Arrowtown, New Zealand: Lakes District Museum and Chinese Settlement

DSC04814I’m fascinated by the Wild West (nothing to do with the disturbing crush I have on Val Kilmer as an extremely consumptive Doc Holliday in Tombstone, ok, well, maybe a little to do with that), so I thought it was pretty cool that New Zealand had its own version of the Gold Rush, and there are still old mining towns around that you can go and visit.  Really, I wanted to visit one of the ghost towns, like Macetown or St. Bathans, but unfortunately those are only accessible by a road where a bunch of people got trapped in the snow the day before I was there, so I had to settle for Arrowtown, which is a cutesy, touristy former mining town only about a twenty minute drive from Queenstown, and is home to the Lakes District Museum and a partially re-created Chinese Settlement.

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Arrowtown is indeed pretty cute (though it does feel like the town is trying just a bit too hard to be all quaint and old-timey), and I suspect it’s downright gorgeous at the height of autumn, judging by the leaves that were still clinging to a few of the trees when I visited.  The building the museum is housed in is also aiming for adorable (and mostly succeeds), but it is obviously new-ish, being built on the site of the old bank (you can view the ruins inside).  Entrance is 10 NZD, which is fairly standard for small museums in New Zealand (doesn’t mean I was thrilled to pay it, but I was used to it).  The museum basically aims to cover the history of Arrowtown, and, more generally, of the Gold Rush in New Zealand; we entered through a hallway covered with posters telling us about the discovery of gold in Arrowtown in 1862 by a fellow called “Maori Jack” (because he was Maori, of course), which was followed shortly by an influx of settlers and various mining and sluicing operations.  However, the first actual room of the museum (or maybe the last, if I went through backwards somehow) was somewhat disappointing as it just had a random collection of generic pioneer-life bits and bobs (look kids, a butter churn!), without much explanation provided.

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The basement was more my style than the first upstairs room, being a re-creation of Old Arrowtown, complete with mannequins.  The nicest surprise came when I opened the outhouse door and was met with a recorded voice telling me to go away (complete with buzzing fly sound effects), and an old miner availing himself of the facilities (I’ve encountered this gimmick at a good few museums now, but it never fails to delight).

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But yeah, the mannequins ran the whole gamut, from Poops Magee up there, to a drunk in the saloon, and an industrious baker and printer in their respective shops (Arrowtown had its own newspaper, and there were historic reprints available for a small donation).  There were some random boards about Chinese settlers set up in the schoolhouse, which were interesting to read, though they would have been easier to peruse if they were actually up on the walls, instead of sitting on the floor.

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As I mentioned earlier, there was also the vault from the old bank down here, though alas, it had been stripped of gold nuggets before the bank closed, as a sign soberly informed me.  The museum had made the dubious artistic decision to put a banker dummy inside the vault, lurking creepily in the dark, which gave me a bit of a shock when I first looked over.

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The other upstairs room was much better than the first, and focused on the stories of the immigrants who came to Arrowtown to participate in the Gold Rush; not only Chinese people, but also Brits, Germans, Australians, and many others.  This collection included some of the culturally-specific objects they would have brought with them (rather than the generic crap in t’other room); I was particularly intrigued by the collection of opium smoking paraphernalia and the sauerkraut making machine (though I wouldn’t particularly want to use it; I hate sauerkraut!).

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The museum also had an offer where for $3 (plus a $10 deposit, which we got back when we returned our pan), they would loan us a pan and spade for as long as we wanted, and we could pan for gold in the Arrow River behind the museum (where mining started in Arrowtown in the mid-1800s).  Even though it was near freezing when we visited (there were actually patches of ice on the riverbank), we couldn’t resist taking them up on it, and crouched near the river for almost an hour, though we didn’t find anything in the end.  Not even a gold flake or two.

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After our gold panning adventure, we trudged to the other side of town to look at the old gaol.  Much to my dismay, I found a sign on the fence informing us that if we wanted to go inside the gaol, we could ask for the key at the museum!  I really wish they had a sign at the museum mentioning this, because I didn’t even realise you could go inside the gaol, and even though I would very much have liked to explore it, there was no way I was walking back to the museum and then uphill to the gaol again, especially after all that gold panning (I did bravely ford the river in search of more fruitful gravel, after all, just like a grizzled prospector!).  So if you do find yourself in Arrowtown, remember to acquire a key before heading for the gaol!

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We crossed town yet again to go to the Chinese Settlement (Arrowtown wasn’t really that big, but being outside in the cold for so long was getting old), which is now operated by the Department of Conservation, and is free to visit. They suggested the settlement would take 40 minutes to walk around, but if you’re a fast reader and walk quickly (because you’re freezing your ass off and want to get back to a warm car), you can easily see it in half that time.  Ah Lum’s store is the only building that has been restored to any significant extent (Ah Lum was apparently the unofficial head of the Chinese Settlement, and was well-respected by even the white settlers, especially after he saved the life of a white miner), but there are a few other shacks lining the cliff face that you can poke your head into.  It was frankly kind of depressing; the shacks were dark, dingy, tiny, and not particularly well sheltered from the elements.

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Thanks to the accompanying signs, we learned more about life would have been like for the Chinese men who settled here (lonely, most likely, since most of the miners left their families behind, and never saw them again.  Though apparently there wasn’t much open hostility towards the Chinese from the white settlers until they started to open businesses of their own in competition with the white merchants, and even then, Arrowtown was spared the violence rife in other mining towns). The huts were a bit grim (albeit in a historically accurate way), but the rest of the park was rather pretty, and had a real autumnal feel (I love that whole wood-smoke, leafy vibe.  Autumn is my favourite season by far, so I’m pretty happy that I get to experience it twice this year!).

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As we headed back to our car, we came across the “X” marking the spot where the first piece of gold was found (by the aforementioned “Maori Jack” aka Jack Tewa), which was a nice surprise. Despite the cold, I really enjoyed our day in Arrowtown (actually, the cold probably helped with that, by keeping other tourists away.  We were the only ones bold/stupid enough to pan for gold), though I still would like to see some of the ghost towns someday – I think I’d prefer them to a town full of souvenir shops trying to get me to buy big tacky pieces of jade or kiwi statues made from every conceivable material (probably even gold). (Though the ghost towns aren’t likely to have millionaire’s shortbread for sale…  It’s always a struggle between my hatred of people and my love of creature comforts.  Cookies usually win.)  3.5/5 for our Arrowtown experience as a whole; even though the museum and the leaves weren’t all they could have been, I still had a good time.

Invercargill, New Zealand: Demolition World

DSC03802If you like chickens AND feeling like you’re on the set of a real-life horror movie, then Demolition World is most definitely the place for you.  If however, like many normal people, you are creeped out by mannequins under the best of circumstances, then you should avoid this place like the plague. Being the former sort of person, I had an amazing time.

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I found about Demolition World by sheer chance; we were planning a stop in Invercargill anyway to break up the long drive from Dunedin to Te Anau (and because the World’s Fastest Indian is there, see bottom of post), and I happened to pick up a tourist brochure on the town the day before that mentioned it (seriously, don’t neglect tourist literature!  Sometimes really bizarre places advertise in them that don’t have much of an internet presence); from the scanty description provided, I was most definitely intrigued.

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As far as I can tell, a couple who run an actual demolition business used the scrap to build this extraordinarily weird village outside of Invercargill, and you can just show up and walk through it whenever their business is open (they ask for a gold coin donation, meaning $1 or $2, but it’s just a donation box, not someone standing there or something, so no pressure.  Though I suppose the mannequins see all.  And it’s definitely worth it!).  So that’s what we did, despite it being a cold, wet, and windy day, as perhaps to be expected on the south coast of the South Island at the end of autumn (watch yourself though, some of the wooden steps outside the buildings were very muddy and thus slippery, and I almost fell over a couple times).

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I’m not really sure what the best way to describe this “attraction” is.  My boyfriend kept comparing it to House of Wax, which I have never seen, which is perhaps why I was not freaked out.  It is a series of old dilapidated buildings (and one rather nice solarium-type one in the middle, for some reason), arranged in a labyrinthine way, and crammed with mouldy furniture with the stuffing coming out, other random dusty decorations, and the creepiest dead-eyed mannequins you have ever seen in your life, many of them missing heads and limbs (some arranged in tableaux, but many just randomly shoved in wherever there was room).  It is most definitely not for the faint-hearted (I say that a lot, don’t I? I don’t know, I’m the kind of weirdo that leaves Halloween decorations up year-round, so I’m not really sure what normies can tolerate.  It seems like goths do wedding photo-shoots here though, if that helps to give you some idea what it’s like).

