Dunedin is steeped in history and it’s impossible not to be impressed by the grandeur of the historic stone buildings of the central city. Dunedin’s stately homes are beautiful too, and have their own stories to tell.
But it’s not all about history in Dunedin and the city is right up there in terms of modern technology. And the new science centre at the Otago Museum is a fantastic example of that.
The Otago Museum
The Otago Museum was established more than 150 years ago. It now has a collection of over 1.5 million objects which tell stories from New Zealand and around the world.
Entry to the main part of the museum is free and it is certainly possible to spend several hours exploring the collections, and then come back another day.
Visiting Tuhura, however, the museum’s new science discovery centre, was the main motivation to include Dunedin in our summer road trip of the South Island. Having explored it myself at a conference I simply had to give the kids a chance to experience it.
Who knows? Maybe they would come away with a deeper scientific understanding through the science-based activities; one can live in hope! At Tuhura the designers have managed to provide an amazing balance of interactive and hands-on activities.
From whooshing down a slide that represents a DNA helix and the fascinating Infinity Room that was revisited over and over, to a bike you can ride while a skeleton mirrors your every move, the centre kept us busy for hours. There is an entry charge for Tuhura, but it is well worth it.
The Tuhura experience
Part of the Tuhura experience is the tropical forest. Step through the quarantine area and you enter another world – a humid, tropical wonderland.
Bright coloured butterflies flutter around, briefly landing on heads, arms and shoulders before flitting away again. A four-metre-high waterfall adds even more magic to the multi-tiered enclosure.
You can get up close with chrysalis thanks to special viewing boxes, and see them waiting to hatch and be released into the enclosure. Several species of tarantula have their own little caves, but they don’t get to be released!
Sadly, we didn’t have time to visit the Planetarium, which can be booked in combination with Tuhura for a special price. This offers the chance to discover the stars, take the opportunity to ‘Dream to Fly’, or even visit an alien world in 3D. Next time.
Olveston House, offers a fascinating look into the lifestyle of the gentry of early 20th century Dunedin and will greatly appeal to the history buffs out there.
Olveston was gifted to the city by Dorothy Theomin, daughter of David Theomin, a local businessman who commissioned the building of the house and moved in with his family on its completion in 1906.
Neither Dorothy or her brother had children, and on her death in 1966 it was discovered that she had left the estate to the city in her will.
The home is still completely furnished as it was when the Theomins lived there, and collections of artefacts and fine art from all over the world cover the walls and surfaces of the four-story home – including a collection of spears and shields in the main entry.
My favourite place was a small card room off the billiards room, decorated in reds and golds. It was a very exotic looking space in an otherwise conservative home.
Entry to Olveston House is by guided tour only and our host was very knowledgeable. You can enjoy the gift shop and gardens free of charge.
A simple wander
If you enjoy a good walk, just wandering around Dunedin offers a wonderful chance to experience the old and the new. Established in 1848, Dunedin has a strong Scottish heritage.
This is evident in the grand churches with spires that tower over the city centre, and the beautiful buildings of the Town Hall in the Octagon and the University of Otago campus.
The wide, modern Leith Walk through the university campus is bordered by the solid stone buildings of yesteryear.
With a smattering of contemporary sculptures and lined with blossom trees, it’s a stunning place to amble through to the Leith River, especially on a crisp spring morning when pink blossoms are starting to bloom.
Street art is cropping up everywhere in New Zealand cities, and Dunedin is no exception. With more than 30 huge artworks on building walls, turning each corner brings a new delight.
Ranging from portraits to a tuatara biting its own tail and a steampunk pony, there is nothing predictable about this collection.
Kiwi and overseas artists have contributed to this visual display, which has become a real tourist drawcard. Of course everyone loves a free attraction!
No tour of central Dunedin would be complete without a visit to one of the many fantastic cafes and bars, for a delicious coffee and slice of cake – or something stronger.
And as the sun comes down, the musicians come out. It’s a student city after all, and there is entertainment on offer every night.