition at Te Papa Tongarewa, and see how the National Museum helps to educate visitors.
A woma, dressed in dark clothing stands with her back to us looking at 4 large wall panels, appearing to lean on alternating angles, depicting a cross section of magma activity beneath the ground in Taupō, against a blue sky.
© Te Papa. All rights Reserved


New Zealand remains very much geologically active today. The devastating Christchurch earthquakes of 2011 are still fresh in the minds of New Zealanders, as large swathes of that city remain demolished and abandoned in what is known as the ‘red zone’. Wellingtonians live in uncomfortable awareness of the fault line they live on top of, Aucklanders of the volcanic heat of Rūaumoko beneath theirs. We must all remain vigilant.

Active Land, Awesome Forces

In its Whakarūaumoko | Active Land exhibition at Te Papa Tongarewa, and with the support of Aotearoa New Zealand’s Earthquake Commission, all of the concepts and events we’ve learned about so far come together to allow Kiwi and International visitors alike to get an immersive and hands-on understanding of, and connection to, the whenua (land) beneath us. This exhibition offers interactive installations that foster an understanding of the forces beyond our control and encourage visitors to think about how they can prepare themselves, their whanau (families), and their communities for the turbulent rumblings of Aotearoa, and the many ways in which they manifest.

Rūaumokos story is also told in the permanent Whakarūaumoko | Active Land exhibit. The mātauranga (knowledge) of te ao Māori (Māori worldviews) are interwoven throughout the exhibition, weaving together the spiritual and physical aspects of these phenomena. Visitors can follow the story of Zealandia, and create volcanic eruptions by building the pressure underground in an interactive display of magma flows.

a family walks through an exhibition on volcanoes. On the left is information panels and text, ahead is a large image of an ash plume, and to the right is a man and child pressing buttons on an interactive of how lava flows in volcanoes A view into part of the Whakarūaumoko | Active Land exhibition in Te Papa Tongarewa. Jo Moore, 2019. © Te Papa. All rights Reserved

A display of the Indo Australian and Pacific plates tectonic plates (Aotearoa perched on top), can slide over each other as visitors learn about the sliding subduction that created our maunga (mountains).

A girl of around 3 years old plays with an interactive display of New Zealand's plate tectonics as her mother looks on An interactive display of the Australian and Pacific tectonic plates in relation to New Zealand. Jo Moore, 2019. © Te Papa. All rights Reserved

A tsunami tank gives visitors the power to unleash a wave across a diorama of the coastline – illustrating how far these devastating swells can climb the land.

a child stands silhouetted in front of a long illuminated tank of water in which they have set off a miniature tsunami over a diorama of the coastline A child watching after creating a miniature tsunami in the ‘tsunami tank’. Jo Moore, 2019. © Te Papa. All rights Reserved

Earthquakes are an experience shared by all New Zealanders, and one that children are trained for from early schooling. The Quake House brings that home. Walk inside a tiny replica of a classic timber kiwi home, and experience the ground shaking beneath your feet. Feel the sharp jolts and deep rolls of quakes that speak to the depth and distance of the earthquake epicenter.

A family walks through the Active Land exhibition, an informative banner about earthquakes is to their right, and to their left is a small weatherboard shack painted yellow- the 'Quake House'. The Quake House, where visitors can experience an earthquake, complete with shaking and an immersive video experience. Jo Moore, 2019. © Te Papa. All rights Reserved

This experience prompts visitors to consider many things; their rapid response to a quake for their immediate safety (Drop, Cover, Hold), the preparations they need to make for the aftermath of a “big one” (food and water stockpiles, plans for locating loved ones), and how to quake-proof their home (securing objects like bookshelves, being aware of vulnerable structures like chimneys). It is simultaneously a thrilling, and sobering experience. Partnered with this is a smaller “quake table” that mimics a tiny quake, complete with materials, and a challenge to build your own quake-proof structure atop it. Visitors can become a civil engineer, and see whether their creations have the structural integrity to withstand the forces of the Alpine Fault.

a woman in red stands before an interactive exhibit. walls of pictures and text surround her. She uses bright plastic connectable pieces to build a structure on top of a small red surface that will simulate a small scale earthquake when a button is pushed A woman building a structure she hopes will withstand the miniature earthquake on top of the ‘shake table’. Jess Dewsnap, 2021. © Te Papa. All rights Reserved

Learn more about what goes on inside the Quake House, and how it was created.

© Te Papa. All rights Reserved
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Biodiversity, Guardianship, and the Natural History of New Zealand: A Museum Perspective

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