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Oh, and there were like 30 chickens (all different breeds, some fancy!) wandering around the place, along with some ducks and one turkey.  I like chickens a lot, so I was thrilled (Sainsbury’s is currently selling paper towels with chickens on them, and my boyfriend went out and bought me three packs so I can have the joy of using chicken towels for months!).  Scary mannequins AND chickens?!  The best!

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Really, this is the kind of thing you need to see for yourself.  I think I’ve expressed my enthusiasm enough (and I hope the people who are frightened by mannequins stopped reading some time ago). For me, this was by far the best part of Invercargill, and I loved that it was so casual, in that you could just rock up and see it without anyone bothering you (the fact that no one else was around at first definitely added to the unsettling atmosphere). 4/5 for being so damn delightfully weird.

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Oh, and about the World’s Fastest Indian I mentioned earlier.  In actual downtown Invercargill, there is a department store called E Hayes and Sons that is home to the motorcycle featured in the movie The World’s Fastest Indian (which is completely charming, by the way, if you haven’t seen it.  It’s the only time I’ve found Anthony Hopkins adorable instead of creepy).  I don’t really care about motorcycles, but I do love that movie (and Burt Munro, as portrayed by Anthony Hopkins), so I wanted to see Burt’s bike whilst we were in town.  The shop actually has a fairly extensive collection of vintage motorcycles and cars (for a shop that I don’t think actually sells motorcycles or cars.  Unless maybe they do.  There was a lot of crap in there), but the only one I really cared about was Burt’s.  They have both his actual bike, and one of the replicas built for the film.  I certainly wouldn’t go out of my way for it (though I might for Demolition World, because it was my kind of bizarre.  The kind where everything in it looked like it might come to life and kill you and/or give you tetanus.  For real, there was a bed in one of the houses with a lump underneath the covers, and even I was not bold enough to lift the covers and discover what it was), but it was neat to see since we were already there.

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Invercargill also has a nice Victorian water tower on the other end of town (and I do mean the other end.  We ended up having to drive there as our parking meter would have expired if we’d walked), and is known for a type of sandwich called a cheese roll, which I never ended up trying.  Partly because I didn’t see anyone selling them (though apparently chippies have them) and partly because my love of bread and cheese doesn’t quite extend to cheap white bread filled with onion soup mix, evaporated milk, and low-grade “cheddar” (scarcely deserving of the name), but since I’m talking about local curiosities, just letting you know that they exist. And that, finally, is all I have to say about Invercargill.

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Oamaru, New Zealand: Steampunk HQ

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What Oamaru is known for, insofar as it’s known for anything at all (I’d certainly never heard of it before planning this trip, but then, I’d never really researched tourist destinations in New Zealand before I knew I was going there), is its cute Victorian town centre, and its colony of little blue penguins (it’s on the coast, so they come ashore here to make their nests). The penguins don’t come out until evening, so we missed seeing them, but thanks to Steampunk HQ, “New Zealand’s Premiere [only?] Steampunk Attraction,” we did get to spend some time appreciating Victoriana (well, neo-Victoriana, anyway).

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In the past, I’ve admitted that I don’t quite “get” the whole steampunk subculture (I understand being fascinated by the Victorians, but the gears’n’goggles thing seems a bit unnecessary), but that doesn’t stop me from visiting steampunk museum exhibits and the like from time to time.  And Oamaruans are clearly very keen (in addition to this attraction, the town hosts a steampunk festival every year!), so I decided Steampunk HQ was definitely worth seeing.  It is an art installation type dealy right near the centre of town (it’s not that big of a town) that is hard to miss on account of the huge steampunky airship (I feel like steampunks would say airship rather than blimp) sticking out of the side of the building.  Admission is 10 NZD, which I guess is not too bad in the grand scheme of things.  I mean, I’d probably part with a fiver to see something this intriguing in the UK.

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When we got there, we were greeted by a couple of guys sitting outside at a picnic table, one of whom turned out to be one of the artists featured in the museum, and also the person working the admissions desk whenever a visitor showed up.  We parted with our money, were given a brief introduction to the interactive bits, and somewhat apprehensively entered a dark, industrial-looking room, to be met with a slightly sinister, delightfully bonkers mechanised world.  This strain of steampunks are clearly fans of the skulls-and-black-clothing aesthetic that I embraced in my youth (I guess that’s where the “punk” part comes in), as the HQ was full of monsters, skeletons, and weird Minotaur looking figures.  A female robotic voice welcomed us when we entered, and various things made noises as we made our way through the dimly-lit space (we were also the only people wandering through for most of our visit, which definitely enhanced the creepy atmosphere).

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The first interactive we encountered was the organ, pictured above, which played a variety of random sounds when you pressed the keys.  Sounds like that Close Encounters of the Third Kind noise they beamed into space, drumbeats, or random dialogue that I guess was supposed to blend together into a sort of song, but in practice you couldn’t really play chords because one noise stopped when you pressed down a second key.  It was still cool though.  There was also a mechanical elephant you could ride for $2, but it specifically said for under 10s only, so I didn’t risk my adult-sized ass on it, though I dearly wanted to.

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The back room of the installation/museum was similarly full of splendidly random and disquieting sculptures, including a ship used in some Russell Crowe film (I think) made by the Weta Workshop (Peter Jackson’s company; same guys who did the Gallipoli exhibit in the Te Papa post) and re-purposed to be more steampunk.

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The other main interactive thing, and in my opinion, the best part of the whole experience, was also back here: The Portal.  Upon pushing a big red button (because who doesn’t love to do that?!) and closing the door behind you, you were transported into a mirrored sound and light show that was really, really cool looking.  I enjoyed it so much I wanted to go back in, but more people showed up by the time we finished with the courtyard, so I didn’t get the chance.

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The courtyard was also pretty cool; it was full of random broken-down looking junk (including a big vat thing with a hole in the middle amusingly labelled as “toilet,” though by the looks of the floor, someone may well have used it for that purpose).  I wasn’t too sure if you were actually supposed to climb on the “art,” as everything looked rusty and unsafe, but my tetanus shots are up to date, so I took a chance, and didn’t injure myself on anything!  It was fun climbing up and into stuff; kind of like an semi-dangerous playground for adults.

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There was also a small gift shop attached to the front, selling postcards, pins, and black t-shirts and things, and a few more pieces of steampunk animal sculpture, along with a story about their creator, who sadly died from cancer when he was only 37 (and only 10 days after the birth of his daughter, it really was a sad story).  Although it didn’t take us more than half an hour to see the entire attraction, it was definitely a really unusual stop, and I don’t regret going (in fact, I think I would have actually regretted it if I missed it, if I had somehow seen how neat it was inside).  Plus it was a great way to break up the long drive from Christchurch to Dunedin.  4/5.

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Christchurch, New Zealand: International Antarctic Centre

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This place is totally a tourist trap, but nonetheless, as you can tell from my grin, it’s pretty damn fun. The International Antarctic Centre was one of the first places I added to my list of “must-sees” when we decided to take this trip, and I spent the week before we left reading about Mawson’s Antarctic expedition to put myself in the mood for it (not that I really needed to.  I LOVE the “heroic age” of polar exploration.  It was so brutal).  The reason the Antarctic Centre is in Christchurch is because this city is the departure point for many modern Antarctic expeditions; being the closest large city to McMurdo Station, many countries, including the US and of course New Zealand, have special training facilities here.  The Antarctic Centre aims to give you a taste of these facilities (in a less extreme way), albeit for a premium price.

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Yes, it costs 59 NZD for the full package, or $39 for the “express package.”  And this is one case where I don’t recommend cheaping out, because the $59 package includes unlimited Hagglund rides, and that was the best part of the whole experience.  Actually, I found a $10 off voucher that was good for up to 4 people in one of the Christchurch tourist brochures from the car rental kiosk in the airport, so there are ways to avoid paying full price (though $49 is admittedly still expensive). Because many of the activities in the museum are only offered once or twice an hour, the woman at the admissions desk made us a schedule when we arrived, which was actually quite helpful.  They feed the penguins twice a day, at 10:30 and 3:30 (so it might be good to visit around one of those times), and we arrived right before the earlier feeding (we came straight from the airport; it’s literally a five minute walk away), so we headed there first.

