Dunedin

One of New Zealand’s original five major cities (along with Auckland, Christchurch, Nelson and Wellington), Dunedin has claim to be the best of them to visit as a tourist. It has it all, a beautiful setting, plenty of heritage, wonderful gardens, native wildlife, great museums, and good places to eat, all in a compact city of ~105,000 people.

To start just outside of the city though with Otago Peninsula, which runs 20kms out to the east, and offers stunning views of the harbour from the winding main road hugging the coastline.

At the end of the peninsula, at Taiaroa Head, is the Royal Albatross Centre. In part housed in former military fortifications, this is home to the only mainland albatross colony in the world. Ironically it was only due to the head being cleared of bush for the fortifications that the birds first started nesting here in the early 1900s. There are many other birds here, but the albatross are the star attraction, seen from hides only accessible by taking a tour.

The views from Taiaroa Head are also pretty incredible, looking down the harbour, with New Zealand fur seals swimming below.

There are some stunning beaches on the sea side of the peninsula (compared with the harbour side ones above).

The most popular / closest to the CBD beach is St. Kilda’s, which was atmospheric, if cold and windswept when I visited in the middle of summer one year.

The most famous attraction in Dunedin is Larnach Castle, known as the only castle in New Zealand, though it’s a pretty loose description (particularly for someone originating in the UK, where there are proper castles…). It was built in the late 19th century by prominent businessman and politician William Larnach, and no expense was spared, with 43 rooms and some of the finest interiors (and exterior) in the country.

The gardens are one of only five gardens nationwide to have been given the rating of “Garden of International Significance” by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

Another grand old house is Olveston, built in the early 1900s using the latest technologies (including electricity), but wealthy merchant David Theomin. The house wouldn’t look out of place in the UK, but is quite unusual in New Zealand, and it’s particularly great that all the original furniture and furnishing has survived.

One of the best views of the city is from Signal Hill, a 393m hill just behind the city.

Along the coast opposite the Otago Peninsula is Port Chalmers, a small town of 1,500 people mainly serving Dunedin’s port, in a spectacular setting.

Port Chalmers was the last stop for Captain Scott before his ill-fated Antarctica expedition of 1910-1913. This structure was erected in 1914 as a memorial.

Dunedin Botanic Gardens is the oldest botanic garden in New Zealand, dating from 1863. There are plenty of track winding through the extensive gardens, along with a Winter Garden, and extensive (if sad to see) aviaries.

Otago Museum was an absolute gem, one of the best museums in the country, for the size and quality of the exhibits. Its Pacific collection was second only to Auckland War Memorial Museum, and the 17m long Fin whale was impressive.

There were more animal bones at the Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery, a private museum opened in 2018 by location artist Bruce Mahalski. I loved the eclectic and fascinating collection of natural wonder and just plain random things.

Baldwin Street is officially the steepest street in the world, with a gradient of 1 in 3.

There are some impressive churches in the city, demonstrating it’s early wealth, mainly driven by the discovery of gold in Otago.

Probably the most photographed place in Dunedin is the mighty train station, opened in 1906. Once the busiest station in the country, it is now barely used.

Dunedin Public Art Gallery is always worth a visiting, with rotating exhibitions housed in an attractive building off the Octagon.

Toitū Otago Settlers Museum is an impressively comprehensive and well presented museum, founded in 1898.

Next door is one of my favourite places in the city, Lan Yuan, Dunedin Chinese Garden. Opened in 2008, it is the one of only three authentic Chinese Garden outside China. Turns out that I’ve visited the other two on my travels, in Portland and Vancouver.

To finish with Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Dunedin’s version of Zealandia, a 230 hectare reserve for native wildlife. I’d never seen young Takahe (less colourful than the adults), nor ones thanks were so approachable, they came so close my camera couldn’t focus.

Author: jontycrane

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