Dunedin is an energetic university city with a rich colonial history on the east coast of the South Island. A lively youth culture has created a strong music and fashion scene; it’s also a centre for eco-tourism, with plenty of nature to inspire.
With a backdrop of rural hills and valleys, the city is another pearl in a string of spectacular bays. Your Dunedin rental car is the best way to explore them all. Just ten minutes south is the trendy coastal suburb of St Clair – a surfers’ paradise with buzzing cafés lining the esplanade that hugs the long sandy beach. For safe outdoor swimming, aim for the hot salt water pool nestled in the rocks at the west end of the beach. Or for an indoor swim, head to the massive Moana Pool complex in town.
For romantic coastal scenery, park your Dunedin hire car at Tunnel Beach Road and walk the easy 20-minute trail to the dramatic sandstone cliffs, sea arch and secluded beach. Peaceful Aramoana beach (27km north of the city) has a natural breakwater where you can watch albatrosses swoop over the headland. Other coastal highlights are the dunes at Sandfly Bay (with hides for spotting Yellow-eyed Penguins), rock-climbing at Longbeach, and the unusual mounds of the Moeraki Boulders at Koekohe Beach (1 hour north). There’s excellent sea fishing here alongside plenty of rivers and streams in the region for fly fishing.
Visit the penguin and fur seal colonies or take the hour-long scenic drive to the tip of Otago Peninsula to see the Northern Royal Albatross colony at Taiaroa Head. There are many tour companies – Elm Wildlife Tours, Sam’s Peninsula Off Road Tours, Nature’s Wonders – offering fascinating wildlife trips that include the colonies. Horse riding, mountain-biking, cycling and walking are other popular pastimes.
Dunedin’s hills are formed from an extinct volcano and present superb views over the city, harbour and peninsula. Signal Hill is a favourite but you can also drive along the top of the sand hills at St Kilda to the lookout. Alternatively, park your Dunedin car rental on Mt Cargill and walk up the track to the summit.
Explore the city with guided heritage walks or the scary Hair Raiser Ghost Walk. Architectural gems include the grandiose railway station, where you can step aboard a sightseeing train for a trip through the inland valleys via Larnach Castle, with fabulous gardens and breathtaking views, and lavish Olveston House.
Dunedin is home to several attractive gardens. Wander through the 28-hectare Botanic Garden or the historic Glenfalloch Woodland Garden. The tranquil Chinese Garden in the city’s heart is well worth a visit and perfect for a picnic on a sunny day.
The city’s cultural highlights include many contemporary galleries and the excellent Dunedin Public Art Gallery, eclectic theatre and a massive assortment of live music haunts, including the pulsing Backstage (in Bath Street) and the Arc Café (High Street).
Dunedin’s shops range from atelier jewellers, antique emporiums, retro fashion boutiques and second-hand bookshops. The Wall Street Mall and Meridian Shopping Centre house a variety of retail outlets.
When hunger strikes, there’s a vast array of cafés and restaurants with something for every budget. You can dine at the original Speight’s Ale House then tour the brewery, treat yourself to fine food with fabulous views at the more upmarket, or feast on great seafood at Fish Hook (George Street).
Every type of accommodation is available, from boutique lodges to cheery backpackers’ hostels. Top stays include the elegant but affordable apartments at Bluestone on George, seaside luxury at Hotel St Clair and serene, self-catering chalets on the peninsula at Portobello Motel.