What indeed are the best experiences and day tours Dunedin has to offer us then? Southern New Zealand folk are of the strong hardy variety (winters can be a little challenging here) and their free and easy approach to life seems to be encapsulated in the air of Dunedin. Admittedly Dunedin isn’t strictly speaking ‘Southland’ but it is far enough down on the South Island to just about qualify. Additionally, Dunedin is a university city which gives it a vibrancy and buzz. Sit yourself for a quiet few minutes in the summer in the Octagon and let one of the many street entertainers regale you with a variety of music styles, wow you with a fire show or make you laugh with their antics. Dunedin has lots to offer.
Here is a list (by no means exhaustive) of 10 of Dunedin’s ‘don’t miss’ attractions.
New Zealand museums are wonderful and the modern, interactive Otago Museum in Dunedin is no exception. There are many permanent exhibitions and always some travelling ones too, exploring New Zealand’s cultural heritage along with the nation’s natural environment. There are themed guided tours available year round.
Dunedin beer and chocolate tasting tour
Dunedin’s famous Cadbury World and Speight’s brewery can be visited separately but this specific tour is a double whammy covering both. Each offer visitors sampling and tasting of the goods as they tour the factories while learning about the history and the processes involved with the production of beer and chocolate. One major highlight is the real chocolate waterfall at Cadbury World which will make you feel you have just stepped into the pages of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory.
This wonderful area which comes under the Dunedin district umbrella is just a short drive away but makes you feel far removed from all you associate with big cities. There is so much to see and do here that really it needs a piece all of its own but unquestionably the Otago Peninsula’s biggest draw is its wildlife – nature lovers are going to be in seventh heaven. David Bellamy once described the Otago Peninsula as ‘the finest example of eco-tourism in the world’ (and Mr Bellamy knows about these things!). It has the world’s only mainland Royal albatross colony, the Marine Studies Centre (where you can see seahorses, octopus, crayfish and sharks), Penguin Place (see separate entry) and a range of wildlife tours and cruises all designed to get you up close and personal with land and ocean life.
Additionally there are tons of lovely beaches to choose from, wilderness walks, stunning views and several other places worthy of a visit such as Glenfalloch Woodland Gardens and Lanarch Castle (New Zealand’s only castle which is actually a Gothic style mansion).
Situated on a private working sheep farm on the Otago Peninsula is Penguin Place. Put on your stout walking shoes and once arrived, sit yourself comfortably in one of the purpose designed viewing hides and watch the private life of the rare and endangered Yellow-eyed penguin unfold before your eyes. Penguin Place is an extremely important cog in the conservation of these incredibly shy penguins and all related work carried out is entirely funded by the income from tours.
Big wave riding/surfing
Dunedin’s beaches figure prominently on the big wave surfers’ map. Waves here can get HUGE as the might of the Southern Ocean hits the land and that means surfers have to be towed into the waves with a jet ski rather than paddling for them as they would normally. St Clair is one of the most popular big wave surfing spots so find out when the next big swell is due and go and watch these hardy types braving the icy waters, mammoth waves and sharks.
Hop on hop off bus tours
This free and easy tour option departs from the Octagon 5 times a day, with the double-decker bus making a loop of the city and taking in all of Dunedin’s biggest tourist sites. If you want to explore something closer you can get off the bus whenever it suits you and then catch another to complete the tour.
Wildlife cruises and tours
Both Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula offer a few tour choices which range from 1 hour to full day experiences. The area is incredibly rich in wildlife particularly of the marine mammal variety and boat cruises offer visitors the chance to view many places which are inaccessible by land.
Highlights are usually the albatross colonies, little blue penguins, several species of dolphin, New Zealand fur seals, sea-lions and a wide variety of seabirds both rare and not so rare.
Some of the tours available combine a wildlife cruise with some land based sightseeing such as Lanarch Castle or Penguin Place.
This Jacobean style manor house, which dates from around 1904, offers visitors an insight into the early 20th century private lives of the privileged amongst New Zealand’s early European settlers. Guided tours relate the building’s story and tell why Olveston is considered to be of such historical significance, not just in Dunedin but in New Zealand in general. Olveston, which is in walking distance of Dunedin’s city centre, is one of those rare attractions that all its visitors seem to rave about no matter what their age or interest.
Taieri Gorge Railway
Hop on board this sightseeing train which will take you 77km through some of the most stunning, spectacular scenery you could ever wish to see. As you listen to the onboard commentary you will cross wrought iron viaducts and pass through tunnels worked entirely by hand and there will be plenty of stops for those must-be-captured-on-camera moments. Tours depart daily from Dunedin railway station.
Two kilometres south of Dunedin city centre is super special Tunnel Beach. Back in the 1870s a loving father decided he wanted to give his children direct access to a beach from their farm. The easiest way to do this was apparently to hand carve a tunnel through the rocks (and if you are now thinking ‘easiest?’ then you won’t be the first). The tunnel is full of fossils and the beach itself is a small sandy cove surrounded by strangely beautiful sculpted rocks and sea caves, complete with a dramatic rock arch and an ocean which is never still. The last part of the walk is a little steep so don’t come in your high heels.
Don’t forget to pop into Dunedin’s i-SITE (tourist information at the edge of the Octagon) to see what’s on, grab a free map and take advantage of a huge mine of tourist literature detailing the best of Dunedin.
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