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Taupō Museum: Discover Our Rich Heritage

2 minutes read

The Taupō Museum, located in the heart of Taupō, offers a fascinating glimpse into the region's rich cultural and natural history. The museum showcases local Maori heritage, with exhibits featuring traditional carvings, artifacts, and stories of the Tuwharetoa people. Visitors can explore displays on the volcanic origins of the area, the unique flora and fauna, and the history of the local community. The museum also hosts rotating art exhibitions and provides educational programs for all ages. With its diverse collection and engaging displays, the Taupo Museum is a must-visit destination for those interested in the vibrant history and culture of the Taupo region.

Current featured exhibitions include:

Big bird bones

Towering flightless moa may have disappeared from the planet 600 years ago, but museum visitors can still marvel at the creatures’ size. This female North Island Giant Moa (Dinornis novaezealandiae) would have stood about 2m tall, even though she was not fully grown. This moa was reconstructed from the remains of six birds, discovered at the bottom of a cave in Waikaremoana. The bones were found in 1969 but they are at least 1800 years old.

Fun Fact: The skeleton was originally assembled incorrectly, with its legs facing the wrong way. It was carefully dismantled, cleaned, and properly re-articulated in 2017. 

See more: Want to know what the moa’s major predator (prior to the arrival of humans) looked like? Head to Taupō Primary School, where artist Tāne Lawless has painted a mural of the huge hōkioi (Haast eagle) on a school wall. Street art fans will find two other depictions of the extinct raptor in Taupō’s downtown alleyways and on the central pou at the lakefront’s Te Ātea.

A travelling garden

Could this be New Zealand’s most well-travelled garden? The reassembled '100% Pure New Zealand Ora - Garden of Wellbeing’ includes all the elements that won a coveted gold medal at the 2004 Chelsea Flower Show in England. This version, complete with flowing water and mist-shrouded replica pink and white terraces, dominates the museum courtyard and is now a Garden of National Significance. While the original silica terraces were buried by a volcanic eruption, the garden remains a living, organic part of local heritage. See it soon. The plants have thrived, which means the trees are starting to grow too big for the space and the exhibit will eventually be redeveloped.

Fun fact: Look out for the seemingly innocuous hand chiseled stone slab beside the garden, on the courtyard wall. It is believed to have once formed part of a 14th century altar erected by Ngātoroirangi. This particular taonga tapu (sacred treasure) may be among the most important heritage artifacts in the museum’s care.

See more: Visit the museum’s main gallery to learn about the region’s volcanic history and geology, and the forces that destroyed the pink and white terraces.

A boat that didn’t float

The Ōpepe waka is a boat with a surprising twist. The 300-year-old 14-metre vessel, carved from a totara tree, hails from the ancient settlement of Ranginui about 18km from Lake Taupō and it was never used to transport people. Instead, the waka was most likely utilised as a boundary marker that doubled as a rainwater collection vessel, essential in an area devoid of springs, streams, or rivers. Its hand-tooled curves and scalloped hull ensure it is also a work of art.

Fun Fact: The boat hails from a now-defunct settlement that bustled before Taupō town was formed.  In its heyday,  Ōpepe township boasted a hotel, store and an armed constabulary stockade. 

See more: Visitors to Ōpepe Scenic Reserve can roam walking tracks that skirt the waka’s original resting place. For centuries, the area was a major settlement and meeting place for Māori hapū (sub-tribes) travelling ancient walking tracks to and from the coast. Early survey maps show that it was once home to four wharenui (meeting houses), all within the same area.

Feel the fish

A whopping 8.8kg (19.5lb) trout is the biggest head-turner in an exhibition that celebrates Taupō’s long history as an angler’s paradise. The fish is a cast of the one caught by fishing guide Barney  Northcroft (Ngāti Tūtetewha) in 1945, in the Waitahanui River. Barney’s father was also a respected guide in this area and the river remains a revered fishing spot today. The trophy fish, which measures close to a metre long, sits among old wooden fly rods and reels, hand-tied flies, nets, and framed photos of celebrated fishing spots. Find out about the famous people - royalty, presidents, and authors – who have fished in the Taupō region.

Fun fact: Want to know what an 8.8kg trout feels like? Museum visitors are encouraged to pick up the handmade fabric trout that is stuffed with weights that replicate the exact heft of Barney’s big fish. 

See more: To experience the real thing, head to Tongariro National Trout Centre in Tūrangi. The education centre runs a popular holiday programme that allows children to catch fish from a specially stocked pond, then have their catch smoked on site. It also offers a ‘learn to fish’ option for all ages, in the adjacent Tongariro River.

Plants for a palace

In 1851, a glass display case filled with dried fruit, leaves and flowers found its way into the vast glass palace built for London’s Great Exhibition. Almost a century later, the botanical specimens –  from the world-famous Kew Gardens - travelled to Taupō with the grandson of its prizewinning British creator, Elisa King. Learn about Elisa, her plants, and the ornately carved walnut mahogany stand. The case was originally among about 14,000 contributions gathered from around the world and displayed inside the ‘Crystal Palace’ in Hyde Park.

Fun Fact: The botanical display may have been viewed by Charles Darwin, Lewis Carroll, Charlotte Bronte and Karl Marx, all of whom were among the six million attendees at the exhibition.

See more: Visit Taupō’s very own botanic gardens. Dubbed ‘a forest in the making’, Waipāhīhī Botanic Reserve includes walking tracks that meander through more than 2000 rhododendrons, camellias, azaleas, and other exotic plantings intermingled in developing native forest. 

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