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Aquarium Expansion ProjectTe kaupapa whakawhānui i Te Whare Tangaroa o Aotearoa

A detailed business case for a redefined National Aquarium will be presented to central government towards the end of 2019. This will identify the costs and the benefits. If all goes well, Napier could have a new aquarium sometime around 2025.


What is Project Shapeshifter?

The expansion of the aquarium is known as Project Shapeshifter: Redefining our National Aquarium. This name is emblematic of Māui – the ‘shapeshifter’ and great East Polynesian ancestor-explorer of the Pacific Ocean. Our challenge is to be bold and adventurous like Māui – to be a shapeshifter and game-changer.

Our vision is to create an iconic destination that all New Zealanders will be proud of. A memorable experience that centres Aotearoa New Zealand as the environmental champion for Papatūānuku planet earth and her oceans.

Redefining our National Aquarium gives us a unique opportunity to tell New Zealand’s freshwater and marine story through themes of sustainable utilisation and conservation. Located in the heart of Te Matau-a-Māui Hawkes Bay, the National Aquarium is best positioned to tell the story of Aotearoa New Zealand from mountain top to deep trench, promoting the best of environmental science with leading indigenous knowledge systems and Te Ao Māori, the Māori worldview.

How will we fund it?

We are looking for new and innovative ways to externally fund the construction and ongoing operational costs of the aquarium. We are mindful that the cost cannot fall solely on Napier ratepayers. The business case will seek to position the aquarium as an attraction of truly national significance, in much the same way as Te Papa is.  As such, it will be funded through a mix of channels – ranging from central government through to private funding from various channels, both here and overseas.

Building the business case 

Project Shapeshifter will attempt to create a compelling movement as the business case for change is developed. To better understand how we may redefine our National Aquarium, we need to ensure there is national input - and hopefully support - for what will eventuate. Project Shapeshifter will undertake an extensive engagement programme across Aotearoa New Zealand to build momentum on our vision. Workshops will be held with Māori leaders, environmental experts, the tourism industry and research and education providers. These workshops will bring together diverse thinkers to contribute to the development of the business case and redefine what will be on offer.

Our aquarium has the potential to be a national centre showcasing research, education, environmental stewardship, indigenous knowledge and science. This will provide a unique experience that would not be found anywhere else in the world. After our initial workshops with sector experts and iwi, we will share our concepts and look for input from the public on what they would like to see. We want this to be a project that all of New Zealand can feel a sense of ownership of and be proud of.

The detailed business case for a redefined National Aquarium will be presented to the Government in late 2019. We are excited by this project and the opportunities it presents to the entire region.

Where we're up to

In 2018, Napier City Council submitted an Indicative Business Case to the Government for a redefined National Aquarium of New Zealand. There was strong support given for this by ratepayers in the Long Term Plan 2018-2028 consultation, with an allocated project budget of $10.2M. Following the submission of the Indicative Business Case to the Government, NCC received funding from the Government’s Provincial Growth Fund to complete a Detailed Business Case for a new expanded aquarium. This will be presented to the Government in late 2019.

Frequently Asked Questions

The expansion of the Aquarium is known as Project Shapeshifter. Central government has asked us to prepare a business case for redefining the National Aquarium of New Zealand, which is located in Napier. This involves creating something exciting and different for New Zealand. The vision is to have a national centre of excellence which showcases education, research, environmental kaitiakitanga (guardianship), indigenous knowledge, and science. Key partners in the project include Air New Zealand, University of Waikato, Hawke’s Bay Tourism, Hawke’s Bay Regional Council, and local iwi.

We have received funding from the government’s Provincial Growth Fund to prepare a detailed business case for a new redefined National Aquarium of New Zealand. This will be submitted in late 2019. If the business case is successful and we manage to find funding from other sources, construction will likely begin from 2022-2024, and the new aquarium may open in 2025.

The project cost will be determined through the final detailed business case. Napier City Council has put aside $10.2 million in the 2018-2028 Long Term Plan. The remainder of the construction and ongoing operational costs will be sought from a mix of sources – including central government funding, grants, private funding, and sponsorship. Until the full business case is developed, we won’t know the exact total cost of the project.  

We will have to scale back the project or just do a refurbishment of the current Aquarium.

Admission charges may increase once the new Aquarium opens but we intend to look into a local’s entry fee. People can also join the Friends of the Aquarium by paying an annual membership. Council reviews fees and charges every year for all facilities.

The National Aquarium of New Zealand is a member of the Zoo and Aquarium Association of Australasia (ZAA). As a member, the Aquarium is required to undergo accreditation where we must clearly demonstrate how we meet their standards of, and our commitment to, positive animal welfare. The Aquarium expansion is an opportunity to continue to show visitors ways that we can all care for the environment and its inhabitants. The Aquarium will continue to have a range of animals to visit, but there will be greater use of digital technologies for visitors to experience. This means visitors will have an opportunity for close up experiences with species that they may never otherwise see.

What happens to the animals will depend on where the new facility is constructed.  If animals need to be moved off-site, some will go to other local facilities or ZAA accredited members to be temporarily looked after until the new building is completed. Others, such as native fish species like kahawai, can be released back into the wild.

An aquarium has been in Napier since 1957 when local fish-keeping enthusiasts gathered
together to use space in the lower level of War Memorial Hall to display their fish. The Napier
Aquarium was expanded in the early 2000’s and opened as the National Aquarium of New
Zealand in 2002. Hawke’s Bay is known by its Māori name of Te Matau-a-Māui The Fish Hook of
Māui, which carries significant meaning for the National Aquarium. Being associated with Te
Matau-a-Māui supports the National Aquarium being here in Napier, drawing on a 1000 year
legacy of navigation, voyage and migratory movement of species.

Aquariums are often located on coastlines so they can connect with the sea. The water from the
ocean is also vital for the life support systems needed by the animals. The current Aquarium site is
5.5m above sea level.

A detailed seismic assessment has been commissioned and the findings will be incorporated in
the project. Most buildings in close proximity to the sea would be challenged by a significant
tsunami. The Aquarium has animal rescue procedures in place for natural hazard events.

Napier residents gave strong support for the National Aquarium expansion during the Long
Term Plan 2018-2028 consultation. After our initial workshops with environmental experts, Māori
leaders, the tourism industry, and research and education providers, we will share the concepts
and ask for your ideas about what you would like to see at the Aquarium.

Anyone is able to join the Friends of the Aquarium, which will continue after the expansion.
Friends can visit every day the Aquarium is open. They also receive special invites to events and
new exhibit openings. From 1 July 2019 the Friends annual fee will be $65 per adult, $95 for an
adult and one child, $150 for two adults and up to two children, and $25 per extra child, per year.

We are looking at the possibility of setting up a Charitable Trust for the Aquarium and will
investigate this in the business case.



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