Wellington, Te Papa and the environment

The ferry trip from the South Island to the North Island is an experience in itself.  Unlike other ferry crossings where you’re on the open sea straight away, at least half of the trip was through sounds/passing by islands (and the mainland).  With Christchurch being one of the quietest cities we’ve visited and the rest of the South Island being busy with tourists but not so much with locals, it was exciting to see the bustling city of Wellington as we approached.  

We had a fantastic time in Wellington visiting some friends I haven’t seen since university. We can see why they have chosen to live there - it’s a lovely city itself and you only need to drive half an hour away and you feel like you’re in the middle of nowhere!

Two of the people we stayed with are doing mainly vegan diets and it got us talking about the environment again.  A BBC news article this week has said that having a vegan diet has a better impact on the environment than swapping to an electric car.  So we’re cutting right back on the meat we’re buying now and are buying eco-friendly and organic products where possible.  Following the banned Iceland Christmas advert about palm oil, we’re also avoiding things with palm oil in which is an incredible amount of products.  They don’t always list it as palm oil and it has lots of different names, some even refer to it as ‘vegetable oil’!  Worth a Google if you’re interested.

Wellington’s free museum, Te Papa, is an incredibly interesting place with information about New Zealand’s history, geography and wildlife.  It’s quite shocking to see how the landscape in New Zealand has changed over the years because of farming.  When settlers from the Eastern Pacific arrived in New Zealand around 800 years ago, 5% of the country was grassland and the rest was indigenous forest, wetlands or mountains.  By the time Europeans settled here, the forest cover had been reduced to 55%.  Now only 25% of indigenous forests remain, with nearly all lowland areas cleared for agriculture.  This, along with a conversation we had with a farmer, has made us think about organic food.  Although it is much better for the environment, it can mean that a farmer will only get about 25% of the crop that they would get if they were using chemicals. Growing organically means that you have to let the ground naturally get ready to grow the next crop rather than using chemicals to quickly ‘reset’ it after harvesting a crop.  It made us wonder what kind of an impact it would have on the environment if all food was organic, as we imagine there would need to be four times as much farmland.  It’s something we hardly know anything about though, so I’m sure we’ll keep asking questions as we travel around!

It was also interesting at Te Papa to find out about the animals and plants that have been introduced to New Zealand.  The country is currently working hard to exterminate a lot of the pests that have been brought here over the years.  Every walk we have been on has had signs about them trying to eradicate possums, stoats etc. in order to help the birdlife to survive.  Where New Zealand previously had no animal predators, a lot of the birds were flightless ground birds.  Many of them are now endangered (and some extinct) because of being attacked by animals that were brought over here by humans (as well as humans themselves).  A lot of people are arguing that cats should also be banned from New Zealand because of this.  

The Te Papa Museum currently has a WWI installation with models that are 2.4x the size of the people they’re based on. They were made by the Weka Workshop who worked on Lord of the Rings. The detail is fantastic, down to the hairs on their arms and the beads of sweat on their faces.

The museum itself stands on 152 base isolators. These are made of rubber to allow flexible sideways movement in case of earthquakes. Inside the rubber are laminated steel sheets which prevent the rubber from bulging outwards under the weight of the building (about 50,000 tonnes). At the core are lead cylinders which absorb some of the energy of an earthquake and convert it to heat. This means it can deform and change shape without snapping. Very clever stuff!