Scavenger Hunts and Live Mannequins at the Kauri Museum

It’s almost here: the finale of New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year. 365 Days: 365 Activities! We are on the home straight back to where it all begun, making our way down the Kauri Coast of Northland back to Auckland. But let’s not get ahead of ourselves! There’s one last activity on the Kauri Coast that we can’t miss before heading back to the big city!

The finale of Northland and the Kauri Coast

Over the last few days, we have delved into the forests of the Kauri Coast to see some magnificent trees. We’ve delved into the Waipoua Forest at twilight to see the “Lord of the Forest”, Tane Mahuta. We’ve also wandered the Trounson Kauri Park to see the wildlife that come alive in these forests after dark. Today, our encounters with the forest giants, the kauri, will be rounded up at the award-winning Kauri Museum. Not only that, but this museum is known to “come alive” itself.

As we hit the road this morning, we couldn’t congratulate ourselves more on today’s picking of activity as the rain starts to pelt against the windscreen. If we have learned anything about travelling in New Zealand, it’s that it’s going to rain and, of course, museums are the perfect go-to for when it happens.

A museum as IMPRESSIVELY large as a kauri tree!

Our museum experience today is a little different than most museums. Instead of the usual wandering around the displays and exhibitions, we are going on a scavenger hunt! This starts with a bit of a museum tour with guide, Mary, who takes us past the gift shop and into a museum which opens up to some huge rooms! The logging industry is told with giant displays of kauri on machinery, scenes are set up with freakishly life-like mannequins. Behind this is another warehouse-sized room with a timber mill built inside, and another with an almost full cut-away of a kauri tree displaying the sizes of these beasts. That’s without mentioning the side rooms displaying the industries that came after the kauri and home life during these early settler days. All in all, this place is like a Tardis. Who knew all this lied behind that small gift shop?!

Laura looking out for more moving mannequins Laura looking out for more moving mannequins
The ultimate gum-shining team The ultimate gum-shining team
Make that gum shine, Laura! Make that gum shine, Laura!
Golden gum goodness! Golden gum goodness!

The value of the kauri tree

This initial tour with Mary helps us understand why kauri was such a sought-after tree. Various displays to pick up and feel the kauri allow us to see how flexible the timber is, how durable it is underground, and how even its gum can be used for flooring, for example. Once the value of its gum was discovered, early European settlers in New Zealand would go to some wacky tree-climbing lengths to extract it from the tree, which is showcased in with a couple of mannequins wearing crampon-like boots and ropes to climb these trees as if they were climbing some treacherous ice wall! Like with anything exploited though, this damaged the tree until it died.

The next room oozes with the sorrow of the loss of kauri forest that once covered most of the Northland region. A cut-away of a kauri log that has been struck by lightening shows the size of an 800-year-old tree, while black rings painted on the wall show the size of the largest-known trees, almost three times the size of today’s largest, Tane Mahuta.

A scavenger hunt with a live mannequin

As the tour with Mary comes to an end, we see a woman walking down the stairs dressed in some fabulous attire from the days of old. What we chose to believe is that one of the mannequins has come to life and is going to take us on a “scavenger hunt” (working title), where we are armed with a clipboard full of questions which we need to answer by exploring the museum. Some answers can be found by reading the short panels of information, while others are just general New Zealand knowledge. (Travelling around New Zealand non-stop for an entire year should give us an upper-hand, right?)

Polishing our own piece of the Kauri Museum

Polishing our own pieces of kauri gum

Most of the questions are about the people who lived in New Zealand during the Kauri industry days, which takes us on tiki tour around the various mannequin scenes set up around the museum, from the families to the gum diggers. It also takes us downstairs to The Gum Room where we find a couple polishing kauri gum in the midst of display cases gleaming with golden gum. Here, we become gum polishers ourselves just to experience how long it takes to bring out the shine, along with the smell and texture. We also learn how kauri gum was so prized that it was used for trading, kind of like its own currency. With that, we take our kauri gum with us, as we might need it later. Plus, Robin can make Laura a nice necklace out of it.

From moving mechanisms to moving mannequins

Our scavenger hunt now takes us into the timber mill with actual moving mechanisms to demonstrate how the machinery worked. We also visit scenes of a few of the other growing industries of the time, like farming. Then wander into a large kauri house built inside the museum! Here, we get snapshots of home life for the early settlers. There’s even a woman taking a bath and… Wait, is her toe moving? We keep an eye on the mannequin whose head suddenly moves.

“It’s a robot!” Laura exclaims. Even when she sees the lady walking around later, she is still convinced that New Zealand’s artificial intelligence is superior.

The pianist shows us his skills on a kauri piano The pianist shows us his skills on a kauri piano
Having a look around the classic kauri villa Having a look around the classic kauri villa
This is the aspect of early settler life we definitely wouldn't mind! This is the aspect of early settler life we definitely wouldn't mind!

The cheating pianist and finding the prize!

From one live mannequin to the next, walk into a room with a man wearing a bowler hat and offering to play us a song on the piano in exchange for some kauri gum. What?! We hand over the gum, and feel instantly cheated when he uses the foot peddles to blow air into the piano’s inner-workings to activate a song. Cheater! We take our gum back and continue with our scavenger hunt.

This takes us to a chest where Robin is asked to put on a glove and retrieve what is inside. It’s a prize!

Tea and scones in a traditional kauri villa

To complete our yesteryears experience, we wander with the Kauri Museum team to a heritage Kauri villa and gardens a short walk away. Totara House has been lived in and preserved by the same family for 117 years and has now been gifted to the Kauri Museum for people to see what a traditional kauri villa looks like.

After having a look around the villa of fine wooden paneling and fine kauri furniture, we sit down to an activity the early European settlers were very accustomed to: drinking tea and eating scones! Delicious!

With some kauri gum in our pockets, our prize in our backpack, and scones in our stomachs, we leave the Kauri Museum having the most memorable museum experience in New Zealand!

Back to where it all began…

Now, the time has come for the final drive of New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year. We meet the traffic once again as we hit New Zealand’s largest city, Auckland. We check into the Attic Backpackers, play some cards with some fellow backpackers, and mentally prepare for our final day of New Zealand’s Biggest Gap Year. It’s going to be action-packed, it’s going to be epic, and it’s going to make our parents real angry… See you tomorrow!

Laura and Robin

An awesome perspective from the kauri house of how big the museum really is!
An awesome perspective from the kauri house of how big the museum really is! Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

Want more?

Have you read yesterday’s post about visiting the Kai Iwi Lakes and kiwi spotting? How about these articles?

Until tomorrow’s blog post, be sure to check us out on the HerePin app, we also post travel tips on Facebook, as well as pretty NZ pics on Instagram. Join the Facebook Group to ask us questions, buy/sell, and find travel buddies.

See you tomorrow!

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