This gallery is a window on the natural history of Otago, as well as the human efforts and endeavours that have shaped the stories of this special place.

Southern Land, Southern People opened in August 2002 as a landmark gallery for the Otago Museum. Rich in objects and stories, it illustrates the uniqueness, diversity and dynamic character of the Southern region of New Zealand.

It portrays the origins of the landscape and the plant and animal life of Southern New Zealand, while also showing how people explored this extraordinary region, utilised its natural resources and embraced its
wild character.

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Visitors to Southern Land, Southern People are greeted by the Overlander – a life-size model of a Māori man dressed for overland travel in Southern New Zealand.

A semi-circle of icon objects surrounds the gallery entrance, including a distinctive spherical Moeraki boulder, a wind-blasted rock ventifact, a mounted takahē and a gold nugget.

Up above, the night sky twinkles, looking as it would have in October 950AD which, according to some traditions, was the date of Māori arrival in New Zealand. 

The ‘Southern Land’ section explores the region’s rocks and landforms, with stories about the volcanoes Dunedin is built around, the alpine fault and the origins of precious gold and greenstone (pounamu).

Five hundred million years of evolution on land and in the sea are represented in a vast array of fossil material. Key specimens displayed include the Shag Point plesiosaur, a marine reptile from the age of the dinosaurs and New Zealand’s largest fossil at eight metres long. A fossilised jawbone fragment of a freshwater crocodile is a 17 million year old relic of Otago’s tropical past.

Here, you will also find the most comprehensive collection of articulated moa skeletons in the world, along with many other large, flightless, and extraordinary birds. A complete skeleton of the now extinct Haast’s eagle (Harpagornis moorei), the largest ever eagle species, is one of only a few in the world.

On the other side of the gallery, ‘Southern People’ tells of human encounters with the often adverse Southern climate and environment.

Stories include intrepid journeys and explorations by Southern Māori and the experiences of the Europeans who followed, making maps and portraying the land through paintings and photography. From grass to gold, fur seals to flax, clay to coal, the natural resources available have shaped the human stories of Southern New Zealand.