Exploring Wildlife of Aotearoa this school holidays

Local author and illustrator, Gavin Bishop, is something of a legend with a huge body of work that includes childhood favourites like Mrs Macginty and the bizarre plant, Mr Fox, Hinepau, and more.

Our latest exhibition at Tūranga, Wild Ōtautahi, is partly based on his Wildlife of Aotearoa a large, gloriously illustrated exploration of the creatures and wildlife found in New Zealand, and features some of the original artwork from the book.

Recently I took Wildlife of Aotearoa home and got my seven year-old's opinion on the contents. His favourite section was the one about sea creatures as it allowed him to show off his knowledge of various species (gleaned from repeated screenings of Octonauts), whale sharks and puffer fish and seahorses, oh my!

Another interesting part of the book is that woven through it is the story of 5 tiny tuna (eels) Tahi, Rua, Toru, Wha and Rima and their epic journey from the waters of vast Pacific Ocean, to the rivers and streams of Aotearoa. This is something that Christchurch kids can relate to especially - given the popularity of the tuna resident in Avon River near the Bridge of Remembrance. It's a regular school holiday activity for our whānau to say hello to the eels, and maybe take them a little something to eat (they love raw chicken! But wash your hands thoroughly afterward!).

As well as the tuna, Bishop also weaves some Māori mythology into his book with Tangaroa as the God of the Sea (and those that live in it) and Tāne fulfilling a similar role in New Zealand's forests. This is a great way of introducing children to some of these Māori ways of understanding the natural world.

Our Wild Ōtautahi exhibition (on at Tūranga, 20 March to 20 June) which includes artwork from the book and has several interactive displays that kids can get their hands on. There's information about the different species found in the book accessible via a touch screen, and kids can use magnets featuring Bishop's artwork to show where in Christchurch they have seen different creatures - they can also sort animals into categories, and think about the different emotions certain creatures elicit.

You'll also find some of Wildlife of Aotearoa's creatures dotted about in central Christchurch, specifically Tūranga, Christchurch Art Gallery, Canterbury Museum and the Botanic Gardens. 

Pick up an Ōtautahi Go Wild! booklet from any of the above locations this school holidays and go on the hunt for all sorts of animals, birds and insects. Complete the activities in the booklet at each location to get a native animal stamp in your book. Try and knock off all four locations in one day, or split them up and make multiple trips. At Tūranga you'll get to hunt for insects in one of our roof gardens, and you can create your own amazing, imaginative creature using coloured pencils and stencils at our craft station on Hapori | Community, Level 1.

Wildlife of Aotearoa, in combination with the activities available to kids during this school holidays, is bound to foster an interest in the animals and creatures we share New Zealand with.

Find out more

  • Alexia from Hutt City Libraries and Alicia from Christchurch City Libraries talk to Gavin Bishop about his book Wildlife of Aotearoa and Kimberly Andrews about illustrating Joy Cowley’s book Song of the River. What are the joys and challenges of being an illustrator today?

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