Are you up for a wild adventure? Dunedin is an ideal place to go if you are the wanderlust type. Everywhere you turn, the city is covered with beaches and wide open spaces. Its rich lush landscape is the sanctuary of the most exotic birds and wildlife on the planet.
Dunedin is one of the most exciting places to be. That is probably why there is such a large population of students in the oldest city of New Zealand. Each historical landmark has a fascinating story to tell about its origins. The city has a distinct European heritage that is evident in its structures.
It is also a melting pot of very diverse cultures. The influx of students to Dunedin has greatly influenced their museums and art galleries and comprises the growing artistic population. Let us take a tour of some of the most exciting things to do in Dunedin. At the end of the trip, you will want to see even more.
1. Take a tour of Dunedin Botanic Garden
Feast your eyes on the colorful flowers at Dunedin Botanic Garden, New Zealand’s first-ever botanical garden that was established in 1863. Divided into two sections, the lower gardens are home to an Edwardian glasshouse, a Japanese garden, a winter garden, and a whole lot more. An aviary and a rhododendron field are found in the upper gardens. Dunedin Botanic Garden is a delightful place to take your loved one for a romantic day out in the North East Valley!
2. Hike up the famous Signal Hill
Dunedin offers such a beautiful vista that it almost feels like a crime not to marvel at it. Get a good vantage point and hike up Signal Hill, where you’ll be welcomed with a view that will pull on your heartstrings. A lookout sits atop the hill, giving an unobstructed view of the city. The lookout is always open, allowing visitors to witness Dunedin any time of the day. Take your loved one to Signal Hill to see the sunset, and you’ll have one of the most romantic nights of your life!
3. Dare to surf at St. Clair Beach
A trip to Dunedin is not complete until you’ve visited St. Clair Beach. Its rhythmic waves make it a popular surfing venue; in fact, national surfing competitions are regularly held at the beach. Its mere 10-minute distance from downtown Dunedin is why the beach has become a beloved spot. Restaurants, cafes, and bars line up along the esplanade. Surfing may be a tad intimidating if you have no experience, so you’re welcome to just sit by the shore and contemplate the quirks of Dunedin.
4. Walking up Baldwin Street
Baldwin Street was hailed by Guinness Book of Records as the steepest residential street in the world. It has become a popular tourist attraction and one of the most photographed places in Dunedin. The street is easy to find, it is located on the northern side of Signal Hill.
Unlike the other streets in New Zealand, which are usually made of asphalt, this street is made of concrete. The steep incline was not intentional. The foundation of the street was laid out without the proper study of its the terrain. The result is a steep slope that holds at least two festivities every year.
One is the Jaffa race which is held during the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival. The Jaffas, which are round, colored hard candies with a chocolate center, are numbered then rolled down the street. The candies are channeled into a chute to determine the winners.
Another event is the Gutbuster wherein 1,000 people participate in different events but mainly to run up and down the street. So grab the opportunity to see Baldwin street and join in their wacky races. Or do the vertical challenge and walk the entire 350 meters (1,150 feet) to the top. Take your time, as there’s a fountain at the end where you can get a good drink of water.
5. Taming the Otago Peninsula wildlife
The Otago Peninsula is a long, mountainous stretch of land that shapes the eastern side of Dunedin. The peninsula runs alongside the mainland for a 20-kilometer (13-mile) stretch with a 9-kilometer (6-mile) width and is located southeast of the Otago Harbour. It is connected to the mainland by a narrow strip of land 1.5 kilometers (1 mile) wide. While the peninsula is surrounded on the west by Dunedin’s suburbs and the seven towns and communities that lie along the side of the harbor, the rest of the land is lightly populated and covered with a vast open sheep pasture.
The peninsula is what they describe as wild. It is a massive, bare space of land where the weather is uncertain. You can hike at the top of the cliffs and enjoy the fascinating seascapes of its numerous beaches. It is home to New Zealand’s various species of wildlife, most of them seabirds, all sorts of penguins, sea lions, pinnipeds, the Royal Albatross and much more scattered about the horizon.
6. Visiting the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is one of New Zealand’s oldest and most diverse museums. It is easy to find the museum because it is a jaw-dropping edifice situated near notable landmarks like the Dunedin Railway Station and just 500 meters (1,640 feet) away from The Octagon which is the center of the city.
The museum is the celebration of New Zealand’s colorful history, starting from its early settlement of the Otago province to its modern day way of living. The fresh graduates of the nearby universities have a great influence on the design departments. Their brilliant young minds have provided fresh and innovative ideas to their exhibits. They hold interesting events that you would not want to miss.
