Daytripper: Curiouser and curiouser

By Danielle Wright

Danielle Wright visits the new Weird and Wonderful display at the Auckland Museum

Weird and Wonderful's new displays feature plenty of activities for children.
Weird and Wonderful's new displays feature plenty of activities for children.

The first thing we notice at the entrance to Weird and Wonderful is a fish tank with a starfish inside, looking like it's trying to eat a large mussel shell, beneath a huge solar system display.

Next to the fish tank is a container filled with sawdust and mealworms wriggling around. It's disturbingly void of a lid to stop little fingers poking around

Andrew, a helpful museum worker, heads over to ask if we want to play with the rats, which have been moved around the different halls since I discovered the Museum is the ideal rainy day spot for kids, about seven years ago.

"Carry me now," says my 4-year-old daughter, Georgie, climbing up my legs. She seems to be finding the experience more weird than wonderful so far.

I take her over to a wooden cabinet covered in bilingual phrases related to the displays. We open the doors and inside is a video of dolphins frolicking in the sea.

This calms her nerves.

Weird and Wonderful has always been one of the top three attractions at the museum and has recently re-opened. Its themes range from a science lab to the South Pacific, then land, a birds' nest and lastly, under the Earth.

We sit down at the new iPad learning section and Andrew shows us a puzzle game that features layers of a bug's life cycle. Georgie is a puzzle wizard, so she is happy with this while Andrew explains how on the first day of the display's re-opening a little girl cracked the password to the iPads and went around taking pictures.

"Have you changed the code from OOOO now?" asks a passer-by.

Andrew tells me the puzzles are great because the kids can't lose the pieces. There are science apps loaded for all ages and they are a great addition to the room.

I finally drag Georgie away and we stop at the locusts, black field crickets and cockroaches scrambling over plastic bottles and plates.

"This is what happens when you don't clean your room," I tell her as she looks in horror at the bugs, agreeing never again to make a mess.

After the creepy-crawlies, we head up to the new display area: the nest.

Tucked away up high, overlooking the "under the ground" section, is a tiny room with beanbags and books about birds such as Sirocco the kakapo, kiwi and Georgie's favourite, the pukeko.

The "nest" is made of black wire and gives the hut a nice dark mood. We sit back in the beanbags as I read about the red eyes and bill shield of the pukeko. Soft music plays in the background as people rush around below us. It's so cosy, I wouldn't mind a quick nap.

On the way out of the nest, I show Georgie beautifully illustrated birds' nests covering the walls. Until recently, I thought all birds' nests were the same; however, different species use different building materials and have different shapes and sizes - reflected nicely in the illustrations.

The last section of Weird and Wonderful is about everything under the ground and features a sandpit with glowing bugs squirming around.

Kids can try to make them move in their hands and even though my brain is telling me it's just an illusion, I still squirm a bit when I touch the glow-in-the-dark wrigglers.

As a parent, I love the new gallery with its educational and interactive displays. I'm not sure what Georgie thinks though, as she begs me to take her home.

Later though, we stop at the library and she chooses a picture book about the life cycle of an ant, quite different to her usual Angelina Ballerina, and as she heads to sleep at night, she asks if we can go back to see the bugs tomorrow.

Made in the museum

• Take part in craft sessions at Weird and Wonderful at the Auckland Museum on weekends and throughout the holidays from 10.30am-noon and again from 1.30pm-3pm.

• Skip the Museum cafe and head across to Wintergarden Pavillion Cafe afterwards for an icecream. Go on to feed the ducks and visit the Wintergarden's glasshouses full of weird and wonderful plant life.

- NZ Herald

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