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The Antarctic Centre has eighteen little blue penguins, which are the penguins you’ll see down the southern coast of New Zealand (in theory; I never ran into any in the wild).  These particular penguins are rescue penguins with various disabilities that wouldn’t allow them to survive in the wild, which is why they’re in here.  As you can probably guess from the “little” and “blue” in their name, these are very cute penguins.  There’s an underwater viewing area where we watched a few of them swim around and do their thing before feeding time, when a woman came out with a bucket of sprats (imported from the North Sea, as apparently these penguins are too spoiled to eat local fish) and fed them all whilst telling us about each penguin.  One of them apparently has a paralysed tongue, so has to have the fish physically placed in the back of its throat to be able to eat (that’s why she’s holding it in the picture above).  I mean, the penguin feeding is nothing you probably haven’t already seen at a zoo or evil old Sea World or something, but penguins are cute regardless.

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After penguin feeding, we had to rush outside for our first Hagglund ride of the day.  These are offered every half an hour, and while they are in theory “unlimited,” there’s a catch: you have to have a timed ticket to get on one, so unless you want to hang around all day, there will probably be a limit to how many you can do, especially if the museum’s busy.  It was not busy on the day of our visit, so we got the entire back car to ourselves.  And take it from me, the back is where you want to be!  You get bounced around a lot more, so it is obviously more fun.  Hagglunds are these vehicles that were first invented in Sweden (hence the Nordic sounding name), but are also used in Antarctica because they’re well-suited to the environment there.  They run on four treads, and can do all kinds of crazy manoeuvres like crossing a crevasse up to 1.8 metres in length, running up an extremely steep gradient, and floating for up to three hours, all of which you’ll get a taste of on the obstacle course they take you around.  It was so much fun that we did it again, though we had to wait an hour and a half to get another time slot, which gave us plenty of time to see the rest of the centre in the meantime.

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The other attraction included in the full $59 package, but not the $39 one, is the 4D movie experience.  It was basically like every other 4D movie I’ve ever seen, where there’s an occasional smell piped in, but mostly you just get squirted with water.  This one was an Antarctic exploration (of course) by boat, so the seats shifted around a bit to simulate seasickness (I was still feeling a bit queasy from the Hagglund, so I’m glad this didn’t have the intended effect), and we kept getting squirted in the neck (if you’re in the front, cover your neck!) with water meant to represent everything from sea water to bird poop.  And some bubbles came down at the end.  If this was all you were getting for the full package, I’d say skip it, but the Hagglund makes it worth your while, even if the movie is just ok.  They also had a 4D screening of Happy Feet, but we didn’t go to that one, so I can’t say how it is.

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The other attraction I was excited for was the storm chamber, where you got to experience an Antarctic storm (this was kind of shaping up to be like my dream destination of the Grimsby Fishing Heritage Centre, what with the chance to experience seasickness and changes in temperature.  I still haven’t made it up to Grimsby though, so I can’t say how it compares).  This, again, only runs once or twice an hour, so we had to time everything carefully, but we rocked up a few minutes beforehand to put on our rubber overshoes and special parkas.  (I was wearing leggings with sockless Converse, because it was pretty warm outside, which meant my ankles were exposed; even with the overshoes, this proved to be something of a mistake.)  You enter the chamber, which already has fake snow on the ground, and is pretty damn cold to start with, but then the winds pick up, and it gets WAYYY colder.  I was legitimately worried I might get frostbite if I stayed in there much longer (there’s an igloo you can shelter under when you’re in there, and the whole thing only lasts six minutes anyway) but I stuck it out so I could get a very teeny taste of what Mawson, Scott, Shackleton, et al went through.  Utter misery, I’m guessing.

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The last main section of the centre consisted of a museum room about life in the Antarctic, and geology and all that.  One corner held a mock-up of a polar tent, along with jackets, snow pants, and mittens you could put on to pose for pictures in, which is where the opening photo comes from.  I love to dress up in stuff, which is probably one reason why I had such a good time here!  There was also a small replica of Scott’s hut (though they didn’t seem overly concerned with authenticity), an “ice cave” which took about ten seconds to walk through, and some kind of flight thing where you could watch pilots preparing for a flight to the South Pole.

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I have to say that the museum section was rather lame, but that’s not really what people are here for.  The penguins, storm room, and most of all the Hagglund rides did not disappoint.  I’m not convinced that it was worth $49 (with the discount), but didn’t feel quite as swindled as I do at most tourist traps (disregarding the photo package they tried to sell us at the end, including postcards of ourselves already printed out.  Why would they print them out already?  What a waste of paper!  Do most people really buy them?!) simply because some of the things here were genuinely really fun, and all of the staff seemed very concerned about us having a good time (as in, they kept asking us if we’d done certain activities yet, and then checked to see if we enjoyed said activities.  They were extremely enthusiastic).  If you’re not that interested in polar exploration, you could safely skip this (unless you really want to ride in a Hagglund), and even if you are, there are definitely museums that offer a more comprehensive history of Antarctic exploration and more accurately portray the misery associated with it (look out for my Canterbury Museum post in a few weeks); the whole aim of this attraction is entertainment, so you really only get to experience the fun bits of the South Pole.   So although I enjoyed my time here, I could see how others wouldn’t, and the admission price still chafes a bit.  3/5.

 

Wellington, New Zealand: Te Papa Tongarewa

DSC03305Te Papa, or the National Museum of New Zealand (the Maori name roughly translates to “the place of many treasures”) was similar in many ways to the Auckland Museum.  It was large, spread out over multiple stories, and featured a pretty kick-ass temporary exhibition.  Unlike the Auckland Museum, it had the added benefit of being free, temporary exhibit and all, which I’ve come to realise is extremely rare in New Zealand, especially for a museum of this calibre.  Because of its sheer size, this was the only museum I had time to see in Wellington (though I did take the time to see Harry McNeish’s grave, because of Mrs. Chippy (Mrs. Chippy’s story is pretty sad, and Harry McNeish also got a bit of a bum deal as a result)), but because it was so comprehensive, I don’t really feel as though I missed out.

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The highlight of the museum was undoubtedly its temporary exhibit, Gallipoli: The Scale of Our War, which was put together in collaboration with the Weta Workshop (the special effects company founded in part by Peter Jackson), who created these amazing giant soldier figures. Gallipoli is famously commemorated in New Zealand and Australia on ANZAC Day every year, but I think in Britain, we sometimes don’t realise just how huge of an impact the war had on this small country.  I discussed some of the casualty figures in the Auckland Museum post, but 2779 Kiwis were killed in Gallipoli alone, a full sixth of all the Kiwi soldiers fighting in the campaign, and I think Gallipoli is really where the war hit home for the people of New Zealand; even though a greater number of men would be killed on the Western Front, Gallipoli was the first major loss, which is why it is so well remembered to this day.

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We were warned on the website that there would probably be a queue for the exhibit, so we headed there first after arriving, and were indeed met with a queue, but decided to just go for it, because it might be worse later on.  As it turned out, the line moved fairly quickly, which was both good and bad; good because we didn’t have much of a wait, bad because the people in front of us didn’t really have time to clear out before we entered, so the exhibit was very crowded (when we were leaving the museum, there was no queue at all, so I think going in the afternoon is probably the better option.  We should really have gone back in then to appreciate it without the crowds, but we were so tired at that point we couldn’t be bothered).

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Obviously, the focal point of the exhibition was the giant figures, which were extremely lifelike (although maybe a bit too muscular. The soldiers I’ve been researching had an average height of about 5’4″-5’7″, and weighed somewhere between 110-140 lbs (how they met the minimum chest size requirement is beyond me), but I imagine their ANZAC counterparts could have been a bit beefier, having access to better food at home and such. Still, knowing all the problems they had with dysentery in the army, they must still have been depleted physically as the campaign stretched on, even if they joined up in good condition)), and rather moving , but the rest of the exhibit was pretty good too. It provided a comprehensive history of Gallipoli, including aspects of the battle, soldier life, and the home front.

