© NZPocketGuide.com
© NZPocketGuide.com

Tuatara, Cheese Rolls and the Southland Museum

© NZPocketGuide.com

156 Days on the Road

Update: The Southland Museum is not currently operating.

The token museum visit: you can’t go wrong, can you? Now that we are in Invercargill, the hub of Southland, we can’t not visit the Southland Museum! There’s a famous 110+-year-old called Henry that we just HAVE to see!

It all begins at the convenient Tuatara Backpackers right in the city centre. We hit the long gridlocked streets of Invercargill, Robin praising just how easy it is to get around! Nice wide streets, plenty of pedestrian crossings… Invercargill hasn’t tried to over-complicate things. Where Robin notices all the boring stuff, Laura is spotting all sorts of witty chalkboards outside of stores and cafes!

“Coffee: a good way to start, end + continue your day,” one sign reads. And a florist’s sign reads: “Remember to stop and smell the roses (no charge)”. Oh, you’re so sassy, Southland.

Trying to get into the Southland Museum

A wander through Queens Park leads us to a large white pyramid. Apparently we have left Invercargill and stepped into Egypt or more like Las Vegas. This, right here, is the Southland Museum. Hurray!

Apart from interesting architecture choices, there are a few cool things to check out even before entering the museum! A couple of old anchors make garden ornaments in a bed of flowers. A statue of the mighty “living dinosaur” or “living fossil” and the museum’s most famous resident sits on display outside. Speaking of fossils, an exhibition of petrified trees form an interesting garden outside too!

A steamy welcoming

Southland Museum, here we go! Upon entering, our attention is taken straight away by a steampunk-style dress complete with mechanical arm. We’ve noticed that New Zealand in general has a bit of a steampunk fetish. We visited a steampunk stall back in Palmerston North where they also have steampunk events. Plus, we will soon be visiting Oamaru, which is the “Steampunk Capital of New Zealand”. We’re not judging, New Zealand, we think it’s kinda cool!

Meeting Henry the tuatara

So who is this mystery pensioner, the “living fossil” and “living dinosaur”? We head to the Tuatarium to find out!

There he is, the only tuatara out in the open and lapping up the limelight: Henry the tuatara! Henry is the star of Southland Museum being it’s longest-living resident and being part of a fascinating native species in New Zealand. They are a species that have survived the dinosaur age, but have become extinct on New Zealand’s mainland (except for those in captivity).

The home of a hundred tuatara

We meet Lindsay who is the curator of the Tuatarium, who’s artificial environment, mimicking that of the tuatara’s natural environment but for a few degrees warmer, has lead to a successful breeding programme over the years. Now, the tuatara enclosure is home to more than 100 tuatara!

At first, you would have thought this many tuatara would be easy to spot. But only Henry with his long grey-greenish body leaning against a log can be seen. But with Lindsay’s expert eyes, he spots us a wee baby tuatara at just one years old. How precious! The teeny tiny tuatara pokes its head out from behind a plant.

The most motionless model we’ve ever had

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Getting to know the living fossil

Lindsay shares an amazing amount of knowledge about the tuatara with us, telling us more about it’s “third eye”, how they store fat in their scales, how they survived the days that wiped out the dinosaurs, and so much more!

As Lindsay goes into the enclosure with a grub in his hand a few more tuatara make themselves known. Some teenagers crawl out of bed (we’ve all been there), a few ladies poke their heads out of the bushes. Lindsay even gets one on his arm to let us have a closer look.

There’s no other natural history display quite like the tuatara! Eventually, we do say goodbye to Lindsay, Henry and his 100 more pals and check out the rest of the Southland Museum.

Beyond your standard regional museum…

We’ll be honest, for a regional museum, we did not expect the Southland Museum to be so huge! There are far too many exhibitions than we can talk about in one blog post. Of course, they have exhibitions on local Maori artifacts and the “settlers” displays. There’s a world war display and memorial, some art work, displays of old wedding dresses and other fashion through the ages. You can also look at real bones of New Zealand’s extinct wildlife in the natural history display… But we’ll talk more about the displays that you don’t find anywhere else… As well as the Tuatara exhibition, here is where the Southland Museum have upped their game!

From lighthouse to the Antarctic

We take the museum in a circle, first having a look at their awesome display of maritime relics. The most striking of which is the light from a lighthouse complete with its wacky glass shell.

Continuing the maritime theme, we head to the “Roaring 40°s” exhibition. This is what life was like hundreds of kilometres south of Southland and Stewart Island. Shipwrecks, wildlife, castaways and landscapes: this interactive exhibition shows different aspects of this subantarctic zone.

The boat that rocked

We are roared at by a seal as we enter the exhibition. Then it’s all aboard the General Grant, a mock-up of the ship that crashed into a subantarctic island leaving a handful of people to create a new life as castaways. The ship rocks from side to side as we walk across.

Perhaps its seeing a side of New Zealand life not mentioned anywhere else that we have visited that gets us particularly interested in this exhibition? Whatever it is, we have been blown away by the Southland Museum!

Lunch at the zoo

Before making a round trip back at the hostel, we stop off for lunch with the group of friends that we met on the Humpridge Jet tour. They take us to the wacky Zookeepers Cafe to try the famous Southland Cheese Roll! It’s sliced bread rolled with cheese, some sort of creamy onion… and other secret ingredients that us outsiders could never fathom!

Now that we have two Southland must-dos ticked off the list – the Southland Museum and eating a Southland Cheese Roll – we head back to the Tuatara Backpackers where Laura can die happy and Robin is curling up in ball of despair because he is pretty ill right now.

Tomorrow, Laura is hitting the waves for some surfing! Robin will probably watch from the sidelines wrapped up in a million layers in an attempt to not get any worse. See you tomorrow!

Checking out the remains of shipwrecks in the Roaring 40s Exhibit

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