Wellington's exposure to earthquakes and tsunamis is to blame for the likely loss of Te Papa's world-renowned national history collections, a hazards report by GNS Science has confirmed.
The capital was the big loser, behind Napier, in a report that also studied sites in Whangarei, Auckland, Hamilton, New Plymouth, Tauranga and Dunedin for their risks from quakes, tsunamis and volcanic ash.
Although Whangarei and Hamilton were deemed the safest, it has been decided to build a new branch of the national museum - dubbed Te Papa North - in Manukau. It will take many of the treasures that have up to now been kept in storage in Tory St.
They include the natural history collection, described by former Te Papa marine mammals collection manager Anton van Helden as a world-respected globally significant resource.
"They're not just a box of trinkets," he said.
"It's a resource that deserves to have people working on them that care and deserve to be well looked after - if that's the plan then great, if not it's a travesty."
Science commentator Bob Brockie expects the natural history collection to head north. Te Papa had moved away from science and was focused on culture, entertainment and history, he said.
"The natural history collection is just a nuisance to them and they'd be happy to get it out of sight and out of mind."
In the GNS report, obtained under the Official Information Act, specific hazards measured were earthquake ground-shaking, tsunami runup and, in the North Island, volcanic ashfall.
Napier had the worst overall hazard rating, followed by Wellington, New Plymouth and Tauranga. Whangarei and Hamilton had the lowest risk, followed by Auckland and Dunedin.
Wellington had the worst ground-shaking risk of the locations, which GNS noted was similar to the danger posed to Christchurch and was eclipsed only by areas within a few kilometres of the Alpine Fault.
Napier and Wellington also came out as the biggest tsunami risks, although both cities had spots considered tsunami-safe due to their altitude and distance from the coast and rivers.
Unsurprisingly New Plymouth, on the coastal slopes of Mt Taranaki, had the highest risk of fallout from volcanic ash, while the danger in Dunedin was rated negligible, and at Wellington and Whangarei very low.
Although Auckland sits on a currently inactive volcanic field, it could be affected by eruptions at Mt Taranaki or the central plateau, but volcanic ashfall risk for the city was still low, the report said. Ash thickness would have to reach 108mm to cause structural damage.
Until the Manukau museum has been developed, no decision would be made on what collections, or what proportion, would be moved, Te Papa chief executive Michael Houlihan has said.
The fate of the Tory St building, which houses a team of scientists as well as millions of specimens tracing the country's natural history, is also undecided.
Last month Wellington city councillor John Morrison said the building was one of two possible sites being investigated by Sir Peter Jackson for a Lord of the Rings museum.
- The Dominion Post