Bush City 

Curriculum links

Learning areas

  • Science
  • Health and Physical Education

Which strands will it fit with?

  • Science: Living World, Planet Earth and Beyond
  • Health and Physical Education: Healthy Communities and Environments

Key competencies

Thinking: students will identify native New Zealand plant life and recognise that they were common to New Zealand before species were introduced from other parts of the world.

Levels of achievement

Levels 1 - 8 

Year group

Years 1 - 13

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Which topics of study can it support?

  • New Zealand environment
  • Earth science
  • Geology
  • New Zealand society 

How long might this take?

Allow 20-30 minutes to thoroughly explore Bush City.

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Where do I find it?

Bush City is an outside area, accessible through the Te Papa Cafe, Level 1, or across the bridge at the end of Mountains to Sea on Level 2.
If you get lost, ask a Te Papa Host. 

Why should I take my class to visit this?

  • It's a truly alive, outdoor exhibition area that was built for budding explorers, archaeologists, geologists, botanists, ecologists, and paleontologists.
  • It offers a great variety of activities in one area.

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What is there to do there?

  • Explore a cave with simulated glow-worms, stalactites, and moa bones.
  • Walk the swing bridge!
  • Dig up a recreated mosasaur skeleton from the fossil pit.  
  • Find out about Auckland’s volcanoes and the forest that was once found around the shores of Wellington Harbour about 200 years ago.
  • Examine the fine, layered ash falls from central North Island volcanoes.
  • Visit the waterfall which cascades over basalt columns. 
  • Check out the greywacke rock wall beside the waterfall. Greywake rock in the Wellington region is around 180-220 million years old, and this wall shows you many of the folding and faulting features that you would commonly find in any greywacke rocks.
  • Look closely at the old rocks by the waterfall, which are up to 530 million years old. See their colourful crystals and feel their different textures.
  • On fine days, school groups are welcome to eat their lunch in the Bush City Amphitheatre. If the weather's not suitable, check with a Te Papa host to see which indoor spaces are available.

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What should I know about this?

  • Bush City is a recreated bush habitat that allows visitors to take a short walk through the New Zealand bush. 
  • Most of the plants in Bush City would have been seen on the Wellington waterfront over 200 years ago.
  • Bush City highlights a variety of geologically specific environments or landforms that are common throughout much of New Zealand. They include:

Volcanic landforms

  • The landforms you can see in Bush City include, basalt scoria volcanism typical of Auckland and the central North Island Taupo Volcanic Zone. This kind of volcanic activity features stratified pumice ash fall deposits and andesite/dacite lavas (from Ruapehu).

Seascape with fossils

  • Bush City's seascape features the typical stratified marine sediments of the Late Cretaceous age (about 70 million years ago). A ceramic fossil of a mosasaur skeleton is buried in authentic Late Cretaceous quartz granule sand taken from Fairfield Pit, near Dunedin.
  • The wall surrounding this area sports a variety of Late Cretaceous marine fossils (also ceramic) typically found in the Late Cretaceous rocks that are common in New Zealand. The fossils include bivalve clams (inoceramids and trigonids); belemnites and ammonites, both of which are related to squids; and octopus and nautilus. These fossils have been distributed in the correct stratigraphic order; those low down are older than those higher up.
  • Also on display is a very special limestone of Late Jurassic age. This is the only limestone known to occur locally (in the Wellington region) from within the greywacke. It is about 146 million years old and is from near Mukamuka in Palliser Bay, east of Wellington.

Limestone caves

  • Bush City's limestone caves - containing darkened passage ways, stalactites, glow-worms, cave wētā and the bones of the extinct flightless moa - were inspired by the Waitomo Caves.
  • Limestones between 30 and 20 million years old (of Oligocene - Early Miocene age) are widespread in New Zealand, and caves are a common landform associated with them.
  • Limestone caves are really good places for finding fossils of animals (birds in particular) that have become trapped. Such fossils have enabled us to learn a great deal about the natural history of New Zealand over the last million years.

Greywake wall 

  • The enormous wall of colourful rock beside the waterfall, represents 250-million year old greywacke rock. It shows the folding, faulting, and cracking that has occurred as a result of immense forces within the Earth. The wall is based on a natural greywake outcrop that is exposed on the west coast of the North Island (near the southern entrance of Porirua Harbour).
  • Greywacke is the most common hard rock in New Zealand, making up about 60 per cent of our landmass. It is a metamorphosed sedimentary rock. It is thought that it accumulated as sediment on the sea floor adjacent to the north-east Queensland sector of Gondwanaland.

