Points of Interest:
I’m in town after having lunch and I have time to kill. What to do? Why not go around the museum? I’m in the same building for lunch anyway.
Puke Ariki is a combined Museum, Library and Tourist Information Centre. It was a world first in bringing all these things together. The existing Library was fast running out of room and in 2003 they opened the doors to the second building, purpose built and connected with an air-bridge. Puke Ariki literally translated from Māori is ‘Hill of Chiefs’ and has been a significant location since before European colonization. It was originally a Māori fortified village or ‘Pā’ but once deserted it was used by the Plymouth Company and later the hill was taken down and the land flattened for other purposes.
Now Puke Ariki stands proud with the new building raised and in the same shape and size as the original hill that was taken down. Puke Ariki isn’t simply a stuffy Library and Museum though; it is an interactive place designed to engage visitors and interact with them, to pass along knowledge and facts in a fun and interesting way. There are interactive screens that react to your shadow, historic pictures with the modern day equivalent overlaid, so you can compare, and videos explaining anything from the habits of native animals, to the construction of the region from volcanic activity.
The Library has many places to sit and read or work and WiFi is free for all. There are computer terminals provided, that you can use to get online if you haven’t got your own device. The childrens’ section for the Library is set up in a discovery way making everything appealing and engaging. They even offer treasure hunt tasks, where kids can earn badges to take home by finding items throughout, and reporting back once the items have been researched. Adults are catered for too and at one stage the Library even had a baby grand piano, which the public could book time on to play while they were open.
The Tourist Information Centre is also an interactive experience with large digital map tables. The staff are friendly and very helpful. They are able to help you with advice of activities, accommodation, events in the area, and can even help you by making bookings for you.
Puke Ariki really is a magical place of learning. The lifesize and life-like model of an extinct shark that was native to New Zealand waters, hangs from the ceiling in the museum foyer and greets everyone with a menacing eye.
The lower ground floor is their touring exhibit area. A lot of effort is put into building fantastic exhibits to engage the public and encourage learning. Currently there is a ‘Voyage To The Deep’ exhibition making the whole room feel as if you are under water, with a submarine to drive, periscopes to view, and sea flora and fauna to wander among. These are the jewels in the Puke Ariki crown.
Overall, Puke Ariki is a fantastic way to kill a few hours and obviously a great way to keep the kids entertained on a rainy day. It’s great to see a district put such energy and vibrancy into a public activity and venue, and to provide it without expecting a paid entry. Afterwards it is a good idea to visit Arborio for a coffee, wine or lunch, so you can take in the shoreline view while you chill out too.