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Origins

Origins gallery Origins tells the story of our geological origins – how New Zealand split from Gondwana – and the origins of our unique animal and plant life. The journey through time, from dinosaurs to today, explores why some birds and insects grew to such enormous size and why so many birds were flightless.

For 600 million years this land has been evolving and growing, defining itself amongst the land masses of the world. Origins picks up this story from about 100 million years ago at the time when New Zealand began to break away from the vast continent of Gondwana. Cast adrift, alone, it was free to follow its own evolutionary destiny. It's a big story for a little country - starting with a prehistory that saw dinosaurs roaming the land.

Origins tells the story of the beginnings of the land and the origins of its plants and animals. Visitors will be forgiven for believing they've stumbled into "Jurassic Park" when they see the lifesized replica skeletons of the four-metre tall cryolophosaurus and malawisaurus. There is also a flying pteranodon soaring through the air above the gallery. Scientists only realised about 20 years ago that dinosaurs and reptiles like these even lived here and these skeletons on display will give visitors an insight into the prehistoric creatures that once occupied ancient New Zealand.

Many rare and unusual prehistoric objects are displayed, including a huge tooth from the largest shark that ever lived.  There is also a slab of rock from the Kaikoura coast on the South Island, showing the fossilised remains of a plesiosaur, a marine reptile that lived here 65 million years ago and was one of the last of its kind in the world.

The gallery also highlights links to this prehistoric past which survive in New Zealand today. The famous reptile, the tuatara, is the direct descendant of a prehistoric life form that exists nowhere else in the world today. Plants, insects, snails, spiders and birds whose ancestors go back to Gondwanan times are displayed. The reason they survive here is because New Zealand broke away from the main continent, effectively isolating our animals from mammal predators and so ensuring their preservation until the arrival of humans.

The now extinct moas are a highlight of the display of native bird life that inhabited the country until the arrival of humans. Many visitors to the old Museum will remember the three-metre tall moa that has since been restored. This particular model of a giant moa was made in 1913 and has been on display virtually ever since.

New Zealand's natural history story continues in the Land Gallery.