Otago Museum

Find prehistoric fossils and ancient statues. Learn all about the enthralling cultural and physical history of New Zealand.

Study a display of indigenous artefacts that includes a 19th-century canoe and fine woodcarvings at the excellent Otago Museum. Stand beside the skeleton of a huge fin whale and stroll around a living rainforest complete with colourful birds and butterflies.

Step inside the museum and into the Tāngata Whenua Gallery. You will have no trouble identifying one of the museum’s largest exhibits, a 17-metre (55-foot) long Waka Taua war canoe. Built from two totara trees around 1840, this Maori boat is now decorated with elaborate carvings. Look for more carvings of tribal figures elsewhere, along with jewellery crafted from greenstone and whale ivory.

The Pacific Cultures room is home to additional relics from historic times. The ceramic bowls and beakers on display have been traced back to Fiji 3,000 years ago while the red-and-yellow feather cape belonged to the last queen of Hawaii, who died in 1917. Don’t miss the Moai statue of a face that has been shaped from volcanic stone. Originally from Easter Island, it is the only one of its type in New Zealand.

Pique your interest in natural history with a view of the 8-metre (26-foot) fossil in the Southern Land, Southern People exhibit. Stop to say hello to Autahi the leopard seal before making your way to the Maritime Gallery. Here you can admire more than 50 intricate model ships as well as the colossal skeleton of a fin whale in the middle of the room.

Adults and children are welcome in Discovery World. Play the giant piano by stepping from key to key. Find out what it feels like to be put into a giant bubble. This section’s highlight is the tropical forest where you can glimpse butterflies above your head and watch turtles swimming in the shallow pools.

Otago Museum is easy to reach in central Dunedin. Admission is by donation. Pay separately for Discovery World. The museum and adjoining café and gift shop are open all week.