7. Get obliterated at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery
What makes Dunedin Public Art Gallery different from other art galleries is its unique, eccentric and diverse personality. It contains the main art collection of Dunedin City that includes the fresh art works of young artists. It is strategically located in the Octagon, the city center and is near the public library, the Regent Theatre and the town hall.
The gallery holds a superb collection of British and European paintings, New Zealand artworks, Japanese prints and other modern Australian decorative art. A special corner of the collection is dedicated to Frances Hodgkins, a native Dunedin painter who worked in England and earned a reputation in the British Neo-Romantic movement. The gallery also holds special art classes for the artistically inclined and interesting exhibits that stir the public’s mind and even asks for their participation.
One of their special features is The Obliteration Room which is a large interactive exhibit. It is a completely white room wherein visitors are given a sheet with colored dots that they will stick anywhere and as they please. The exhibit was conceptualized by the artist Japanese Artist Yayoi Kusama. The aim of the exhibit is to discover how long it will take to “obliterate” the room with all those dots. The result is a visual plethora of colors. Isn’t that amazing?
8. Take the train at the Dunedin Railway Station
The Dunedin railway station is located on the South Island of New Zealand. It is the city’s fourth station and was designed by architect George Troup. The spectacular design of the train station is a combination of history and charm resulting in a structure that is worthy to be a notable tourist attraction. The facade of the train station has a Victorian/English influence that it resembles those beautiful buildings you see on a Christmas card (well, minus the snow). The interiors of the train station are equally amazing with its intricate details. It makes waiting for the train worth your time and lots of selfies.
The train has two active lines. The Taieri Gorge Railway will take you to a scenic ride along the Taieri River Gorge. It offers breathtaking views and an enchanting insight on how the railway was built and the lifestyle of the resilient pioneers. The Seasider railways pass through the pictographic Otago Harbour before it travels over the cliffs that overlook the spellbinding Pacific Ocean.
9. Swimming at Tunnel Beach
A trip down to Tunnel Beach is like a visual image from a romantic novel, where the heroine looks over the cliffs and stares into the sky blue horizon as the angry waves crash into the massive rocks carved by the sea. It is this scenery that Tunnel Beach has earned its reputation for being Dunedin’s most romantic spot. To access the beach, you have to take a walk down a private farmland track into a manmade tunnel.
It exits to the private beach which is a wide expanse of sand and sea bordered on the sides by huge sandstone boulders. The tunnel was built in 1870 by John Cargill, a son of a Captain. It was purposely excavated so that his family will have a private access to the secluded beach where they can frolic in the water away from the watchful eyes of townspeople from St. Clair. Tunnel Beach is located south of St. Clair and southwest from Dunedin’s city center. You’ll find that swimming at tunnel beach is one of the fun things to do in Dunedin.
10. Intriguing Larnach Castle
The one and only castle in New Zealand is anything but intriguing. The magnificent castle was owned by William James Mudie Larnach, a successful Scottish merchant, who struck it rich during the gold rush of the 1860s. He moved to Dunedin to manage the Bank of Otago that serviced the vast goldfields.
Stories say that Larnach rode on horseback with his sons to choose a location where he could build his splendid residence. You will see why he choose this perfect spot because it offers the breathtaking views of the Peninsula, the Otago Harbour and the entire Dunedin. The castle itself is wrapped in the glory of English Victorian influence…and intrigues! The materials used to build the edifice were sourced from all over Europe and New Zealand.
It took 3 years and 200 men to complete its construction. He intended the home to be inherited by his huge family. He had three wives and six children. However, a succession of bad events led him to take his own life in 1898. He died without a will, and a long legal squirmish led to the falling out of the family members.
The family decided to sell the castle in 1906. Today, tourists and locals alike enjoy every visit to this castle. Experience what it’s like to live like royalty, even just for a day. You can have a three-course dinner within the Castle Dining room.They offer opulent accommodations within the estate and they also have a packaged tour of the property and the Dunedin local attractions.
11. Fascinating history of the Olveston home
The Olveston home was originally owned by the family of a wealthy businessman, philanthropist and art collector named David Theomin and his spouse Marie. They had two children, Edward and Dorothy. The home was built so that it will be passed on to their future generations. It was designed by a renowned English architect Sir Ernest George and furnished with the finest artworks and furniture sourced from all over the world.