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My main (bully) beef with the exhibit, as you can probably guess, was the crowds.  There were lots of great interactive things, and plenty of touchscreens where you could learn more about individual soldiers killed in the battle, but because there were so many people, I only got to use a couple of them.  I did, nonetheless, think it was very well put-together.  Although the big figures were the draw, they also had some charming miniatures, including a model of a hospital ship (complete with a teeny version of the soldiers’ bulldog mascot, adorable!).  They gave everyone a red poppy made of paper at the end, which you could either keep or write a message of remembrance on and throw in the lake surrounding the final soldier.  I think this exhibit is on til 2018, so I highly recommend stopping by if you find yourself in New Zealand before then.

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Now, onto the rest of the museum!  Like the Auckland Museum, they had a dedicated geology/volcano gallery, which I think may have also had an earthquake house, though we didn’t bother with going in this one after the rather underwhelming experience in Auckland.  However, the Natural History section was much better, because they have the only preserved colossal squid in any museum in the world!  I do think squids are hella gross, and this one was no exception, but since it was, you know, dead, and soaking in formaldehyde, it couldn’t try to suck my brain out or whatever it is squids do, so I was happy to look at it (though I couldn’t quite the keep the expression of disgust off my face).

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Because the children’s gallery was deserted, I was able to wander in and play a game to learn about my carbon footprint, and of course, crawl inside a model of a blue whale’s heart (I actually only crawled halfway in, because I was worried I might get stuck).  They also had an outside garden, which was understandably empty as it was right on the seafront and it was an extremely windy and rainy day, but that was fine with me, because I could jump up and down on the swing bridge without getting funny looks.  That swing bridge probably was the most fun I had all day, but they also had a little replica of a glow worm cave that was neat (though nowhere near as neat as the real thing).

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Heading back inside, we ventured up to the third floor, which not only contained a cannon from the Endeavour (awesome!), but a gallery about New Zealand before Europeans arrived, which of course included moa and other native animals, and a room where you could touch a rock from each corner of New Zealand (it had something to do with a Maori custom, but also touching stuff is fun).  There were also some fun interactives in here, including a game where you got to analyse moa poop (accompanied by hilarious farting sounds!  I’m not sure if birds can actually fart though).

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The fourth floor was all about the people of New Zealand, starting with Maori settlements, and moving up to the present day.  You were asked not to take pictures in the Maori section, so the lack of photos is not a deliberate omission on my part, but I have to say that I liked this gallery much better than the Auckland Museum’s Maori collections.  For one thing, the captions were much more detailed; even if they didn’t know what the exact provenance of an object was, they still described its meaning to the Maori people and what it was used for in great detail, which I appreciated, because it’s much easier to gain insight into a culture if some of their beliefs and customs are explained to you.  There were also a couple of beautiful marae, one of which is actually still used by the community.  The Maori history carried on with a gallery about the Treaty of Waitangi, where New Zealand (for better or worse) was handed over to the British.

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There were a couple small galleries on Pacific Islanders, who have immigrated to New Zealand in large numbers in recent years, for education and jobs.  I think my favourite object was the cow sculpture made of corned beef tins (all tinned food is referred to as pisupo in the Pacific Islands, because pea soup was the first canned thing to be imported), to highlight the problems associated with imported foods and the encroachment of the West on traditional cultures.  There were many more cool artefacts though, including some clothing made by contemporary designers, and a game where you could try navigating to New Zealand by the sun and stars.

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I loved the gallery about 19th century immigration; they had pull-out drawers (which required a fair amount of muscle to pull out!) containing the stories of immigrants from many different countries, a game where you could be the captain of an immigrant ship (I killed off a whole family from scarlet fever, but my ship made it into port in time, so yay?), and other ship-related fun. The gallery about early 20th century to modern day New Zealand was also delightful, with (you guessed it) more games, and junk about the Queen (for real, why are Kiwis so keen on the Royal Family?).

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The top two floors of the museum are known as Arts Te Papa, and are dedicated to the museum’s art collection (as you might expect).  The entire first room had drawing stations set up with mirrors, where you were encouraged to take selfies, draw a self portrait (me and my boyfriend actually drew pictures of each other, to change it up a bit; the one I drew still cracks me up), or write poetry using a magnetic wall full of random words.  I really enjoyed some of the paintings up here because they portrayed various sites we’d already seen around New Zealand as they looked a hundred or more years ago, and it was interesting to compare.  The photographic collection was also nice; I got to learn more about Opo the Friendly Dolphin, whose grave and statue we rather depressingly (and randomly) encountered on the beach in Opononi the week before. (I just learned there’s a song written about her!  I know what I’m listening to after I finish writing this post!)  The top floor was jewelley and ceramics, but we were both just too damn tired (and unconcerned about jewellery and ceramics) by that point to venture up, so I hope I didn’t miss anything amazing.

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To sum up, Te Papa has an excellent temporary exhibit, lots of cool permanent exhibits (and the only preserved colossal squid, if that matters to you), and is free, so there is absolutely no reason not to go.  If you’ve got a spare day in Wellington, fill it up with this (I must confess that I actually had two days in Wellington, but I spent the first one going to various sites from Braindead, because it’s one of my favourite films.  We even stayed right down the street from Lionel’s house (I could see it from our window!). I don’t regret this decision, because Te Papa + Braindead made for an excellent two days here).  4.5/5.

 

 

 

Auckland, New Zealand: The Auckland War Memorial Museum

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You might not know this about me, because I like to give the impression of thoroughness, but I’m generally a pretty speedy museum visitor, especially if the museum in question is crowded (I do generally at least skim over everything (it helps that I’m a fast reader), but I don’t tend to linger unless a museum has almost no other visitors AND is extraordinarily interesting).  That’s why I was amazed that we were in the Auckland Museum for a good four hours.  I genuinely can’t remember the last time I spent so long in a museum.  I’m not sure if that’s a ringing endorsement so much as the fact that our Air B&B was really far away, and I couldn’t be bothered to walk back when I’d just have to go to town again later…but no, I’m not being fair to the Auckland Museum, as it was actually pretty impressive (not to mention that I’d have just moved on to a different museum rather than spend the whole day there if it really sucked).  So let’s learn more about it, shall we?

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The Auckland Museum in its current state was first conceived of after the First World War as a kind of “living memorial” to the many ANZAC soldiers who died on Britain’s behalf.  So although the entire top floor is devoted to commemorating wars New Zealand fought in, and contains two memorial halls, the building itself is meant to be a memorial as well.  This also explains why the full name of the museum is the Auckland War Memorial Museum, even though the whole thing is not about war (this put me off a bit initially, not because I don’t enjoy military museums, but because I was worried that was all that was there.  Not to fear, there is indeed an extensive and varied collection).

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Basic admission to the museum, if you’re not a New Zealand resident, is 25 NZD, which I initially balked at, but by the end of the day, I think I probably did get my money’s worth (although Te Papa was free, and just as good, so there’s that…).  There are other admission packages that include Maori cultural performances or guided tours, but interactive cultural performances always put me off because I’m scared someone will try to make me dance or otherwise participate in front of strangers, and to be honest, the 45 NZD price tag was enough to deter me.  So just the museum it was then, but fortunately that included access to all the permanent and temporary exhibitions.

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I say “fortunately” because Air New Zealand sponsored a temporary exhibit about the history of their airline that was probably my favourite part of the whole museum.  We spent over an hour in there alone!  You’d think after spending over a whole day on a plane en route to New Zealand, I’d be reluctant to have anything to do with them for a long time (or at least until my flight home), but that was not the case here.  I was drawn in by the mock-ups of retro New Zealand aircraft, and by the collection of hideous uniforms worn by flight attendants over the years (seriously, their hats were incredibly ugly.  The ones from the 60s looked like they were about to go foxhunting or something, albeit whilst wearing a mod mini-dress and white vinyl thigh boots).  And I did very much enjoy going into the old planes to see the kind of luxury (and leg room) I was missing out on with modern planes (they can keep some of their disgusting menu items though.  I mean, plane food is disgusting today (except for the Hokey Pokey cookies they gave us on the flight from Kerikeri to Auckland; those were delicious), but at least it’s not jellied like most stuff in the ’60s seemed to be), but the best bits were probably all the interactive things.

