One of the greatest experiences about visiting NZ was a chance for all of us get some hands-on learning that would not be available in Australia. Knowing my kids and their preferences and attention spans, I had to carefully select what we visited – so good-bye long guided tours, talking heads or demonstrations. We would need something a little more hands on. And being science people, there was naturally a focus on science education. And boy was it fun. Here are some of the great places we visited – in roughly the order we visited them.
Te Papa – Wellington
This was one of the best museums we have ever been inside. Though we spent at least 2 hours looking through the ‘Awesome Forces’ and NZ wildlife exhibits, we could have spent many many more – we only managed to see one level!
Awesome Forces was wonderful for the kids – hands on displays where you would get to dive through the earths layers, earthquake simulators and heaps of dials and videos for busy little fingers.
Waitomo Glowworm Caves
An amazing experience, unfortunately only by guided tour – which tried the patience of both kids. There is only so long a 6 and 2 year old can walk sedately and be quiet. Trying to keep my two talkers quiet in the boats so as not to scare the glowworms was virtually impossible. An amazing experience, but one I would not recommend for small children. There are actually other less-famous glowworm caves in NZ (which alas, we didn’t get to see), some of which are self-guided.
|Omaka displays created by Weta|
Omaka Aviation Heritage Centre
Want to look at the original WWI flying machines? This is the place. It has amazing 3-D displays with planes and models – all wearing the correct period attire as giant dioramas. Its also mostly Pete Jackson’s personal collection – not just the planes, but the clothes, letters and other paraphernalia of the great flying aces all put together by Weta in amazing story-like displays. The Red Barron’s accouterments and Goering’s uniform were probably the highlights, strange as that sounds, and led to great discussions on who these people were and why we should learn about them.
Mt John University Observatory
|Some of the telescopes, the big one’s at the back|
C really loved this one, and so did I. Though the advertisements were up all over the cafe, I got the feeling that most people didn’t take them up on the tour of the observatory – it was enough to drive up the scarily narrow road to get to the cafe at the top. We aren’t most people. So the poor astronomer who did the tour ( just us ), had to answer C’s tricky questions on the chemical makeup of the universe and the origins of elements (they had a giant poster of the periodic table in one of their offices). Then he had to contend with me going all gaga at their supercomputer, and DH giving him the 20 question treatment on how the automation systems on the Japanese telescope of awesome worked. All up, he did pretty well. J naturally just wanted to try and play computer-games on their computers – and it was hard to keep distracting her – but certainly worth it. Thank goodness the weather was mostly good ( it went overcast so we couldn’t use the telescopes for looking at the sun), and we didn’t have to contend with the 200+kph winds that periodically hit the observatory.
Craters of the Moon
This is an amazing walk – around a series of thermal vents all spewing out the most foul-smell. (Quick chemistry lesson there). J christened them ‘smellies’, and would say ‘no more smellies’ and ‘bye-bye smellies’. But we saw a mud-crater!
The Waigamu Volcanic Walk
|Hot springs and acid water|
This is the newest ‘active’ volcanic zone in New Zealand. Created at the turn of the last century at the eruption that ‘created’ the Buried Village, this was our chance to see hot springs, acid springs and warm ground ( that freaked me out a little bit, I’m not really OK with magma close to the surface). J loved digging in it, of course as she got dirt and warm feet. We even scared some baby wild pigs on our walk, which the kids loved, while DH and I kept a look out for mumma, who thankfully didn’t deign to attack tourists.
|One of the buried homes|
The Buried Village
Doing the volcanic walk and then visiting the Buried Village really brings home exactly how temporary human structures are in this part of New Zealand. This was the village closest to the eruption, and it was buried deeper than an adult in mud. The walk and displays are amazingly set out – very interesting and informative, and this was a great experience. Thankfully the guided tour was optional, so the kids could explore the location on their own terms while pretending to be archaeologists, or in J’s case, just digging in the dirt.
Volcanic Activity Centre
This is a centre located near Taupo.(The beautiful Lake Taupo is one of the seven largest active volcanoes in the world.) It’s just a room with a few displays attached to the seismic monitoring station. I was not blown away by the displays – Te Papa did it better, but the kids loved it. They had all the different types of volcanic rock, a large 3D map of the area with buttons and lights showing the active regions, a seismograph and a large 3D earth puzzle of the tectonic plates.
|DH playing with Lego|
Dunedin Gallery Lego Exhibit
This was a wonderful exhibit by Olafur Eliasson- living community art. It’s just a large table of white Lego bricks, and everyone is invited to make their own creations, add to existing creations, or destroy stuff!
We had a hard time dragging C away from this one.
Department of Conservation Mini-walks
|Seal Colony in the Carpark, Kaikoura|
We did as many of these as we could manage and they were scattered throughout most of the DOC Parks. They were usually little 15-20 minute walks and some were designed for children with interesting panels at child-height for them to read along the way. It also gave us a chance to learn more about the native flora – which is very different from Australia.
|Hiding from the tourists at Mt Bruce|
Mt Bruce Wildlife Centre
This was a wonderfully low-key facility, and we visited on a quiet day the only other people there were one lone man, and a small school group. We all had a great chance to learn about New Zealand fauna – cute, smart parrots, ridiculously old lizards, and of course, the famous white Kiwi (much larger than we expected it to be). The centre had great child-friendly exhibits – the special tunnel with torches that displayed information on animals once you ‘found’ them with the light was a highlight for the kids.
|Huka Falls at Dawn|
This is a raging torrent. Really. And the blue is almost unbelievable. An easy walk from the carpark, we visited the falls in the dawn mist. C had it in his head that people would put themselves into large plastic bubbles (or Zorbs) and be thrown into the falls. It was almost believable, but alas, the insanity of jet-boating across the falls is insane enough. The sound is something else. And again, the walk had lovely informative panels on the history and uses of the Huka falls (a little further down the river is a hydro-electric plant.)
There were many more amazing things that we saw, but I might have to leave that for next time!
Read the other parts of our campervan adventure:
Also don’t forget to check out the other Virtual Field Trips at GHF.