New Zealand’s quirkiest museum is full of mystery (and bones)

Curiosity killed the cat. Or did it?

Truth beHave you ever heard of a museum of natural MYSTERY? Yeah, me neither.

How many of us dream of working in a museum as a kid? Or even running one? Hands up for my fellow nerds! For as long as I can remember, I thought I would end up working in a museum. Or a library. Or better yet, a museum library (I’m looking at you, the Morgan). But what if you dreamed of making up your very own museum? Why not?!

When I learned that Bruce Mahalski’s dream was always to create a curiosity museum, I knew I had to visit. And of course, it would be in Dunedin, New Zealand’s unofficial capital of the curious. Just another reason to say how much I love Dunedin! 

museum of natural mystery

museum of natural mystery

The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery is a living, breathing work of art, a private museum of bones, bone art, ethnographic artifacts, and assorted trinkets in Bruce’s home on Royal Terrace.

After a lifetime of collecting and observing the natural world, he manifested his dream of running a museum into a reality. For example, here, you will find unique treasures, paranormal moments, and even rare glimpses into moments in Kiwiana history and many bones.

Artifacts like a Gloriavale uniform (a religious cult here in NZ), a piece of wood from the most haunted house in England, a shit ton of fossils, and lots of butterflies decorate the walls.

The Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery is a collection of curiosities that amplify the beauty of the natural world. Here you will find a museum unlike any other, a place that is constantly changing and evolving. You can tell that everything here is handpicked for a reason with a big fat, juicy story behind it. 

You’ll find plenty of skulls, bones, biological curiosities, and ethnological art from New Zealand and worldwide. 

Don’t be intimidated – Bruce even has a little sign on his desk mentioning that he is, in fact, friendly. As an insanely curious person, this is my kind of place. You won’t be surprised to learn that I spent hours here. Passing through the rooms first as a tourist, reading every one of the descriptions, and then again as a photographer. 

Truthfully, I wanted to stay even longer. Then Bruce mentioned I didn’t have to – the museum is also home to an Airbnb – yes, you can ACTUALLY spend a night in a museum; how cool is that?

museum of natural mystery

museum of natural mystery

Described as “David Lynch meets David Attenborough,” Bruce is a mural artist and sculptor who fights to save the planet during his free time. I was stoked to see him rocking the Extinction Rebellion cause on Instagram a few days after my visit. So I’m not surprised he imagined such an incredible place for others to enjoy.

After all, seeing the history of many of the creatures on our planet, especially ones that are gone, can you really feel encouraged to work to save it.

Here at the museum, you’ll also see his iconic bone sculptures and paintings. You might even spot some of his street art in Dunedin too.

Visiting Bruce’s creation, the Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery reminds me how much culture and art there is in Dunedin, even in New Zealand. People often think of New Zealand as not having a history. A “young” and “small” nation, in terms of human colonization (a can of worms I’m not going near), lacks the history of places like Europe.

But that’s so far from the truth. The history, especially the ecological history, of New Zealand is profound and vast once you open your eyes to it. Above all, to be able to see it through the lens of a great artist and collector like Bruce is an extraordinary experience worth taking. 

Now, when can I go back and stay the night?

Have you been to a museum like this? What do you think? Share!

museum of natural mystery

Many thanks to Dunedin Enterprise for hosting me in my favorite city. Like always, I’m keeping it real. Like you could expect less from me.

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