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They had games, touch screens where you could learn more about planes, a kiosk where you could design your own airplane exterior, and even a special virtual reality room where you got to experience a four minute virtual tour around the airplane of the future (part of me suspects it was a vision of the future akin to EPCOT in Disneyworld, i.e. it sounds cool, but will never end up happening, but it was still fun.  Except for the teenagers in there going, “man, this is trippy” every three seconds.  You’re not actually high, so it’s not trippy.  Now please shut up).  There was also information about the time the Queen flew on an Air New Zealand commercial flight (they are oddly keen on the royals there), the airline’s various mascots over the years (including that very creepy squirrel above the last paragraph), and the sight-seeing flights to Antarctica in the 1970s that ended in tragedy when one of them crashed into Mount Erebus, killing everyone aboard (it remains the worst air disaster by far in New Zealand’s history).  They even had a groovy gift shop, where you could purchase old advertising poster designs on prints and postcards.

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But being that this was only a temporary exhibit, I should probably move on to the permanent collections.  The museum opened with a history of design that I admit I rushed through pretty quickly, because it was full of European objects that I could see anywhere, and I was keen to see the artefacts that were uniquely Kiwi.  However, the middle of the ground floor is taken up with a Maori Court, which includes a couple of traditional buildings; one of them is still under construction, but you’re allowed inside, if you remove your shoes (as a sign of respect…this was very welcome after walking around in hard soled sandals all day, but sadly I had to put them back on to see the rest of the museum).  There was also a portraiture exhibit that I enjoyed; there’s something so interesting about the juxtaposition of heavily tattooed Maori people wearing 19th century dress clothes, painted by European artists in a traditional portrait style.

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There was an entire gallery  of Maori and Pacific Islands artefacts down here as well; unfortunately, I found the captions a bit sparse compared to the Western artefacts (especially after seeing what Te Papa did with similar artefacts…that post is coming soon!), perhaps because it’s harder to say much about each object if you don’t know their specific provenance, other than what they were used for.

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This poor old elephant was called Rajah, and he once lived at the Auckland Zoo, but he was killed because he was taken from the wild, so obviously didn’t do well in captivity, and the keepers worried he was becoming too aggressive.  I mean, this was in the 1930s, so not a recent thing, but I still felt horrible for poor Rajah.  Surely the kind thing to do would have been to ship him back to the wild, rather than have him put down, preserved, and plonked in the middle of a New Zealand childhood exhibition.  This exhibit was rife with actual New Zealand schoolchildren running rampant, so I didn’t linger, but how creepy are those dolls, particularly the one on the left?!  She looks like she’s got a secret, and the secret is that she murdered your entire family while you were asleep.  [Shudder]

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The last thing on the ground floor was the history of New Zealand settlement (by Europeans), as told through the various beautiful objects on display; again, although these things looked nice, I didn’t spend a whole lot of time in here because many of the things were English in origin, and I could see similar stuff at home; or related to the kauri trade, which I’d already learned about extensively at the Kauri Museum.  Besides, a dishy young Edmund Hillary, floppy hair and toothy grin and all, was waiting in the stairwell, practically calling my name, along with the ice axe he used to climb Mount Everest.

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Also, there was a volcano gallery upstairs, and naturally my geologist boyfriend was keen to see it (he being less convinced about the attractiveness of a young Edmund Hillary.  Seriously, Hillary’s on the $5 New Zealand notes, and he looks foxier on those than he did in real life, so I kept one for my personal collection).  Auckland is built on a number of volcanoes (I think something like 49 of them, though most are dormant), and if one of the active ones decides to blow, the city is screwed, essentially.

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This idea was explored further in a special volcano simulator, wherein the premise was that one of the volcanoes was going to blow and engulf the city.  Basically, we sat down on a couch and watched a fake news broadcast, then the room shook a bit.  I’m glad we only waited a couple minutes for it, because it was rather lame.  Still, all the information about volcanoes was interesting, including the stories of various ones around the world that had exploded in recent history.

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There were a number of galleries featuring the art of different cultures up here (Japanese pottery, ancient Egypt, Pacific Island art, etc), but I didn’t really spend much time looking at them, because natural history!  They had a skeleton of a giant moa, and also a reconstruction of one.  I don’t think hunting things to extinction is a good thing (obviously), but I would have done the same where the moa is concerned…if I saw a bird that looked like that coming towards me, my instinct would be to kill it before it killed me.  Damn.  Emus are bad enough, as I would learn in Australia.

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There were also taxidermy versions of modern New Zealand birds (I have to say, kiwis don’t really do it for me, but I love a morepork.  Even their name is adorable) and other animals (the bat is the only native mammal, but plenty of other things have since been brought in and call the islands home.  Some of them, like possums, you’re positively encouraged to kill, as they’re seen as pests).  And re-creations of native environments, like the cave (crawling with disgusting giant cave wetas, more on them in a future post) and kauri forests.  Additionally, there was a special children’s gallery on the weird and wonderful that I cut through, because it did look rather wonderful (and there were no children in sight).  This was very Victorian-inspired, and contained even more hilarious taxidermy than what was available in the normal adult gallery.

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By then, it was time to explore the final floor (because I was getting hangry and tired), which was about war.  Apparently they’re busy constructing some new galleries, but the stuff they already have is pretty good.  It began with some colonial wars against the Maori, and New Zealand’s participation in British conflicts, like the Boer War, but quickly moved on to WWI, which was the main focus.  I suppose it wasn’t anything I hadn’t seen at other WWI museums (mock-ups of trenches, weaponry, etc), but it was very well put-together, and the perspective was a unique one; it seemed particularly unfair that the ANZAC soldiers were so hard hit when they were fighting so far away from home in a war that really had nothing to do with them.  18,166 Kiwi soldiers were killed; the population of the country was only 1 million at the time, so you can imagine what a significant loss this was.

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There was also a special exhibit about the impact of the war on the home front, which showed that of course, not everyone was eager to sign up, and honoured the courage of those who followed their convictions and chose not to fight, despite facing imprisonment and hard labour.  This was all very nicely done, and the memorial hall is a lovely tribute to the many, many soldiers who never made it home again, whose names are inscribed on the walls.  Also inside the memorial hall were smaller rooms dedicated to Holocaust remembrance, and the history of the museum itself, which is where I learned about the concept of the museum serving as a living memorial.

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WWII, which New Zealand also of course participated in, was not neglected either; fallen soldiers got their own memorial hall, and there was a whole gallery about this war as well.  Two special rooms, containing a Zero and a Spitfire, flanked this gallery (you could start up a Spitfire engine with a touch of your palm, which was especially neat), and I thought the section on kamikaze pilots was fascinating.  One of them, who donated objects to the museum later in life, only survived because the mechanics took their time making repairs to his plane in hopes that the war would end before his scheduled mission…because they managed to drag the repairs out until August, they saved the pilot’s life.

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So as you can probably tell from this extremely lengthy post, this was actually a very good museum.  Whilst I think it had its weaknesses (lack of detailed captions on some Pacific Island artefacts, too much focus in some places on European art, though I can somewhat understand the latter; for Kiwis who haven’t made it over to Europe, I suppose this would be something of a novelty), the temporary exhibition on Air New Zealand was excellent – really a lot of fun, and I think the war galleries were beautifully done as well.  Because I spent four hours here, I think it deserves a commensurate score.  4/5.

Butler Point, New Zealand: Whaling Museum

DSC02449Butler Point is on Doubtless Bay.  I tell you this because it is a great Cookism, wherein Captain Cook sailed past the area, and remarked in his journal, “it is doubtless a bay,” and the name stuck.  I know you all know that I love Joseph Banks, but that includes a fondness for Cook by extension, and I rather adore his characteristic matter-of-factness.  Butler Point Whaling Museum is one of those annoying appointment only places (though when I got there, I could kind of see why) which I normally avoid like the plague, but fortunately my boyfriend’s aunt kindly called them for us (she’s the best!), so I could avoid the sort of awkward phone conversation I hate (i.e. any phone conversation.  I HATE calling people, even people I know).  So with that out of the way, we were free to head down at our appointed time and enjoy ourselves.

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Though this information is not easy to find online, I’ll tell you here: the museum costs 20 NZD.  This did seem steep (still does), but it’s not massively out of line with what some other small museums in New Zealand charge (although the really nice ones in major cities usually cost about the same, or are free, so…), so it was best to just suck it up and pay it, especially because we weren’t asked to pay until midway through the tour, and it was certainly too late to back out then.  The museum is not exactly easy to find…satnav will fail you here, as the road it’s on doesn’t exist according to GPS, so best to go with the directions on their very old-school website.  Basically, you drive up to a gate that you have to open yourself (so it’s useful if you have a friend/travelling companion) and then carry on for another couple kilometres down a winding gravel road (unsealed, in the Kiwi parlance).  Even though we left early, we still managed to be about five minutes late, which was slightly awkward as there was already a lady waiting for us by the parking lot when we got there.  Fortunately, she didn’t seem too put off, and as we were the only visitors that day, proceeded to take us on the tour.