Oldest rocks 

  • The rocks down by the waterfall are up to 530 million years old. They are evidence of New Zealand's link with the ancient continent of Gondwanaland, which consisted of the countries presently known as Antarctica, Africa, Australia, South America, India, and New Zealand.
  • The types of rock include Waingaro Schist (500-530 million years old); Cobb Valley Talc Magnesite Schist (500 million years old); Takaka Marble (440-460 million years old); and Charleston Gnesis (115 million years old). 

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Possible topics for discussion

  • If you were lost in the bush, what could you eat?

The root of the bracken fern was a staple food source for Māori, much like the kūmara. The centre shoot of the nikau palm is juicy when eaten raw, but can also be steamed in an earth oven. Karaka fruit were once an important part of the Māori diet, although the fruit had to be carefully soaked in fresh or salt water for a period of several days or weeks to remove the poison.

  • If you got hurt or sick in the bush, what plants could help?

Imagine you've just fallen over and gashed open your leg. Or maybe you ate something not quite right and now you have got a sore tummy. What would you do if there were no antiseptics or antibiotics?

Māori used many plants from the New Zealand bush to heal common complaints and injuries. Plants such as kawakawa, also known as the pepper tree, could relieve toothache and bad breath. The leaf tips of the koromiko were eaten or drunk to cure diarrhoea and vomiting. Manuka tea was used to reduce fever or as a diuretic. Flax gum was applied to boils, wounds, and toothaches. 

  • Harakeke or flax plants are found along the lagoon in Bush City: how can it be used?

Harakeke played an important role in Māori society, especially before European contact. The uses of flax fibre were numerous and varied. Clothing, mats, plates to eat off, baskets, ropes, bird snares, lashings, fishing lines, and nets were all made from flax. Babies were even given rattles made from flax. Harakeke can be found along the lagoon in Bush City. Can you think of some other ways harakeke could be used today?

  • Check out the Taupo ash-layer cake and the geological wall: how have all these rock layers (strata) formed?

Rock strata are layers of material laid down as eroded sand and mud in the sea. The layers are then squeezed (compacted), folded, and faulted by natural forces (tectonic forces associated with plate collision within the Earth’s crust).

Strata are typically seen as bands of different coloured or differently structured material exposed in cliffs, road cuts, quarries, and river banks. Each band shows the specific way the material has been deposited - river silt, beach sand, coal swamp, sand dune, lava bed, and so on.

  • How did the mosasaur in the fossil pit go from being a marine reptile swimming off the coast of New Zealand to being a pile of old stones?

Fossils are formed when a living organism dies and its body (or part of it) is preserved in some way - usually by being buried in sediment. The organism might be buried on the bottom of the sea or in a river or lake. On land, it could be covered by blown sand or falling volcanic ash, or become entrapped in some sticky substance such as tar or tree sap. Burial prevents scavengers, bacteria, or weathering destroying the organism.

  • Looking through the telescope at the entrance of Bush City, can you see the Wellington fault line?

The Wellington fault runs through Wellington city, along the motorway, and through Lower Hutt and Upper Hutt. It is 450 kilometers long.

A fault occurs where stress builds up in the rock and it eventually released, creating a fracture or fault line. Further stress may be released along this fault line again. The Wellington fault is active, meaning the land has moved significantly along this line in the past and will probably do so again.

But it's not only Wellington that's earthquake-prone - the whole of New Zealand is. That's because the country lies across the boundaries of two of the Earth's tectonic plates - the Australian Plate to the west and the Pacific Plate to the east. The two plates are not just colliding but are moving in two different directions; the Pacific Plate is moving westwards and the Australian Plate is moving northwards. The collision between the plates caused the forcing-up of land to create the Southern Alps, and continues to cause all of New Zealand’s earthquakes.

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Further information

  • City Life! A guide to Bush Cityhas extensive information about the native plants and geological features, and is available from the Information Desk on Level 2.
  • Tai Awatea | Knowledge Net, Te Papa’s online multimedia resource is available at Te Papa or through the internet. 
  • The Department of Conservation website has some good information on native New Zealand plants.
  • GeoNet website can show you where and when the last earthquakes happened in New Zealand.
  • GNS Science is the government's research institute dedicated to earth sciences.   
  • EQC will provide you with information on making your home earthquake safe. 

Related material 

  • Check out life in New Zealand from the top of the mountains to the bottom of the ocean in the Mountains to Sea exhibition on Level 2.
  • The story of the scientific and Māori creation of New Zealand is told in the Awesome Forces exhibition on Level 2.
  • NatureSpace Discovery Centre is available for hands-on interaction with the New Zealand environment on Level 2.
  • Bush City Geology student activity trail. Download, print and fold into a booklet that your students can use to explore the geology of Bush City.
  • Bush City Biology student activity trail. Download, print and fold into a booklet that your students can use to explore the plants and animals of Bush City.

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