Te Papa's new $12 million nature zone will provide visitors with a never-before-seen insight into the extinct moa.
Te Taio Nature will be opened to the public next Saturday, a year on from when the national museum's former nature area was closed for the eight-figure revamp.
The new fit-out is billed by Te Papa as "a bold and immersive journey through the natural world of Aotearoa New Zealand", with treasures including new replica skeletons of male and female giant moa, a real moa leg bone which visitors can touch and one of just 36 moa eggs known to still exist.
"We know that moa are an iconic kind of bird and we know that there's a huge amount of interest in moa, and that's because they were the tallest birds known in the entire world - and they're extinct so there's a bit of mystery around their history," curator of vertebrates Alan Tennyson said.
"Moa have an iconic status globally so it seemed appropriate for us to put some more emphasis on moa in our exhibition."
The skeleton models took three months to make and another three to assemble. Placed side by side, they show the incredible difference in size between the male and female giant moa - the female is about three times the size of the male.
While moa bones exist in museums around the world, the mounted skeletons were often anatomically inaccurate, Tennyson said.
Many were made with the bones of different species, or with the wrong number of toes or wrong posture.
The 1400sq m zone is a permanent addition to the museum, featuring more than 1200 collection items from New Zealand's natural world, along with dozens of new interactive experiences, from creating your own tsunami to weighing in against the giant moa.
The exhibition is completely new, but two old favourites are back: the revamped Earthquake House and the colossal squid.
The liquid in the squid's case has been replaced, a job that took eight hours.
Museum chief executive Geraint Martin said the exhibition ushered in the next generation of the Te Papa experience.
"Twenty one years ago, Te Papa redefined how New Zealanders see themselves and their country, and Te Taiao Nature is the next twist in that Te Papa DNA," he said.
"This is a brand new experience unlike anything else in the world and one that every New Zealander is going to want to see for themselves."
The exhibition explores pressing environmental issues such as climate change, ocean health, fresh-water quality, and pest eradication.
The museum's incredible natural history collections will be showcased throughout, including the prized egg, one of four intact eggs in Te Papa's care. They will be rotated in the exhibition.
One of the moa eggs is from a burial site at Te Pokohiwi-ō-Kupe (the Boulder Bank/Wairau Bar) in Blenheim, home to the Rangitāne o Wairau iwi.
The burial ground is of international significance as it contains the graves of the earliest known Māori. Buried with the moa egg was a necklace fashioned from moa bone, a taonga which is also held at Te Papa.
It is believed to be from a stout-legged moa and dates back to 1280-1300 AD.
It is 194mm in length and 139mm in width and is believed to be the 18th largest known mostly intact moa egg. The egg has a small hole at one end indicating its use as a water carrier.
The moa egg was found in 1939 at the Wairau Bar by a fossicking local schoolboy. It was cracked by a spade when it was discovered.
Dr Susan Waugh, Te Papa's head of science, hoped the exhibition would inspire visitors to take action and be a catalyst for change.
"In true Te Papa fashion, the exhibition addresses big ideas in a way that is fun and interactive," she said.
"Te Taiao Nature is all about sparking curiosity, wonder and positive action as we embrace our role as kaitiaki of this precious land."
Te Papa worked closely with iwi, communities, researchers and a huge range of innovative companies to create Te Taiao Nature.
Te Taiao Nature officially opens at 9am on Saturday, May 11.
A tree will be planted in the museum's grounds, before a massed group of local schoolchildren perform a haka composed especially for the exhibition.
Te Taiao Nature – an exhibition in four parts
• Te Ika Whenua Unique NZ
Experience what's weird and wonderful about our wildlife, from the gigantic to the flightless, from multiple species of moa to a plethora of moths. Also discover the abundant whales and dolphins in our seas, and learn about how Zealandia split from Gondwana, and how this isolation has made our plants and animals so unusual.
• Rūaumoko / Active Land
Enter the realm of Rūaumoko, god of volcanoes and earthquakes, and explore the geological forces that shape our land and how we need to act in response. The beloved Earthquake House returns, revamped to be more interactive and to reflect our latest understanding of quake action.
• Te Kōhanga / Nest
At the heart of the exhibition is a 70sq m, 4m-tall "nest" woven together from recycled materials. It symbolises the fragility of our natural world, its beauty and power – and hope for the future. Here, visitors will be surrounded by beautiful bird song and images, and in the centre will be the whole but fractured moa egg. One of the nation's most precious taonga, it is a symbol of lost mauri but also of hope.
• Ngā Kaitiaki / Guardians
This exhibition looks at some of the big environmental challenges that face us, such as pests, water quality and climate change, and what New Zealanders are doing to care for their own backyard. Visitors will leave the exhibition energised to play their part as kaitiaki (guardians) of our natural world. The colossal squid, a much-loved favourite and the only complete specimen of its kind on display in the world, returns after a refresh.
By the numbers
• 1200 collection items on display
• The oldest specimen on display is a 140-million-year-old giant ammonite – a shelled relative of squid
• There will be more than 40 physical and digital interactives
• The highest part of the nature zone is 9m
• Businesses/organisations collaborating on this exhibition: 60+ and more than 150 individuals
• Cost of the exhibition: nearly $12 million
• People who visited the old nature zone: 18.5 million visitors
• Shakes of the old earthquake house: 1.3 million