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(There were no pictures allowed inside the museum, so you’ll have to make do with these pictures of the rather beautiful gardens the museum is situated within.)  Now, whilst I am intensely interested in historical whaling practices, I do not condone whaling in any shape or form (nor does the museum – its focus is decidedly historical).  Obviously it was a terrible thing, and it’s awful that it still goes on in some places, but nonetheless, I am a realist, and that does not change history, and the fact that whaling was once a thriving, commercially important industry.  What’s more, I tend to favour many of the more brutal aspects of history, and whaling is right up there on the harshness scale, especially where maritime history is concerned.  So it’s fair to say I already knew quite a bit about whaling at its mid-19th century peak, and unfortunately, what this museum really provides is an introduction, rather than something more in-depth.  This is not to say that our guide wasn’t well-informed, because she certainly knew loads about the whaling industry, and perhaps if I had mentioned that I was already familiar with many of the things she was talking about, she could have deviated her explanations, but it seemed rude to interrupt, and besides, it wasn’t uninteresting, especially when illustrated with the use of actual objects used in the industry.  It was more that with such a specialist subject, I guess I was hoping for a more specialised museum, rather than the overview I got.  That said, I did learn more about whaling practices specific to the area, so that’s something.

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Basically, she began by leading us up to the whaling boat parked outside the museum. Initially, it seemed bigger than I had pictured them being after reading In the Heart of the Sea, but once I saw how it looked when full of men (or towing a whale), then it really did seem insubstantial against the task at hand.  Which of course, was to harpoon whales, and then let then swim around until they tired themselves out (which could easily take hours – 3 on average, but sometimes a full day!) or managed to wreck the boat and escape.  If they did eventually tire, they’d be hauled in for the kill, and towed back to the ship, where they’d be cut apart and hauled on board, and then flensed and the blubber boiled down into oil (and spermaceti set aside for candles and such, if it was a sperm whale).  There were also big pots and a giant ladle, so you could see how the boiling-down process would have worked.  And a few portions of whale skull; baleen and toothed.

Once we got inside the actual museum, we were free to look around at leisure.  The collection was fairly standard (having since been to another whaling museum, I can safely say this); lots of scrimshaw and ambergris and such.  There were maps and factual posters, but the most interesting part was undoubtedly a video made in the 1920s that actually showed whaling in action (which is how I was able to gauge the size of the whaleboats when full), as our guide said, it really did tie everything together.

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The whole reason the museum is here in the first place is because of Captain Butler (William, not Rhett, much to my disappointment), a retired whaling ship captain (I believe he was British, but also lived in America for a while) who had his finger in many pies that horribly exploited the environment, from provisioning other whaling ships, to exporting kauri gum and trees.  Anyway, once he’d accumulated a good bit of money, he built a house here to accommodate his wife and their 13 children (though frankly, the house looks much too small for all of that), which still stands today, and is included in the whaling museum tour (still no pictures allowed though).  He wasn’t the only whaler in the area, of course, as many American whaling ships docked nearby as well (hence the provisioning), but he’s the only one who settled and has a house still standing nearby, so this is what you get.  The house only dates back to the 1840s, but is rather stuffy and rich in authentic smells.  However, as a historic house it was fairly unremarkable, and many of the rooms contained random objects (ladders, posters, etc) clearly used by the curators/caretakers rather than meant to be seen by the public.

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Once we’d finished the tour, which took about an hour and a half, we were free to explore the rest of the property on our own, which included a fernery, a walk that went down to the edge of the bay (so you could dip your feet in if you’re like me; there were a lot of bits of leaves and things floating around, but the water was nice and warm), and most excitingly, a giant tree.  While not as tall as the kauri trees, it was massively wide and clearly extremely old (I think something like 1000 years), and unlike the kauri trees, you were allowed to get right up to it and hug it if you were so inclined (which you may be able to spy me doing in the photo).  You could also walk through the forest to look out onto nearby Mangonui (a little, touristy bayfront town with a “world famous” chippy.  I can’t judge the fish, since I don’t eat it, but I’ve had much better chips).  There was also a teeny graveyard where Captain Butler was buried, along with some of his family and the subsequent owners of the house.

Although I didn’t walk away feeling as though I’d learned quite as much as I’d hoped, I think it’s difficult with this sort of attraction where you have to cater for all levels of knowledge, which is many cases may be fairly slight, and you don’t have that many unusual artefacts for people to admire.  As I said, I did like the video, and I did learn more about local whaling practices, so I think it was still a worthwhile trip, even if this small and surprisingly expensive museum wasn’t quite all I was hoping for.  2.5/5.

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More tree, because it was pretty good.

 

Matakohe, New Zealand: Kauri Museum

DSC02155I was recently in New Zealand for the first time, as some of you may already know, and it was a grand time indeed (I’ll be in Australia when this post is published, if I haven’t gotten eaten by a shark or pecked to death by a cassowary or something)!  So, let the Kiwi-themed posts commence!  The first stop on your Diverting Journeys tour of the country is the Kauri Museum in Northland, but before I get into that, I should probably show you what a kauri tree is.  Basically, you’re looking at one in the picture above.  That particular specimen, located in Waipoua Forest, is the second largest tree in New Zealand.  They also have the largest tree, and several other impressive trees, and I absolutely recommend you go see them, but unfortunately all the tremendously old and huge ones were chopped down long ago (well, not that long ago, from roughly the mid-1800s to the mid-1900s or so) for the logging industry.  Which is kind of where the Kauri Museum comes in.

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If you ever wanted to learn more about kauri, this is the place to do it.  You will find out about the many uses of the kauri tree and its gum, the history of the logging/mining industry, and so much more.  All for the low, low price of 25 NZD.  Ok, so $25 for a museum admittedly seems awfully steep.  And I was extremely put off the prices of everything for my first few days in New Zealand.  But eventually I learned that this is just how much things cost here, and if you don’t suck it up and pay amounts of money that seem absolutely ridiculous ($4.30 for a Magnum ice cream?! Though to be fair, that’s the gas station price.  It’s only $2 each if you buy a box of them at a supermarket.  I recommend the cookies’n’cream ones, which are far better than any of the flavours they have in the UK, where I’m not terribly keen on Magnums at all), you won’t find yourself doing very much at all.

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This museum is not only about the kauri tree, it is also about the gum (a kind of fossilised resin coming from the tree, similar to amber), which itself became a thriving industry after most of the kauri trees had been cut down. Upon entering the museum, we immediately saw signs telling us not to miss the famous gum room in the basement, so of course that’s where we headed first.  Some guy’s life work was collecting, polishing, and occasionally carving pieces of gum, and he eventually ended up with something like 840 pieces, which are all displayed here for your pleasure.  The best were the pieces that were actually carved into things, like Maori chiefs and kiwi birds.

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Now, my boyfriend’s aunt recommended that I see this museum – she being someone who regularly reads my blog and knows my likes and dislikes quite well – in large part because of the impressive mannequin collection in this museum.  She did not lead me astray; these are some damn good mannequins.  The best part is that they are apparently all based on actual people who lived locally, which gives them a real character you don’t always get out of dummies (since ideally, they’re inanimate and all.  Unless it’s some kind of horror movie, or that spectacularly awful Kim Cattrall film).

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These tableaux were spread throughout the museum, but were especially concentrated in the re-creations of a miner’s cottage and a boarding house, which also came complete with authentic smells.  And I suspect these were authentic authentic smells, probably coming from all the wood and such.  This museum did have an old-school feel, with loads of black and white photographs with very lengthy matter-of-fact captions (case in point, a picture of an old miner in front of his shack, reading, “This is the home he will die in.”); in fact, all the text was rather overwhelming, but I didn’t feel compelled to read all of it, otherwise I would have been there well past closing time (if this does happen to you, you are allowed to return on the same ticket the next day to finish up.  We were staying over two hours away, so that wasn’t an option for us).

