Listings for: Dunedin > Activities and Attractions > Museums

TOITŪ Otago Settlers Museum

One of New Zealand’s finest social history museums; telling the stories of Dunedin and Otago’s people. Discover what makes Otago different at the Otago Settlers Museum, one of New Zealand’s finest social history museums established in 1898. Like the people who settled here, the Museum has a colourful and interesting history. Open 10am-5pm daily. Admission is free. 


The Maori explorers began arriving in the bays to the north and south of Dunedin from about 1100 AD. They fished the rich coastal waters and travelled inland in pursuit of the giant flightless moa as well as duck and freshwater fish.

These people also initiated trade with Northerners in the precious greenstone or pounamu. The oldest known tribe was the Waitaha.  By the time the Scottish settlers arrived at Otepoti in 1848, they found the site of modern day Dunedin rich in Maori history.

The rough, tough and enterprising whalers added an element of diversity and intermarried with local Otakau Maori from the 1820s. Race relations in the area were thereby shaped before Captain Cargill and the Reverend Thomas Burns arrived to establish a Free Church settlement. This cultural mix of Maori, whaler and Presbyterian Scot gave early Dunedin a character all of its own. 

The Scottish influence bequeathed fine churches like First Church and Knox but also contributed much more to the developing city.… including a passionate enthusiasm for education.

The wealth generated by the nearby goldfields was instrumental in establishing Otago Boys’ High School, Otago Girls’ High School and the University of Otago (the first in New Zealand).

The Otago Settlers Museum provides a window to the past glory and struggles of Dunedin’s early stalwarts. Just a short stroll from the Octagon, the visitor can be transported back in time through the many displays of artifacts, photographs and memorabilia. The age of steam is also recalled in the form of one of New Zealand’s earliest locomotives. In contrast, Dunedin’s most famous stately home, Olveston, is a perfect example of the prosperous past. The private home of the Theomin family, it has been beautifully preserved and reflects Dunedin lifestyle in the Edwardian era. Similarly, Larnach Castle on the Otago Peninsula offers a taste of ostentatious grace amidst a more rugged setting.

The Otago Museum houses a magnificent collection of Polynesian and Maori artifacts. There are also significant displays of native birds and mammals. The Southern Land, Southern People Gallery offers a gateway to the region and an insight into the southern soul. The Hocken Library boasts a vast collection of books, paintings, written and recorded material covering the whole of European history in New Zealand. The Dunedin Public Library is also a substantial reference resource with a fine collection of rare books and manuscripts, and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery houses one of the nation’s finest collections including a magnificent Monet and a number of Frances Hodgkins paintings. Everywhere in Dunedin the rich legacy of times past is remembered and preserved for future generations to enjoy. 

...Dunedin is becoming increasingly popular as a mellow city nurturing a strong artsy side. If you can unglue yourself from the city’s cafe scene, the raggedly shaped Otago Peninsula lies practically in Dunedin’s backyard and is teeming with wildlife and outdoor activities. Lonely Planet 2006

Open daily from 10am – 5pm, closed Christmas Day

Address: 31 Queens Gardens ,Dunedin
Phone: +64 477 5052  
Map Reference:
GPS coordinates: -45.876974,170.505842