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7 of the Best Museums in Dunedin

7 of the Best Museums in Dunedin

Whether you’re interested in the city’s history or just want something to do on a rainy day, these museums in Dunedin will provide hours of entertainment. Dunedin has witnessed some of New Zealand’s most interesting history — I reckon it’s the best place to delve into the South Island’s past.

Otago Museum

Otago Museum is housed in a grand old building down by the university. The lawn out front, with trees providing shade, is a great place for a rest on a hot day. The main galleries of Otago Museum are free (heaps to see including dinosaurs, ancient artefacts from around the world and lots of local history), but you’ll have to pay for the Science Centre, Butterfly House and Planetarium. 

Toitū Early Settlers Museum

From the earliest Māori inhabitants to the goldrush and building boom of the late 1800s / early 1900s, the Toitū Early Settlers Museum gives an in-depth look at the history of New Zealand’s most interesting city. It’s free to visit and there’s a lot to explore — my favourite display is the one about the Dunedin Study, which includes a set of bedrooms that will look very familiar for people who grew up in the 70s, 80s or 90s.

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin Gasworks Museum

At the Dunedin Gasworks Museum you’ll learn all about the incredible early system of powering Dunedin. From 1863, the Dunedin Gasworks extracted gas from coal, cleaned it and then pumped around the city. It was used to illuminate the city at night, in rich people’s homes for lighting (and later small appliances) and for local industry.

This place is kinda hidden away next to the big Countdown on Andersons Bay Road. It costs $5 to enter and is only open on Sundays 12-4pm. Hopefully Bill or one of the other volunteers are around to tell you at bit more about things — he worked at the gasworks during its last few years of operation and knows heaps about the history of the place and Dunedin in general.

Museum of Natural Mystery

Local artist and collector Bruce Mahalski has amassed an eclectic mix of curiosities, from a huge collection of bones to propaganda posters and other weird and interesting objects. It’s all displayed in the front few rooms of his house on Royal Terrace (just down from Olveston or a 10-minute walk uphill from Otago Museum). It costs $10 to visit, and you can also buy some bone art — it’d be a unique souvenir.

Port Chalmers Maritime Museum

The Port Chalmers Maritime Museum is all about the history of shipping in the Otago region. It’s free to enter and is a good spot to look around while strolling around Port Chalmers. History is all around town — lots of the old buildings have survived and there are some cafes and galleries to check out too.

READ MORE: 6 of the Best Things to Do in Port Chalmers

Otago Peninsula Museum

Located in Portobello, one of the two main towns on the Otago Peninsula, this small museum is good for a quick visit while exploring the natural wonders nearby. It only seems to be open on Sundays at the moment.

Larnach Castle 

Larnach Castle, built in the 1880s, is one of the most popular tourist attractions in Dunedin. The small castle is a treat to look around, with the rooms decorated as they were during its prime.

There’s also a garden with views of Otago Harbour, and if you’re after a workout with your castle exploration you could walk up from Broad Bay via the Camp Road Track. Larnach Castle costs around $45 to visit and is a 20-minute drive from the city centre.

Other Museums in Dunedin

Other museums and historic houses in Dunedin include the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame (kind of a museum I guess), Olveston Historic House and Fletcher House.

Are you planning a trip to Dunedin? Check out our Dunedin itinerary for lots of local tips!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.