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Things really started to get interesting when we entered a room with old felled kauri tree stumps in it.  We had thought the ones in the forest were impressively large, but some of the stumps in here would have put the living trees to shame, judging by the girth of them (the one in the picture above, behind me in the kauri tub, was at least 800 years old when it was chopped down).  By modern estimates, over 85% of New Zealand was forested before human habitation, and though the Maori did practice some slash and burn agriculture over the centuries, by far the greatest damage was done by the logging industry – the percentage of forest in New Zealand is now something more like 25%.  So this museum comes with a price (other than just the $25), but it’s not like they recently hacked down these trees to stick them in the museum; the damage had been already been done many years ago.  (That said, they still sell things made from kauri wood in the gift shop, and I’m not entirely sure where it’s being sourced from.)

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This museum also had a fair amount of random crap in it; while there was of course a variety of furniture and carvings made from kauri wood (including about five different busts of various museum benefactors or other important locals), there was also a section with pottery and bottles, displays of taxidermied native animals, and a WWI display for all the ANZAC soldiers who fought in the First World War (you’re going to hear a LOT about Gallipoli in future posts).  I was quite partial to the bottle shaped like a potato.

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They also had a room showing the logging industry at work, which was very noisy, but gave you a chance to see the old machines in action, accompanied, of course, by more mannequins, because why the hell not?  Throwing more mannequins at something invariably makes it better (as you’ll see in my upcoming post on Demolition World).

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My favourite part of the whole experience probably came in the next gallery, which was devoted to farming.  They had a replica of a milking machine (complete with fake cow, because that’s the kind of wondrous place this was), which started up, rather loudly, when one pressed a button.  There were a couple of older ladies trailing us throughout the museum (as in, I tried multiple times to shake them by deliberately going a different way, but they kept popping up again) who would loudly read each caption to each other, and then stand there discussing it (they were pretty much the only people in the museum besides us, which was why it was markedly irritating).  Anyway, one of them pressed the milking machine button whilst the other one wasn’t really paying attention, and she jumped a foot in the air when it started up, and started yelling at her companion (I tried my best not to laugh, but didn’t entirely succeed.  Fortunately, the noise from the milking machine hid all).  But seriously, there were also a number of photographs dedicated to the “cow of the century,” a “magnificent uddered cow,” and those were pretty great too.

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But wait, there’s more!  Although this was the end of the museum galleries (and these alone would have been fairly impressive), there were a couple more rooms just past the admissions desk, by the toilets.  These contained wooden panels (I’m assuming kauri wood) depicting native birds, and a gallery dedicated to the life of Joseph Gordon Coates, who served in WWI, and became the prime minister of New Zealand from 1925-1928.  He was mentioned throughout the museum, since he was born in Matakohe, but this was a more comprehensive look at his life and work.  There was also a church dedicated to him across the street.

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Also across the street was a pioneer church, one of the outbuildings that was included with your museum admission.  There was also an old post office, a telephone exchange, and a school, all complete with their full complement of mannequins, though I unfortunately didn’t get to visit the school as it was closed due to a wasp infestation (I’m glad they warned us, I’d much rather not visit it than end up with a bunch of nasty wasp bites).  Additionally, there was a cafe, which was open when I left the museum; I briefly popped my head in the pioneer church, and then headed to the cafe for an ice cream, but by the time I got there, they’d stuck a closed sign on the door.  It was very bizarre, as the museum itself was open for another hour and a half.  Maybe they just didn’t like the look of me, and they saw me coming?

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Despite my annoyance at getting deprived of ice cream (that is why I know exactly how much a Magnum costs; because we had to stop at a gas station so I could get one on the way back, since I had a taste for ice cream at that point (who am I kidding, I ALWAYS have a taste for ice cream!)), I really did enjoy this museum.  It was much bigger than you’d expect from a museum that was essentially in the middle of nowhere (it was an hour and a half drive from the actual kauri forest, and even a fair bit of a way from Dargaville, the largest nearby town, which is apparently the kumara capital of the world (kumara being a slightly rancid tasting sweet potato-ey root veg)), and damned if those mannequins weren’t unusually impressive.  And of course the massive tree stumps, and all the information about life in the time of kauri logging/mining.  The whole package was really rather impressive.  However, I will add the caveat that this is an incredibly European-centric museum; the Maori are barely mentioned at all, and the extent of the damage that the loggers did to the native forests of New Zealand is also glossed over (I learned those statistics I mentioned earlier at the Auckland Museum and Te Papa, since they weren’t discussed at the Kauri Museum). Because of these glaring omissions, I’m going to give it a 3.5/5, but it nonetheless made for an entertaining afternoon.

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Brighton, East Sussex: Brighton Museum

DSC01928The Royal Pavilion shares the Pavilion Gardens with the Brighton Museum and Art Gallery, so it made sense to pop over there directly after visiting the Royal Pavilion, especially as it is another National Art Fund friendly property, so we got free entry (£5.20 otherwise, but it is free for Brighton and Hove residents with proof of address).  Although it may appear that the Brighton Museum was originally part of the Royal Pavilion (because of the similarity in architectural styles), it was actually purpose-built in the 1870s, presumably to match the Eastern-influenced appearance of the Pavilion.  I’ve been to the museum a few times over the years, so this was a slightly speedy visit where I basically just passed through to snap some photos (or point to things so my boyfriend takes a photo of them, as is usually the way) and make sure things were more or less as I remembered them.

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Like many local museums, the Brighton Museum is an eclectic mix of galleries, but it’s larger than your typical local museum, and pulls off the strange mix more skillfully than others, perhaps because it’s in keeping with the character of Brighton itself.  The museum opens with a hall of interior design, which features, among other things, a baseball mitt couch inspired by Joe DiMaggio, one of the famous (THE famous? Is there more than one?) Mae West Lips sofas, by Salvador Dali, and one of Grayson Perry’s vases.

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Carrying on from the design gallery, you’ll come upon the Ancient Egyptian nook (this is the kind of eclecticism I was talking about).  It’s got your usual Egyptian stuff: some canopic jars, a few sarcophagi, etc, and also a mildly entertaining computer game (aimed at children) where you get to choose the tools needed to embalm a body, and then stuff the organs in their appropriate jars (harder than it should have been).

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Because it is the Brighton Museum, there are of course a couple galleries devoted to local history, detailing how Brighton became a fashionable seaside resort town, info about life in Brighton during the war years, and also how Brighton came to be one of the most LGBT friendly places in the UK.  There were some nice seasidey touches in here, like one of those boards you stick your head through so it looks like you have the body of an Edwardian bather, and a couple penny arcade machines, though it was unclear whether you could actually use them or not (my guess is no, since they probably took old school pennies, but they were just kind of sitting out, practically begging you to try them).

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I am kind of a nerd about old ceramics, so the “Willett’s Popular Pottery” gallery is definitely my favourite.  There are so many wonderful things in here, but the best had to be the “Red Barn Murder” figurines (I’ve tried to get my hands on a set before, but these are super rare and mega expensive.  This is the first set I’ve seen in person), featuring Maria Marten and her murderer William Corder, both as a smiling, newlywed couple, and then in front of the infamous barn, with William luring the innocent Maria inside to her horrible demise.  With a cow complacently chewing cud off to one side, which really makes it perfect.  This was just one small part of the crime-related pottery section (told you it’s an excellent gallery!), which also had figurines of Dick Turpin and one of his less-famous highwayman friends, among others.

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I want to show you all the things, but I realise that others probably don’t share my level of interest in historical ceramic figurines.  But there was lots of great stuff here; not only slightly misshapen animals, but those Georgian mugs with cartoons printed right on them, and some of those old-school royalty mugs (before official photographs or portraits were used, and somebody just crappily hand-painted a generic looking bewigged man on them).

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Although this was not my first visit to the museum, I think I’d somehow missed going upstairs in the past, because I did not remember these galleries at all (and I definitely would have if I’ve seen them).  The first was the Performance Gallery, which contained puppets and costumes from all over the world.  My two favourites are pictured above.  Poor George IV.  The guy just can’t catch a break.

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Then there was the Ocean Blues Gallery, which I have to mention just so I can show you pictures of that sad shark and albatross chick (the chick was bigger than the adults they had on display, not sure how that works, especially when you look at the size of the egg it came out of.  Maybe there’s just a lot of downy fluff involved?).  I want to take that shark home and give him a hug, the poor thing.  This gallery mainly discussed pollution and its impact on the oceans, so it’s probably appropriate that the shark looked so lonely and upset.

