This Christmas, I'm planning to avoid adding to the "stuff" that accumulates in the lives of my grandchildren by giving them an outing somewhere special.
A place with animals, such as Wellington or Auckland Zoo, is high on the list of possibilities because, like many other children, they enjoy going there.
On a sunny day it's a challenge to negotiate the crowds of people and find a spot to see into a particular enclosure, especially those with primates and big cats.
Feeding times are the most crowded. People flock to see captive animals being fed as well as to hear the keepers share interesting stories about each creature.
My personal memories of zoo visits as a youngster are of hours wandering around concrete paths feeling immense pity for bored animals stuck in small and stinky cages.
Conversely, I had great fascination for primates with their obvious similarity to people. They seemed disarmingly cute, funny and familiar, although they occasionally do things we might find quite disgusting.
The earliest Whanganui Public Museum had its own collection of captive live animals and birds out the back and Aramoho Zoo, which opened in 1909, had another live collection including some big cats, monkeys and bears as well as birds.
Despite its great popularity with families enjoying a day of outdoor entertainment, Aramoho Zoo only lasted for around six years, as the neighbours objected to the noise and the smell.
Many of the animals were transferred to Royal Oak Zoo in Auckland, which closed in 1922 because of similar objections.
A few of the animals eventually became part of the Whanganui Museum collection where people can continue to look at them... without the smell or noise. There is a clouded leopard, an overstuffed tuatara and the bones of a zebra, all on display.
Zoos have changed a lot over the past 100 years. Now there are recreated naturalistic habitats, strong protocols of animal welfare and educational messages about wildlife conservation. Zoos also maintain careful breeding programmes which can contribute to preservation of endangered species.
Animals are transferred between zoos to avoid in-breeding, so healthy captive populations can maintain genetic diversity. Potentially, zoos could reintroduce breeding populations into wildlife reserves and other protected environments where they have greater freedom and more natural living conditions than are possible within the confined space of a zoo.
An emphasis on animal conservation and species preservation gives zoos greater justification for keeping captive animals.
They are, however, still primarily places where people go to look at animals. The animals are still captive, but despite all attempts to enrich their environments, probably still bored and displaying odd and sometimes psychotic behaviour because of their restricted lives.
These days, videos of animals in their natural environments are increasingly replacing zoos as the way to see animals of the world. And somewhere in the mix, museums with historic natural history collections, such as Whanganui Regional Museum, provide additional opportunities to see the "real thing" without smells and noise to annoy the neighbours.
•Margie Beautrais is an educator at Whanganui Regional Museum