The first thing to do, says everyone about Wellington, is visit Te Papa, the National Museum. Bright and early, or as early as we manage these days, we walked the few blocks from our hotel down to the waterfront toward the museum, appreciating the public art along the way.
We were about museumed out, what with visiting every exhibit in the towns we stayed in so far. Still, we love museums. We love good museums. We have our favorites and as former media pros we both appreciate new more interactive exhibit concepts that make history come alive. Te Papa is huge with a number of very good traditional displays, particularly the Maori exhibit.
The big draw is the year-old Gallipoli exhibit, a deep-dive, multimedia immersion in one of the defining events in New Zealand history. We’d seen the Gallipoli arrays in the smaller museums, the usual collections of artifacts with explanatory placards, and we wondered to the young info-desk girls if it was worth the cruise ship crowd wait to see this one.
“Definitely!” they both said emphatically. And so we stood in line for about half an hour, inching toward the entrance, not knowing what awaited just inside.
This photo is not blown up. As you enter the exhibit you’re assaulted by this larger-than-life figure of a real person in a real moment of one of the saddest chapters in the history of human conflict.
And from that moment we were wrapped up in the experience of an incredible modern museum presentation. We barely raised the camera, so immersed were we in the multivalent, compelling storytelling. I did manage to take a photo of this small detail, a timeline painted on the floor showing the number of casualties by day.
The exhibit was designed and built in partnership with the Weta Workshop, the people who brought you the Lord of the Ring movies, and I recommend you visit the website and poke around for a sense of how complex and wide ranging it is. It is now my favorite museum exhibit, even surpassing the ground-breaking Holocast Musem in Washington, DC in sheer creativity and emotional effectiveness. There are terrific videos here about the making of the exhibit.
By the time we left Gallipoli and Te Papa and emerged back into the sunshine we were emotionally drained and just wanted to talk about what we’d seen. At an amazing gourmet food emporium we put together a picnic dinner of fine cheeses, fresh bread, fruit and wine and retired to our hotel for the evening to process the experience and unwind. Wellington delivered again.