Rotorua Museum has found itself amongst the cream of the crop after it was selected as a finalist for a national museum competition.

Rotorua Museum Te Whare Taonga o Te Arawa is in the running for the Most Innovative Education Programme for the Māra Kai: A Traditional Māori Garden programme.

The programme has students take part in a hands-on session exploring the use of māra kai by early Māori.

They critically examine types of kai (food) and gardening tools available in the past as well as understand the role that seasons and karakia (prayer) played in the success of crops.

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Activities include visiting and working co-operatively in Rotorua Museum's own māra kai participating in a range of tasks such as preparing soil, weeding, pest control and harvest of crops.

The session concludes with an opportunity to sample kumara, hue (gourds) and riwai (potatoes). Hue (gourd) seeds are also offered to be taken back to school for propagation in their own gardens.

Rotorua Lakes Council manager of arts and culture Stewart Brown said the museum education team developed the education programme prior to the Rotorua Museum being closed for earthquake strengthening in 2016.

"This programme, like all of the education programmes, has gone from strength to strength even as the team has had to find new locations to work from. The nomination is a reflection of our creative and innovative education team and we are delighted," he said.

Rotorua Museum education lead Emma Liley said the team was thrilled with the placement.

"This acknowledges the incredibly hard work the education staff put into developing and teaching quality programmes for the benefit of Rotorua students," she said.

"Despite the challenges of having a closed museum the team has been able to adapt existing programmes as well as develop exciting new ones."

Museums Aotearoa executive director Phillipa Tocker said the Most Innovative Education Programme was new and proved to be very popular.

She said this indicated that museums and galleries see the huge importance and benefit of good quality education programmes.

"Education is one of the core purposes of art galleries and museums so we felt that a category that recognises innovation in this area was essential to give recognition to the great work being done in education right across the sector," Tocker said.

The local museum was up against Ashburton Museum, Auckland's MOTAT and Otago Museum for the prize.

Twelve awards will be presented at a ceremony to be held at Te Papa on May 22.