Oslo: The Kon-Tiki Museum

After visiting the fabulous Fram Museum (“the best museum in Norway”), obviously anything else was going to struggle to compete, particularly another maritime-themed museum, but as the Kon-Tiki Museum was right next door, we headed there next anyway. The museum costs 120 kr to enter, but is free with the Oslo Pass – considering the Fram Museum cost the same and was at least three times the size, I think it’s probably only worth going with an Oslo Pass or combined ticket.

 

I was vaguely familiar with the story of Kon-Tiki, but I think it might be more well-known to older people who would have seen the film and lived through the whole tiki bar craze of the ’50s and ’60s. Basically, Thor Heyerdahl was a Norwegian explorer who had spent time studying the peoples of South America and Polynesia, and believed that Polynesians were originally South Americans who had journeyed across the Pacific Ocean by raft. To prove that this was possible, he built a raft from balsa and bamboo, and in 1947 sailed it from Peru to French Polynesia with a crew of five other men, which took 97 days. Although his theories about Polynesians being descended from South Americans were not entirely accurate, it was still an epic voyage, and did accurately reflect their sea-faring capabilities. Also, not to be shallow, but Thor Heyerdahl was kind of cute, so there’s that (I didn’t think I had a Scandi-fetish, but maybe I sort of do).

 

The Kon-Tiki Museum houses the Kon-Tiki boat, as you might expect, and also Ra II, made of papyrus, which was used for one of Heyerdahl’s Ancient Egypt themed voyages (for someone who was reputedly afraid of the sea, he sure made a lot of anthropological sea voyages after Kon-Tiki). But in order to try to live up to the glorious standard of interactivity set by the Fram Museum, it also had some slightly more interactive bits, which I’ll get to momentarily.

   

When we walked in, we were greeted by not only by the Kon-Tiki, but also by a giant replica moai, a tribute to Heyerdahl’s fascination with Easter Island. There were panels on the walls containing more information about the inspiration behind the Kon-Tiki voyage, and the voyage itself (everything in the museum had an English translation). Apparently he was advised not to do it because seasoned sailors suspected that the boat would simply fall apart, estimating that the ropes that held it together would last no more than two weeks once exposed to water. Fortunately, this was incorrect, but Heyerdahl and co. still had a moment of panic at the two-week mark when the ropes starting making funny noises, before realising that the ropes had simply worn grooves into the wood, which prevented them from snapping.

After learning all about the Kon-Tiki, we proceeded down a ramp into the bowels of the museum, home to the “aquarium” and “caves” we were promised on the brochure. The aquarium wasn’t real – it was just a glass case made to look like it was full of water, and contained some fake sharks and things (much better than a real aquarium actually, as I didn’t have to feel bad for the fish), and the caves obviously weren’t real caves, but they were fun to walk through, and even contained a few slightly scary surprises. They led into a room full of Polynesian artefacts acquired by Thor Heyerdahl over the years, which is apparently one of the world’s largest collections of Polynesian art. A word of warning – the caves do take you back into the main bit of the museum when you exit, so make sure you see everything on the lower level first before you go through. There was also a film room showing Kon-Tiki, the 1950 movie about Heyerdahl’s experience, but we had a lot to do that day so we gave that one a miss.

We exited the caves into Heyerdahl’s library (complete with a wax figure of Thor himself. Norway seems to excel at the making of waxworks – slightly disappointing, if, like me, you prefer badly done ones, but I have to admit they were impressive), and a room of facts about his life. He seemed like an interesting guy, sort of a David Attenborough-esque figure. During his Ra expeditions, where he sailed across the Atlantic from Morocco to the Caribbean, he encountered a disturbing amount of pollution in the ocean, which led to his involvement with environmental causes. He worked with the UN on some of his voyages, so tried to have crews made up of members from each continent (save Antarctica, obviously), and burned another ship, named the Tigris, in protest against continued war across Africa. He died in 2002 at the age of 87.

 

The final room of the museum contained the Ra II (the one to successfully make the crossing. He had to abandon the original Ra only 100 miles before reaching the Caribbean islands) and information about his later voyages. The shop had some cool tiki merchandise, if you’re into that kind of thing (I am, and am looking for a replacement for my tiki glass with a butt that I accidentally broke, but no butts were to be had, sadly), but at sky-high Norwegian prices, which are only to be expected, I guess.

I was definitely interested to learn more about Heyerdahl’s life, and I loved the cave part of the museum, but in terms of getting your money’s worth, the Fram Museum delivers so much more. However, since we didn’t actually pay to get in (well, we did, but as part of the Oslo Pass), I thought it was still a reasonable museum, and definitely one to see if you want to warm yourself up after visiting the Fram (or just, you know, going outside in Norway for most of the year) by reading about warmer climes. 3/5.

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8 comments

  1. I really didn’t know any of this, though I’ve heard of the Kon Tiki. I remember tiki-type bars and drinks from the early 80s. Frequently you got to take home the funky drunk vessels (some sort of Easter Islandish).

    1. I don’t like tiki drinks, since I’m not much of a drinker and they tend to be super alcoholic, but I love the mugs! I even had a tiki themed graduation party when I finished college, though I’m afraid those Neo-Nazi marchers have spoiled tiki torches for me!

  2. Sounds like a fascinating museum, another one we missed when we were in Oslo. But having the Oslo Pass seems to have been a really good move, makes the entry prices much more manageable doesn’t it? We may have to return now.

  3. I think I would enjoy this. I can’t remember if i’ve seen the film, but we had Thor Heyerdahl‘s book, The Kon-tiki Expedition, at home when I was a child. I remember being totally fascinated and read it at least twice. I read a lot of stuff when I was young that I wouldn’t have the mental staying power to read now!

    1. Me too. I used to read all these super boring biographies of various Tudors when I was a young teenager, and absolutely loved them. If I tried to read one now, pretty sure I’d make it through about twenty pages before abandoning it for something more engaging.

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