Opening of the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa

A unique, multi-cultural celebration of New Zealand, stretching across five levels, Te Papa (‘Our Place’), which was opened in February 1998, tells the real stories of New Zealand, its culture, its people and the natural environment.

Issue information

Te Papa, New Zealand's national museum in Wellington was set up to become a kiwi icon. Playful, adventurous, imaginative, interactive, bold, even cheeky, Te Papa provided a uniquely New Zealand experience, a place that challenges and expands old ideas about what a museum can be and do.

Here you could complete a virtual reality bungy jump and never leave the ground, or shear a vitual sheep without getting kicked. Maybe you're from overseas and you've always been curious about what an earthquake might feel like. To settle your nerves again you could go into the wonderful Boulevard, a natural light gallery, to spend some time with masterpieces from the New Zealand art collection, as well as the best from overseas.

You could step onto a marae and see traditional Māori carving and visit the celebrated carved meeting house – Te Hau ki Tūranga. You could visit the future at breakneck speed, or spend some quiet time in a glow-worm cave. You could dine in peace, or feed the kids, attend a concert, or dig for fossils. The range and quality of activities on offer, the way Te Papa linked leisure with learning, excitement with scholarship, have gained international reknown and made Te Papa an essential destination for visitors around the world.

For the four years of its construction, Te Papa was the world's biggest museum project. Built on a site the size of three rugby fields, with a total floor area of 36,000 square metres, 80,000 cubic metres of concrete, and enough reinforcing steel to stretch form Wellington to Sydney, Te Papa was a massive undertaking. As part of the preparation of the site, 30 tonne weights were dropped 50,000 times on the ground where Te Papa now stands. The building, clad in 14,500 grey and yellow stone panels, also had its own state-of-the-art, New Zealand invented shock absorbers (lead-core bearings) that isolate Te Papa from most of the ground movement during an earthquake.

A designer for Te Papa was found through an international architecture competition. The successful company wsa JASMAX of Auckland, which demonstrated the creative ability to turn the vision of national identity into reality. What truly set it apart as a physical space was its audacious architectural design and stunning Wellington waterfront setting. Te Papa faces north and affords spectacular views over the harbour. It is also easily accessible, placed in the heart of the city. It was central to the founding vision that Te Papa be part of the living city, an active member of the wider community.

Such a vision was created over many years. The need for a museum that was more representative of New Zealand and its communities, and with a broader audience appeal, had long been recognised. The goal was a place that could preserve images of the past as a foundation for the present and the future, a place that could speak with authority about who we were and who we are, and that could at the same time communicate a sense of involvement, pride and celebration. A decade before the Government had established a Project Development Board for the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa to move towards this goal.

After extensive consultation with Iwi (Māori tribal groups), and canvassing of political support to secure new funding, a new Act of Parliament was passed in 1992 which combined the National Museum and the National Art Gallery to form the Museum of New Zealand Te Papa Tongarewa. Usually, national museums have been in place for a long time. They bear the imprint of another era and adapting them to present needs can be difficult. Te Papa was a rare and exciting challenge, the opportunity to design form scratch a place unique to New Zealand, to make it the best and to make it us, for ourselves and others.

Leading-edge technologies are used throughout Te Papa, most excitingly perhaps in the 'world-class' simulated rides and the interactive displays. Here visitors are not just told about things, they can experience them firsthand. What was it like to emigrate to New Zealand in colonial times? Squeeze inside a reconstructed ship's cabin and find out. Or go back in time to when the first Māori arrived here, another display simulated finding a waka (canoe) across the ocean.

As a key component in this interactivity Te Papa developed four Discovery Places for children aged 7-12, as well as an Early Learning Centre for the little ones. Here kids can get close to the objects and stories and that define us as Kiwis, whether its learning Māori langurage and culture through interactive games, weaving and stencilling, creating their own animated films using special effects, or just reading quietly. Te Papa is the biggest and most exciting classroom in the country.

Te Papa is also an eventful place - a magical perfomance  space, as well as one of the nation's most stunning conference and seminar venues. Outdoors, the amphitheatre in Bush City hosts a wide range of live performances, from Shakespeare in the park to Fringe Festival events, school plays, and musical concerts. Inside, the state-of-the-art 300 seat auditorium, fitted with professional theater sound and lighting equipment, presents a full programme of museum events, chamber concerts, lectures, dance and drama.

The beautiful and spacious Wellington Foyer, with its views across the city and harbour, comfortably holds 900 people for formal balls, banquets or conference dinners. There are also purpose-built seminar rooms and a wide range of options for hosting corporate functions. One of the most thrilling of these is Rongo-marae-roa, the comtemporary marae, in indoor/outdoor venue providing a unique Māori setting for functions and corporate events. Te Papa is a place that proudly holds our treasures and brings to vivid life our personal stories and the stories of this land. 

Te Papa is a museum development for all New Zealanders, and this theme was reflected in the 40c stamp, showing many types of people at the museum entrance. The grandeur of Te Papa’s waterfront site was emphasised in the $1.80 stamp. The stamps also represented a first for New Zealand, with the Te Papa web-site address featured on the actual stamps.

Product Listing for Opening of the Museum of New Zealand - Te Papa Tongarewa

Click on image to enlarge.

Image Title Description Price
Single Stamp Single 40c 'People and Culture' gummed stamp. $0.40
Single Stamp Single $1.80c 'Natural Environment' gummed stamp. $1.80
First Day Cover First day cover with stamps affixed. Cancelled on the first day of issue. $2.70

Technical information

Date of issue: 11 February 1998
Number of stamps: Two
Denominations: 40c People and Culture, $1.80 The Natural Environment
Stamps and first day cover designed by: Joanne Kreyl, Wellington, New Zealand
Printer and process: Southern Colour Print, New Zealand by lithography
Number of colours: Four
Stamp size and format: 35mm x 35mm (diamond)
Paper type: 103 gsm red phosphor coated stamp paper
Number of stamps per sheet: 50
Perforation gauge: 14
Special blocks: Plate/imprint, positional or value blocks could be obtained by purchasing at least six stamp sheets. Colour blocks ('traffic lights') are included in plate blocks. Barcode blocks were available in both A and B formats.
Period of sale: These stamps remained on sale until 11 February 1999.