Unfortunately, both of their children died without any inheritors. After surviving the death of her parents and older brother, Dorothy Theomin lived in the residence until she died in 1966. It was then discovered that the mansion and all of its contents were bequeathed to the City of Dunedin. In 1967, it was opened to the public as a historic museum house and remains in its authentic form of how a wealthy merchant family lived a lavish life during the early twentieth century.
You can visit the home museum any day of the year, but during Christmas, you have to book for an appointment for a home tour. You can have a feel of how it is to live in this luxurious home. You could play cricket in the open grounds and have your tea served in the garden. You can use various parts of the house to throw a party, have your business meetings or hold the reception of your wedding. A privately held guided tour of the entire property will take two hours.
12. Picturing penguins at the Penguins Place
New Zealand is rich with wildlife and a variety of birds, but Dunedin is popular for hosting a site for one of the most endangered species, the Yellow Eyed Penguin. Penguins Place is actually a farm like conservation reserve that dedicates itself for the care and survival of these birds. The guided tours are the major sources of funds of the reserve which they use for habitat restoration, on-site rehabilitation of the penguins, research programs and predator control.
The sanctuary is located on a private farm at the edge of the Otago Peninsula. To get to the reserve, you will have to take a short bus trip with a guided tour. During this Dunedin activity, the guide will lead you through covered trenches to get to the hidden viewing hides. There you can experience mingling with the Penguins at very close range. You can witness how these very shy birds live and breed, near enough to take pictures without disturbing them. Reminder: Do not touch the birdies! Guests are given a one-of-a-kind farm stay experience at the lodge with the added bonus of spectacular views and a taste of the typical New Zealand country lifestyle.
13. Take one for the road at Speight’s Brewery
Don’t know what to do in Dunedin? Over here in New Zealand, the best way to start or end the day is to have a glass of beer! Not just any beer, it should be the legendary Speight’s Ale. Speight’s brewery is the pride of New Zealand. The iconic brand popular for its original tasting ale has been around for over 141 years. The brewery has 8 floors which you can explore and learn about the history of New Zealand’s greatest beer and how it is crafted. The beer is painstakingly handcrafted using the traditional methods and original machinery used since it was opened in 1876. The best part of the tour? You get a free taste of the Southern beer!
14. Visit the Royal Albatross center
Staying in Dunedin provides an opportunity for anyone to enjoy one of the most unique experiences in the world since it is the only place having a mainland breeding colony of the Royal Albatross.
Unique Royal Albatross and Fort Taiaroa tour is a 90-minute excursion for guests to experience Pukekura, New Zealand’s wildlife and history. It is a fully guided tour which includes viewing of the Royal Albatross colony as well as other species of birds inhabiting the region. While the place is best known for this wildlife attraction, visitors will also appreciate its rich history including being an underground fort in the 1880s and more.
Royal Albatross tour is a shorter version of the above excursion lasting for an hour. It is focused on giving guests a glimpse of the Royal Albatross’ social and life colony through a visit in their main breeding setting.
Both activities are best-sellers in Dunedin so if you’re a bird watching enthusiast or simply want to have a unique experience in New Zealand, watching the Royal Albatross in their natural habitat and up close is definitely one not to miss!
15. Join a wildlife cruise
New Zealand is not only famous for its landscapes but also for its diverse marine wildlife. And one of the best ways to experience this is through this wildlife cruise in Otago Peninsula, located just one hour from Dunedin. In this excursion, you will board the MV Monarch and delight in viewing the Royal Albatross in their breeding colony – the world’s only mainland nesting place for these incredible birds. You will also get sightings of other marine animals such as fur seals and sea lions. While on board, live commentary is included for everyone to not only enjoy the sightseeing experience but also to learn more about the animals, as well as the peninsula’s history and geology. So if you’re looking for a fun and educational excursion near Dunedin which both kids and adults can enjoy, Otago Peninsula wildlife cruise proves to be the ideal choice!
Get ready to get your feet wet
With so many fun activities going on at these Dunedin tourist attractions, your feet will definitely be busy walking all over the place. Get ready to get your feet wet as you plunge into the secluded Tunnel beach, get lost in the wilderness at Otago Peninsula or walk thru the muddy trenches of Penguin Place. If you want to stay on high ground, we have Baldwin street for that. It can take you up 350 meters (1,150 feet) higher. If you want to immerse in the intriguing New Zealand culture, visit the museums and gaze at the amazing architecture of the land that speaks loudly of its English and Victorian heritage. At the end of the day, you could sit back, have a beer at Speight’s and say “What an awesome adventure! Let’s do it all over again!”