Tucked into a long sheltered harbour on the east coast of New Zealand’s stunning South Island, Dunedin is a fascinating city, rich in heritage and distinctive character.
A wonderful mix of urban chic and sweeping landscapes, Dunedin is a city that enchants visitors with a warm welcome and diverse range of experiences.
We’ve just returned from the annual New Zealand Travel and Tourism TRENZ Conference which was held in Dunedin this year and we were impressed!
Here’s our pick of what to do in the South Island hip city.
1. Immerse Yourself in Heritage Architecture
As New Zealand’s first city, Dunedin has a wealth of fine Edwardian and Victorian heritage buildings which were built from the riches of gold rush fever. A stroll through downtown Dunedin will unveil countless beautifully preserved buildings of historic significance, which lend a dramatic air to this lovely southern city.
The Flemish-renaissance style Dunedin Railway Station is one of the grandest stations in the world and it is said to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. The University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university, with its distinctive clock tower is a perfect example of how the old has been blended superbly with the new. Add to this the abundance of grand old houses and you really do have a city of historic significance.
2. Explore the Dunedin Street Art Trail
Grab a map and explore Dunedin’s outstanding Street Art Trail which is brilliantly woven through the central city and Warehouse Precinct, making surprising discoveries around every corner.
Featuring works from local and internationally acclaimed street artists such as the UK’s Phlegm and Belgium’s ROA, the artworks provide a colourful and quirky addition to this heritage city, speaking to the unique and deeply instilled creative lifeblood that underpins Dunedin’s urban vibe.
3. Visit Larnach Castle
Not many cities can claim to have their very own castle, but then Dunedin is nothing if not extraordinary. Even for castle connoisseurs that have done the great landmarks of Europe, Larnach Castle is an impressive example of Gothic Revival architecture, set amongst lush and carefully tended gardens atop a hill on the Otago Peninsula.
In true Gothic style, the castle does indeed come with a ghost and a colourful past but these days the biggest drama is which kind of scone to choose as part of the glorious high teas served in the ballroom café.
4. Tūhura Southern Community Trust Science Centre
Make a beeline for the impressive newly opened Tuhura Southern Community Trust Science Centre at the Otago Museum which features all manner of interactive activities and displays for kids of all ages.
After you’ve finished channelling your inner Newton or Einstein, follow the signs to the Discovery World Tropical Forest to frolic amongst 1000 beautiful live butterflies and giant stick insects and then galactic enthusiasts can head over to the Perpetual Guardian Planetarium for an exciting journey through the stars in the 360° immersive dome theatre. The museum itself houses a fascinating collection of local and international artefacts which are well worth exploring whilst there.
5. Eat, Drink and Be Merry
Dunedin punches well above its weight in the culinary stakes.
For a relatively petite city, there are a huge and fabulously eclectic range of eateries from quirky cafes and miniature bars through to sophisticated restaurants. Locally sourced produce is something of a mantra and luckily the city has no shortage of ocean and pasture from which to draw fresh ingredients.
Grab a table at one of the sea-side cafes in St Clair or the hilltop enclave of Roslyn, otherwise, wander the Warehouse Precinct for funky establishments with awesome coffee and make your way down to the Octagon, where you’ll find al fresco seating and excellent people watching.
6. Take a Train Trip
What better way to take in the majestic scenery around this coastal city than a train ride. Hop aboard a Dunedin Railways trip with options for the Taieri Gorge or Waitati Seasider excursions, both of which offer jaw-dropping views and an in-depth appreciation of the diverse terrain in and around greater Dunedin.
7. Take a Trip Back in Time at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
A museum, but not as you know it. Toitu expertly mingles the early history of Dunedin’s settler population with installations from more recent times, complete with trolleybuses and vintage caravans. The interactive exhibits include a recreated settler’s house and ships cabin, which offer a fascinating insight into the conditions faced by many in the early years of the Dunedin settlement.
8. Check Out the Birds
As the wildlife capital of New Zealand, Dunedin is an excellent spot for viewing birdlife, particularly seabirds. Ardent twitchers and lovers of cute winged creatures will find themselves in a veritable paradise of feathers. The hero species amongst them are most certainly the Royal Albatross, followed closely by the resident Yellow-eyed Penguins and Little Blue Penguins.
The Otago Peninsula is home to all three along with other glorious and quirky-looking breeds such as spoonbills and shags. The best way to see them is through guided tours.
9. Otago Farmers Market
Voted the best market of its kind in New Zealand, the Otago Farmers Market is a thriving community hub, where foodies gather for their weekly treats. With a focus on local artisan producers, there is a mouth-watering selection of fresh produce, cheeses, baked goods, chocolate, dips and sauces, honey, meats and of course coffee on offer. The popular stall-holders sell out early so get in quick on Saturday mornings at the Dunedin Railway Station.
10. Explore the Beaches
Not many people think of Dunedin as a beach city, but in fact, there are over a dozen stunning stretches of sand within a short drive of the urban centre. In the summer, St Clair and St Kilda Beaches are popular destinations for family swims and dog walking.
Just a little out of town, you’ll find Tunnel Beach, Brighton Beach, Long Beach, Purakanui Beach and Warrington Beach each of which has a unique character and gorgeous vistas.
Getting there: Air New Zealand flies direct to Dunedin from Brisbane and connects via Auckland from all other major Australian cities.
Find out more: Head over to Tourism Dunedin for more inspiration.
Have you been to Dunedin before? Share your experience below.
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