Chocolate with Everything in Dunedin

There's lots of family fun during the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival every year in the July school holidays. Ride the Crunchie Train and race giant Jaffas!

Bucket list item: The Dunedin Cadbury Chocolate Carnival

There was a cold snap across the whole of New Zealand last year, in the days before the Dunedin Cadbury Chocolate Carnival. If it was this cold in Auckland, I figured, it was going to be brass monkeys down south. It was time to layer up the merino!

Sure enough, it was minus 7 degrees when we landed in Dunedin at 9am on a Sunday morning, but we were cheered up by the free Cadbury Pinkie bars being handed out to disembarking passengers! Bring on the chocolate overload! We’d booked our car from Thrifty, through the VroomVroomVroom comparison website, so we knew we had the best deal. By the time we had our bags and collected the keys from the rental counter, the sun was coming out and the temperature was heading up to zero. It took a little while to get all the ice off the windows, but with great air-conditioning and a reversing camera in our Toyota Corolla, we were soon travelling comfortably.

Our plan was to leave the capital of chocolate for the first half of our week, and take a coastal drive, before heading inland to one of our favourite spots, Lake Tekapo. Enroute, just out of Dunedin, our first pit-stop was the surreal landscape of the Moeraki Boulders. By now the sun was out at full strength, but we topped up our warmth factor with hot chips and bowls of famous Moeraki seafood chowder from the Moeraki Boulders Café. It’s a big drive, but a pretty one following the coast on to Oamaru and Timaru. A surprise highlight among the limestone heritage buildings of Oamaru was Steampunk HQ, New Zealand’s premier steampunk showcase. It’s hard to miss, there is a glowing, hissing steampunk-rusted locomotive engine outside! Inside there are fantastic retro-futuristic sculptures and machinery plus an immersive light and sound installation.

Lake Tekapo is one of our family's favourite spots. Tekapo Springs Resort offers ice-skating at an outdoor rink, a tube-park, and restful hot pools. It’s a bit tricky driving around the village at night; Tekapo is part of the Aoraki Mackenzie Dark Sky Reserve, so even the street lights are muted to reduce light pollution.

Back in Dunedin we were ready to revel in all things chocolate. One highlight of the week is the Cadbury Crunchie Train. Back in the 1980s, one of the most popular TV advertisements was for Crunchie Hokey Pokey Bars. The ad featured a train load of Crunchie Bars under threat from thieves disguised as nuns, and horse-riding bandits. Each year, as part of the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, the historic Taieri Gorge Railway re-enacts this journey, with a ‘Crunchie Bar Train Ride.’ Despite the 14-year-olds protestations that she was way too cool and grown-up for such shenanigans, we boarded the train for our own Crunchie Train adventure. We hadn’t brought much in the way of costumes, but that didn’t matter as we were all given a cowboy hat to wear, as well as goodie-bags full of chocolate.

The Crunchie Train leaves from the historic Victorian Dunedin railway station and heads to Hindon Station. Along the way, the train crosses the Wingatui Viaduct; built in 1887, and remaining as the largest wrought iron structure in New Zealand. For the turn-around at Hindon, there was a secret chest of Crunchie Bars to be shared out, and when we were nearly back to Dunedin: Look out! Real masked bandits on horses! We finished our day with an evening on the Octagon, Dunedin’s town centre; first a movie at Reading Cinemas, then dinner at the welcoming Craft Bar.

The final day of the Chocolate Carnival is the Jaffa race down Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest residential street. For the uninitiated, Jaffas are a Cadbury product, a small ball of chocolate covered in an orange flavoured hard shell. Before the race, spectators buy a ticket, supporting local charities, which gives them a number. The Jaffas are similarly numbered, so the winning Jaffa will earn the ticket-holder a prize. We left the rental car in the city, and took a free bus out to Baldwin Street. The Jaffa race had a carnival atmosphere; there was live music, and plenty of food vendors. We settled on bacon and eggs rolls for fortification. It was quite a spectacle to see thousands of giant jaffas bouncing down the steep street! We finished our chocolate carnival experience with a trip to the Cadbury Factory. Tours are popular all year round, but even more so during Carnival week. We missed out of the signature 60 minute tour, as it was fully booked, so instead opted for the self-guided tour of the centre, which was still worthwhile.

Time to drop off the Corolla and head back to Auckland. That was enough chocolate for a while!

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