The Otago Museum
Unless you’ve been hiding under a rock for the past fortnight, you’re probably aware that I’ve recently been in Dunedin for the 9th World Congress of Herpetology. Aside from the conference (which was mind-blowingly awesome) I also did a number of other touristy things that I’m going to share with you all, in the form of a blog for each activity! First up is the Otago Museum which I visited on my very first day in Dunedin. I’d heard so many great things about the museum, it didn’t disappoint and I went back a couple more times throughout my time in Dunedin – this is my take on things!
For those that aren’t aware, the Otago Museum is located close to the city centre in Dunedin. Thankfully for me, it is adjacent to the central University of Otago campus, which is where the World Congress was being held. From a historical stand point I can only assume it is one of the city’s leading attractions, given it’s huge collection of natural history specimens, human artefacts and interactive science exhibits. Whilst I was visiting the museum purely for the natural history side of the collection (no surprises there), I was surprised by the large amount of displays and galleries dedicated to telling the tale of the Mãori and other Polynesian cultures.
After spending some time at the museum, it very much reminds me of a blend of the British Museum and the Natural History Museum. Approximately half of it is dedicated to how the landscape has shaped people (and vice versa) as well as the natural history of New Zealand. Photographed above is one of my favourite parts of the museum, each display case is dedicated to the herpetofauna of New Zealand. This area showcases a number of local lizard species (skinks and geckos) as well as the tuatara (below) and the seven species of frogs found in New Zealand.
Aside from the herps, there were also countless specimens of moa and the other endemic bird species found on New Zealand past and present. My favourite aspect of this was a life-size diorama of Mount Owen, the site where scientists discovered a well preserved moa’s foot in the 1980s. One thing that I hadn’t appreciated until I’d seen so many specimens side-by-side was how much bigger the females were than males and also how small their heads were. You’d expect such a large animal to have an equally large head to that it could eat as much as possible to sustain that size, instead they are comically undersized (at least in my mind). Other specimens I found interesting include fossils of whales and a plesiosaur, the museum truly has everything!
The most interesting part of the museum is the Animal Attic, a Victorian style zoological gallery with close to 3,000 historical specimens from all over the world (above). Some of the specimens are a little worse for wear but the majority of them are in great condition. It is great to see both a contemporary and modern natural history collection under the same roof. This highlights the changing face of collections from just a display to more of an educational and communication tool, a similar transformations zoos have undertaken over the same timescale. To get to the Animal Attic, you first have to go past a gallery on the maritime history of Otago, aside from a number of ship models there is also a fin whale skeleton in the gallery.
If you’re ever in Dunedin, I thorough recommend visiting the Otago Museum. Best of all it’s free and has an amazing cafe, what else could you ask for?