The National Museum of New Zealand, also known as Te Papa, is a fantastic facility, full of the history and art of New Zealand. Built in the late 1990s, this giant 6 story museum and art gallery is a very popular destination, and I spent nearly all of yesterday enjoying wandering through the exhibits.
The top two floors are dedicated to the Art of the country, including a wonderful photography exhibit of New Zealanders through the years living their everyday lives. Then there is a floor that contains many different exhibits about the history of the country and Maori culture and civilization. There's a great exhibit about the Treaty of Waitangi, which is considered to be the founding document for the country back in 1840.
I can't say I fully understand the history of the country in my short time here, but the country, like the United States, is rather new in the grand scheme. The two large islands here were really some of the last on the planet to be inhabited by humans, and the Maori are believed to have arrived by canoes only just about 800 to 900 years ago. Europeans, including Captain Cook, didn't have much contact with the country until the 18th century, but by the early 1800s, whalers and missionaries and explorers were routinely visiting the islands and learning of its natural resources.
Initial contact between Maori and Pakeha (non-Maori) wasn't too troublesome, but the introduction of European influence, including guns and disease, started to cause issues, particularly as the Europeans started wresting land from the Maori. The Maori tribes that espoused peaceful resolution to conflicts with other tribes were quickly overtaken by those who had traded flax and other goods for muskets
The missionaries actually started to worry about the Maori's livelihood, and encouraged them to seek out a treaty with the British, particularly because French interests in the south Pacific had been increasing, and aligning with the British was though to be better. The Treaty of Waitangi was written to document the agreement between the British and the Maori, and over 500 Maori signed the Maori-language version of the document, which unfortunately wasn't a great translation of what the British had written up, and disputes over the discrepancies continue today, but in general, the spirit of the document is used to settle disputes, and while not everything is perfect, relations between the Maori and the Europeans seems to be more developed than how they are in the States with our Native Americans.
There are other exhibits about the tectonic history of the country, which really has a large number of earthquakes and volcanic eruptions in its modern history, an outdoor area to explain the different flora of the different regions of the country, as well as a disturbing exhibit about New Zealand's role in World War I. Giant life-like sculptures of various wartime participants, like soldiers and nurses, tower over visitors and were a bit disturbing. They were created by Weta Workshop, the special effects house co-created by Sir Peter Jackson, responsible for many of the creatures in the Lord of the Rings and Hobbit series.
I spent nearly the entire day in the museum before returning to the hotel to pack up for my excursion to the South Island. It's early Tuesday here, and I'm currently gently rocking back and forth on deck the MS Kaiarahi, the very large ferry taking me across the Cook Strait, which I'll fill you in on tomorrow.