Top Ten Things To Do in Dunedin
Dunedin was a brand new wonder to me - being a North Islander born and bred, I haven't spent much time in the nether regions of Aotearoa! My roller derby league was invited to play a game against the Dunedin Derby Girls so I jumped at chance, and booked an extra ticket for our biggest fan - my boyfriend Micky. We had a week to try out all that Dunedin had to offer, and here are my favourites!
1. Cruising the Otago Peninsula:
While our noisy but trusty Jucy rental car hooned around the many bends of the peninsula I saw many types of birds, a cat and a duck sleeping on the road, and a Batman. I promise the animals were really sleeping, and yes - I did see a real life Batman! The man in a suit was out for a jog, obviously doing his Batman training program. But Batmen aside, it was really beautiful. Dozens of little picturesque bays made the drive easy on the eyes, and the quaint little villages are just adorable. The further out you go, the more rural it gets (the furthest point is about 30km from the town centre). I definitely recommend taking your camera, and driving out to the edge and looking over the cliffs - you may even see penguins!
Did someone say the P word?!? They're only like my favourite animal eveeeeerrrrr.... The South West coast of the South Island is one of the few places where Yellow Eyed Penguins come to breed and chill out, and Little Blue Penguins love it here too. The Royal Albatross Centre is at the end of the road on the peninsula and offers penguin viewing for $20 per person. You need to be there by 4:30pm, but I recommend the tour from the guys at Penguin Place. $49 per person, but you will get to see much more in my opinion - you will be driven to a private beach on the other side of the peninsula and get to see the penguins come in from the water and wander around their territory and huts. Plus your money will be helping support their Penguin Hospital - I will be doing a longer post on this magical place soon! Keep tuned :)
3. Orokonui Sanctuary
This is another magical place that I will delve into more detail in another post - it really is worth a visit! Orokonui is the largest protected forest in the South Island, and a quick 20 minute drive from Dunedin. It is home to many protected and endangered animals including the Kiwi, Kaka, Kakapo, Takahe, and even the prehistoric Tuatara! Plus many, many more... I definitely recommend a guided walk - our guide Joanne was incredibly knowledgeable and lots of fun. We would have just been wandering around the forest looking at bushes and birds without knowing what we were looking at - but Joanne told us all about the fascinating species we were seeing and their history. She can distinguish birds by their wing beat and warble, and knows tricks to get the birds to come to her which was great for photo opportunities. It is always in need of donations and volunteers, so help them all out by visiting! :)
4. St Clair & St Kilda Beach
St Clair Beach is what made me fall in love with Dunedin. Climb to the top of the large natural dunes for great photos along the beach, or climb down to test out the water. It is utterly peaceful, quiet (on a Thursday anyway!) and the beach goers were all friendly. Stop in for delicious pizza and coffee at The Esplanade, before checking out the surfers and nearby gallery, Moi Design. I mentioned to Micky that I could definitely live here, right by this beach. He shattered this sunny dream of mine by reminding me that it snows on the beach... Strange. So, maybe not. The hunt continues for my beach house dream!
5. The Otago Museum & Toitu Settlers Museum
Anyone who knows me, knows I'm a total sucker for museums. I was super excited for the Otago Museum, since the collections housed there are varied and intriguing. Even though it's been there for over 140 years, it isn't a dusty old specimen box! We visited the 'Animal Attic' with its fascinating skeletons and taxidermied beasties, 'People of the World' with a REAL mummy (my first ever!) and other cultural antiquities, and the 'Maritime' collection which had its own (giant) baby whale skeleton and many ship models.
I'm disappointed that we ran out of time, so we missed seeing the other collections - 'Tangata Whenua', 'Southern Land and People', 'Pacific Cultures' and the butterfly filled 'Tropical Forest'. Next time!