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The fashion gallery contained one of Fatboy Slim’s shirts, which my boyfriend was kind of excited about for some reason (I could never get into Fatboy Slim, maybe it’s one of those inexplicable British things?  I’m not even that sure who he actually is, since his videos seemed to only have other people in them (I’m thinking of that “Praise You” song that was big in the late ’90s, which come to think of it, is the only Fatboy Slim song I know of)).  It also had a cool naval coat, and some adorable albeit probably uncomfortable bathing costumes, but the strangest part was the collection of clothing associated with ’80s movements, like punk, skinhead, and goth outfits (fair enough), but also a queer-fetish-techno-punk outfit from 1998, which I didn’t even realise was a subgenre.  Where I come from, we just called them ravers.

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Unfortunately, that amazing doorway no longer leads into a zoology gallery, but rather, the art galleries.  Since it’s mainly modern art in here, I would have preferred zoology (especially because that probably means taxidermy), but what can you do.  One of the canvases in here was literally just beige, and some guy was admiring it like it was the greatest thing since sliced bread.  I will never understand that kind of modern art.

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Back downstairs, I found another gallery I’d missed previously hiding in the corner, which was about different cultures from around the world, containing some cool objects from each of them (I liked all the Inuit stuff, though I don’t have a picture; I guess I didn’t point to it vigorously enough), and for some inexplicable reason, a foosball table (some family was already using it, but I didn’t mind so much because I am extremely terrible at foosball.  Give me an air hockey table or Skeeball over it any day).

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I think the Brighton Museum is one of those rare places that I actually wouldn’t have minded paying for (though I’m not complaining that I got in free!).  I remember really liking it the first time I went (many years ago, before I even moved to the UK; it was the summer when I was backpacking through Europe and I spent a day in Brighton because I decided I hated London and I needed to get away. It’s funny how life turns out sometimes), and I still like it.  It’s not enormous or anything, but it’s big enough to kill a couple hours in, and varied enough that there’s something for everyone, especially if you like ceramic cats (don’t miss the giant one in the cafe!).  3.5/5.

 

Brighton, East Sussex: The Royal Pavilion

DSC01923_stitchThe Royal Pavilion is an amazing, confused conglomeration of excess, built for the notoriously dissipated Prince Regent (who became George IV) in the 1810s.  It’s probably the most recognisable building in Brighton, with its distinctive Indian-inspired exterior, and its even crazier Chinese-influenced interior.  And despite having visited Brighton a fair number of times over the years, the first time I ventured inside this behemoth was just a few short weeks ago.

For you see, admission to the Royal Pavilion is normally a princely £12.30, but it is a National Art Fund partner, so members get free access (even though they don’t advertise it anywhere in the building or online, which gave me a bit of a scare, but they honour it in person with no trouble), so this is the first time myself and my wallet were inclined to venture within.  Also, I was a bit worried it would be excessively touristy, but even on a Sunday, it wasn’t too terribly crowded.  I mean, we walked right in, and had no trouble strolling around the place relatively unimpeded (though it was unseasonably cold on the day of our visit, meaning most people wouldn’t choose to visit a seaside town, so your mileage may vary in nicer weather).

Now, although the Royal Pavilion has one of the most incredible interiors I’ve ever seen, and I’m anxious to share it with you all, they do not allow photography inside.  I get that they’ve done a lot of restoration work over the years, but I still feel like they could let you snap a few shots in the most impressive downstairs rooms without doing any damage, but eurgh, I don’t know.  Maybe it’s to encourage you to tell your friends to come see it for themselves, since you’ll have no pictures to show off (actually, after poking about on their website, apparently it’s the Queen’s fault.  I knew I was opposed to the monarchy for a reason).  An amble around the internet didn’t reveal any good photographs available for free use (just some drawings and copies of old postcards), so please click this link to the Royal Pavilion’s website where you can click room by room to check them all out, making sure to focus on the Music Room and Banqueting Room, which I will talk about below, because they are the best.

They offered us an audio guide when we entered, but I’m so used to declining things that I just said no, without even asking if it cost extra.  Judging by the number of people who had audio guides (i.e. everyone except us), it might not, but you still all know what my position on audio guides usually is.  Unfortunately, there wasn’t a tonne to read on the ground floor of the house, generally just a small sign per room, so I probably missed out on learning about the interior.  Fortunately, this was remedied to some extent with the help of the video room, wherein I learned that the Pavilion was built by Henry Holland on something of a budget, as George was still just a prince at the time, and his daddy had his finger on the purse strings.  However, once George III descended into madness for the final time, and Georgie Jr was made Prince Regent, he decided to expand and embellish with the help of John Nash, and went for this totally crazy British-Empire-meets-the-Orient design, inspired by his love of the Far East.  Later (skipping over William IV, who wasn’t around for long anyway), the staid Victoria rejected the palace as too louche for family living, and had everything stripped out of it and mostly transferred to Buckingham Palace, while she was busy lording it up at Osborne House.  When Brighton later decided to open the palace to the public, Victoria (to her credit) returned most of the furnishings, and sort-of-shoddy reconstructions were done to make up the rest of the interiors (they had some examples in there, they were pretty craptastic).  During WWI, the Pavilion went on to serve as a hospital for Indian soldiers and later, soldiers missing limbs, and then was finally properly restored after the war years, save for some minor setbacks in the 1970s and ’80s when there was an arson attack, and then one of the minarets collapsed, which destroyed the Music Room, but it is now back in all its glory.

And the Music Room was probably the best damn room in the whole place, save for maybe the Banqueting Room (actually, I did prefer the Music Room, because snakes).  Oh man, it was incredible.  Snakes and dragons all over the damn place (not real ones, obviously), crawling up the wallpaper, serving as curtain rods, and just generally awesomely slithering around.  The Banqueting Room was pretty baller too though, especially the chandelier, which weighs a tonne (literally), and is suspended from a large winged dragon.  Also of note was the Great Kitchen, which had fake palm tree columns, and a menu from one of the Careme catered banquets George hosted (also available on their website, but it’s too small to read on there), featuring an epic 68 dishes, plus 8 edible confectionery centrepieces (all the meaty stuff sounded pretty foul (sometimes fowl), but I would definitely tuck into a “great nougat, in the French style.”  Bring one to me now).

Even the Long Gallery, which we got to pass through several times on the way upstairs and downstairs, and back through George’s personal apartments (the whole thing was quite maze-like, and we only went the right way with the help of the ropes stretched all over the place), was neat.  It was full of creepily lifelike Chinese figurines and (guess what?) more dragons.

I realise it’s probably not possible with the way the place is set up, but they should probably make you see the downstairs rooms last, because I felt a little bit like Homer when he was given a tour of Mr. Burns’s house that ended in the basement (Homer: “Gee, it’s not as nice as the other rooms.”  Mr. Burns: “Yes, I really should stop ending the tour with it.”).  The upstairs rooms fairly paled in comparison to the splendours downstairs, but I did enjoy the museum-y rooms where I learned more about the restoration of the palace, and its time as a war hospital, and there was also a room full of caricatures of George IV, which were brilliant.  Victoria’s boringly restrained apartments were up here too, and according to their website, there was also a special bed with a tipping mechanism made for George when he was at his morbidly obese/gouty stage so he could get up more easily, but I somehow missed that detail when we were there (actually, that bed was downstairs, because if George could barely get out of bed, he certainly couldn’t climb stairs, but I still don’t remember seeing it).  Guess I paid the price for not taking the audio guide.

The palace also featured an enormous gift shop (not really anything in it I wanted to buy, but it was for sure big), and not one, but TWO cafes (probably technically a cafe and a tea room), but I didn’t see any millionaire’s shortbread (Brighton’s got too many good bakeries for me to want to eat in a museum cafe anyway), plus my stomach was already all set for some ice cream from Scoop and Crumb (it was a bit icier than usual, probably because it was still the off-season, but it didn’t stop me from eating three large scoops and promptly getting a stomachache). I don’t know if I’d still be as keen if I’d paid £12.30 for the Royal Pavilion (maybe if I’d had the audio guide.  If I’d paid, I’d definitely have taken the audio guide), since we walked through in under an hour, but for free, this was a fabulous outing.  I think this probably had my favourite interior out of any palace I’ve visited (which probably means I’m as gaudy and tasteless as George IV, but so be it), at least where the main downstairs rooms were concerned, and it was definitely worth seeing, at long last.  Still salty about my inability to photograph it (I should say Marcus’s inability to photograph it, because I never voluntarily take pictures) though.  4/5.