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Art & Heritage

Dunedin, the odd, unusual, fascinating and weird things to do

  • 3 minutes


Dunedin is a bucket list destination for the macabre, the odd skulls in mysterious museums and a piano longer than a standard truck. Find hair raising tours and linger in Port Chalmers cemetery or visit a historic prison. Enjoy balmy tropical weather on the dullest day as butterflies flit past in the Otago Museum and don’t forget the Attic where stuffed animals rest.

@The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery
@The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery
  1. The Museum of Natural Mystery

Wow, Bruce Mahalski has fashioned a unique fascinating collection of skulls, bones and simply weird objects into The Museum of Natural Mystery. Part of the charm is the invitation into the private home where the museum is located. Undeniably odd, unmissable for buffs of the unusual and odd. The Museum of Natural Mystery is a truly quirky and unforgettable Dunedin experience.  It’s usually open 3 days a week. Check beforehand opening hours to avoid disappointment.

There always needs to be a place for passionate Kiwis and their craft. From local street art tours to crowded independent bookshops (Dead Souls is my fave), OCHO’s craft chocolate and the steepest street in the world, Dunedin packs a punch.

  1. Dunedin historic prison

Guaranteed slightly spooky, absolutely fascinating the lives of men and women who ended up in the historic prison (closed in 2007). There is a very popular Saturday morning tour organised by the Dunedin Prison Trust (operating in the summer months) as well as spine chilling escape room antics managed by Escape Room at the Dunedin Prison.

Dunedin Prison, built 1896 and closed 2007.

Dunedin Prison, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand @dunedingaol
Dunedin Prison @dunedingaol
  1. Hair Raising Dunedin

Don’t you love an overgrown, mysterious cemetery or two. Dunedin has several cemeteries worthy of Hair Raiser Ghost Tours. The walking tours are a favourite for those in the know who are after the tantalising historical titbits of the past. The ghost tours are entertaining with a polished storytelling as you linger in quiet alleyways and traipse through basements.

  1. Find tropical magic in the Otago

VISIT Tūhura Tropical Forest and meet the butterflies offering a kaleidoscope of colour even on the dullest day. The constant temperature of 28c and 75% humidity creates a wash of warmth as you enter the forest. Kids will enjoy viewing tarantulas, stick insects and other tropical rainforest residents


Competition for Wellington’s attic museum with an Animal Attic in the Otago Museum. Weird and wonderful creatures in a Victorian-inspired setting.


Otago museum’s highlights:

  • Circus stars Sonia and Sultan, who escaped from a travelling circus in Lawrence, Central Otago in 1978
  • An eight-member rat king
  • Sammy the seal, a local marine celebrity and mischief maker

The unique space harkens back to 19thc museum collections. It is a fascinating glimpse of the odd, slightly sad and weird collections museums curate and manage.

  1. Beverly Clock, University of Otago

Fascinating and definitely unusual. The Beverly Clock is a pendulum clock running for 150 odd years and has never been wound. The location: Beverly Clock is found in the 3rd-floor lift foyer of the Department of Physics at the University of Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand.

How does the Beverly Clock manage the feat of not being wound. The clock’s mechanism is driven by variations in atmospheric pressure, and by daily temperature variations; of the two, temperature variations are more important. Either causes the air in a one-cubic-foot (28-litre) airtight box to expand or contract, which pushes on a diaphragm. A temperature variation of 6 °F (3.3 °C) over the course of each day creates approximately enough pressure to raise a one-pound weight by one inch (equivalent to 13 mJ or 3.6 μWh), which drives the clock mechanism. Beverly Clock – Wikipedia.

  1. Natural geology – organ pipes

Discover a quirky geological feature; Otago peninsula’s basalt rock organ pipes. Very large columns of basalt are a highlight of the walking track naturally known as Organ Pipes.

These pillars (or columnar jointing) are accessed via The Organ Pipes Track. This track can be started from the carpark on Mt Cargill Road. The sweeping view is a favourite location for landscape photographers. The track links with the Mount Cargill Walking Track.

Track overview

  • Distance: 2km
  • Track Type: Walking and Tramping
  • Time: 60mins (one way)
  • Dogs: Not Allowed
  • Mountain Bikers: Not Allowed
The Organ Pipes, unique basalt columns Mt Cargill, Dunedin, New Zealand
The Organ Pipes, unique basalt columns Mt Cargill, Dunedin

For more information check out Organ Pipes Track – Dunedin City Council.

@Alexander Pianos, Dunedin
@Alexander Pianos, Dunedin
  1. The Alexander Pianos

Discover one of the world’s largest grand pianos. The piano was built by a teenager and is now at home in the specialist piano studios of the original builder. Alexander Pianos offers piano tuning, recording, restoration, sales and hire. room 21, 291 Stuart Street, Dunedin.

The piano is 6 metres in length and approximately 1.2 tonne. Adrian Mann began constructing the musical monster piano, named after his great-great-grandfather, when he was just 15 years old.


LARRY MATTHEWS – (1961 – 2011)

A gallery behind a bar (Mou bar) where Larry managed a tiny art studio lit only by candles and Larry himself played the piano while guests toured the premises. The Lanyop Gallery and espresso bar was located on George Street and opened only at night. As Matthews himself stated in a 2010 Critic interview on his art gallery: “The notion of the Inner Light (that I believe everyone carries within them) is expressed outwardly by the candle and the artwork itself becomes a tangible representation of the Inner Light of the artist. This ‘mystical experience’ is then a direct communication of the viewer and the art through that Light.”

Getting to Dunedin unusual places

For heritage fans Dunedin is a highlight. Dunedin an underrated heritage town, what to see and best things to do and combined with Port Chalmers visitors can spend several days exploring historic Otago.



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