The Toitu Otago Settlers Museum was very different - it is a fascinating look into the lives of the community that founded Dunedin (and New Zealand) and the years thereafter. The most fascinating and also unsettling room in the building has to be the room containing the settler portraits - from floor to ceiling on all four walls the original images of hundreds of settlers look down on you. Apparently, smiling for the camera was frowned upon back then! A mixture of creepy, fascinating and astonishing, the museum is a great (almost) free way to spend a rainy afternoon, with kids too :)
6. The Farmers Market.
Before you head to the Settlers Museum, fuel up at the Farmers Market which is just down the road. Stock up on supplies like veges and meat if you are staying for more than a few days, or just grab a coffee and have a nosy at the local wares. Jams, spices, cakes, cookies and more line the stalls, and look out for the best of them all - the NUTELLA FILLED CHOCOLATE CHIP BAGELS. Yes, its a real thing. Yes, it gets grilled so the Nutella goes gooey. Yes, its ah-maze-ing. Another bonus find was 'The Bacon Buttie Man' - bacon, onion, cheese and egg in a sandwich - a must-eat! :)
Head out from the market and right next door is the iconic Railway Station where you can check out another great art gallery - this one even features local kids artwork and they are just fantastic! There's also the Sports Hall of Fame there too, and you can catch the popular tourist train to the Taieri Gorge.
7. Botanical Gardens.
The gardens are massive here, and I can imagine they are a sight and smell to behold in spring. We were visiting at the end of winter, so the roses weren't blooming but most of the other sections of the Botanical Gardens were still really beautiful. It is all segmented into where the plants come from in the world, and it also has large aviaries containing a huge variety of birds - great with kids, or just to spend a lazy afternoon taking some nice pictures. There is also a lovely café and an area where you can feed the hundreds of free range ducks that live there. When you're done, head across the road to Inch Bar. It houses 65 different types of craft beer (at the time we went) and has a lot of character! Be ready to see a few of the local university students at the gardens and at the bar, getting ready for the weekend.
8. The Local Art Galleries
The Public Art Gallery is a big sprawling building showcasing old and new and mostly eccentric art. (Note: this is purely my opinion). If you're into bus sized blow-up bunnies, bodily-organ shaped vases covered in comic strips and old-style portraits then check it out! Every turn of a corner held a surprise and is another good rainy afternoon activity, especially with the large kids activity room :)
A walk through the main CBD will provide many feast-for-the-eyes art galleries - Moray Art Gallery and Gallery De Novo were at the top of my list, but you may find more that are to your tastes - check out Dunedin Galleries here.
9. Cadbury World
Cadbury World is a chocolate lovers haven - and definitely a place New Zealanders can be proud of! Wander through the history of chocolate in New Zealand and further away, and taste the beans that it comes from. I recommend a guided tour - you will go through the whole factory to see how different products are made - and taste test them of course! You will also see the giant chocolate fall - it is really impressive and worth the ticket price. Note: Don't wear white if you are doing a tour, and the full tour is only available on weekdays.
10. Other 'highly recommended' to-do's:
- The Friday Baker - this phenomenon is even known about in Hawkes Bay - it's that good! The baker is up early on a Wednesday and bakes right through until Friday, when everything he has made is on sale. It opens at 6am on Friday, and you really need to get there before 10am to get a decent selection. Only a short drive from the Octagon (you could walk if you're keen and want to work up an appetite), our croissants and pies were delicious!
- Speight's Brewery Museum - famous in the South and still pretty tasty in the North, Speight's is one of New Zealand's favourite beers. The brewery has been there since 1876, and has a treasure of history and beer stuff to keep everyone interested. Just like Cadbury World, they'll keep you happy with a few samplers along the way :)
- Shopping! And sight seeing - head straight to the Octagon and make your way down George Road for some retail therapy. You will find lovely boutique stores, outlets and a nice big mall to spend all your dosh in! Along the way you will see tons of beautiful buildings from the gold mining times, and there are guided and self guided walks available throughout these stunning historical landmarks.
- Lanarch Castle - I had rave reviews about Lanarch Castle from my family members who had been to Dunedin, as well as our host family. We drove up to the location of the castle when cruising the peninsula and got some lovely photos of the bay, but were a little (or should I say a lottle? Like a little, but a lot) surprised at the cost of entry. $28 per person, which is probably alright if you have a keen interest in gardening, families and architecture from the 1860's onwards, but for me... Not so much!
- Baldwin Street - the steepest street in the world! The walk will take you about 10 minutes, but will give you that lovely feeling of accomplishment once you've done it. You could also time your holiday to take part in the highly anticipated annual Jaffa Race!
Best of all, just get to know some locals. The South Island is well known for its friendliness, and we definitely agree. Thank you to the lovely family who let us stay with them in little Mosgiel, and to everybody else who made the trip special. Dunedin gets a ten out of ten! :)