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Rich in some of the most beautiful architecture in New Zealand, Dunedin on the South Island's south-east coast is the Otago region's crowning gem, with some of the best examples of Victorian and Edwardian construction this side of the equator. Combined with a wonderful coastal location that provides a wonderful balance of nature and the man-made.
Dunedin has a heritage that is rich and a culture that incorporates a strong Scottish influence, and simply taking a walk around the city soon conjures up images of Europe. A strong artistic heritage rounds out the experience, helping to make Dunedin one of the truly underrated travel destinations in all of NZ and one of the world's great cities. If you've got an interest in history, an appreciation for art and architecture and a desire to get out and about in the wilds with the wildlife, Dunedin is the place for you.
Here are a list of 10 Things to do in Dunedin NZ & surrounds:
Olveston Historic Home:
Olveston Historic Home on Royal Terrace makes it more unique to New Zealand. A veritable walk-in time capsule, the house and its lawns have changed little since 1906, and Olveston is an accurate window into the styles, fashions, decorations and craftsmanship of that time in New Zealand's European-influenced history. Its walls adorned with prized artworks, its interior equipped with every possible creature-comfort of its time, and its 35 rooms being the picture of how the “better-half” lived, Olveston is an interesting attraction that is part mansion, part museum. Its walls adorned with prized artworks, its interior equipped with every possible creature-comfort of its time, and its 35 rooms being the picture of how the other-half lived, Olveston is an interesting attraction that is part mansion, part museum.
Combining its stunning setting with craftsmanship and a great location makes Larnach Castle a must-visit from Dunedin. While the building itself is impressive in its quality carvings, materials and general ostentatiousness, it's the gardens that surround the castle that make a trip here truly complete; they're incredibly well maintained and follow a very Alice in Wonderland-esque theme with an intriguing framework of hedges and trees and vibrantly colourful flowers during springtime which have been painstakingly crafted over the course of 45 years.
Hare Hill Horse Treks:
Hare Hill, roughly 20 minutes' drive to the north east of the city CBD is an expansive farm spread out over 60 acres with a spectacular outlook over the northern side of lovely Otago Harbour, and it's here you'll want to head for the area's premier horse riding experience. Both beginners and advanced riders are welcome to come along and join in one of the most eco-friendly ways to tour the greater Dunedin area, with the choice of riding through a variety of trails that traverse their way through lush, green open paddocks over looking the vibrant blue harbour, or instead head down to the beaches of Aramoana for some waterfront riding and an up-close look at the coast. The facility is run by friendly and down-to-earth owners who are very patient with those hopping on horseback for the first time, and during the rides they're always happy to share their vast knowledge on not only the Dunedin region but New Zealand in general while answering any questions you may have.
Nature's Wonders Naturally:
The Otago Peninsula is renowned for its abundant yet fragile wildlife, with an environment that blends marine, air and land-based animals into a complex ecosystem that's as delicate as it is beautiful. The “Nature's Wonders Naturally” effort is an attempt to showcase this diversity to the public in the most environmentally-friendly way possible in order to foster a new appreciation for the animals who call this part of New Zealand home – it's neither a zoo nor a wildlife park, simply a chance to witness nature in its most organic condition, and it's in this that the experience truly shines. As part of the experience, you'll join the friendly and knowledgeable guide aboard an ARGO (basically an 8-wheel ATV vehicle designed to be as eco-friendly as possible) and head through the property to an ideal viewing spot from which to see the seals, then travel a little further to a specially-built cubby house come hidey-hole that you can hop inside for optimal views of the wildlife without disturbing them.
If you're simply after the best views available of Dunedin and surrounds, then you need look no further than the impressive lookout point of Signal Hill. At 393 metres high and overlooking the head of Otago Harbour, it's easily the most prominent viewpoint that's accessible to the public and provides a wonderful birds-eye view of the city and its surrounds that makes for a good “first port of call” to your visit to the city as you'll soon get a sense of the lay of the land and where everything is. On a clear day you'll be granted a nice panorama of the peninsula, Port Chalmers and further out to the horizon that will bring what you've previously only been viewing on your maps to life. Getting to the top of Signal Hill is easy as well as it's accessible by road, and while it's quite a steep ascent, all it takes is a short drive (around 15 minutes) to arrive at the lookout's main parking area which has ample free parking available in all but the busiest of seasons.
One of the fixtures of Dunedin's city centre and an icon of South Island beverages, Speight's is synonymous for “beer” in the region as its brewery has been churning out bottles of quality amber since way back in 1876 on the same site that it can be found today. Far more than just a factory, the building itself is ripe with history and has been listed as a local heritage centre for many years which grants visitors an insight to the brewing techniques of the past. Touring the brewery is highly recommended and will cover all-things-beer, from how Speight's was founded, to the transition in brewing techniques of the modern age and the history of beer in general. The brewery's tour guides are typically friendly and easygoing with a wry sense of humour and don't take themselves too seriously, which befits the atmosphere of such a venue.
Travelling directly into the heart of the Central Otago Hinterland, this world-class scenic train trip is a must for one of the easiest-yet-enjoyable sightseeing adventures the coastal Otago region has to offer. While other itineraries are available that highlight the coast and the cliffs, it's the Taieri Gorge route that is perhaps the most impressive; the train heads out from Dunedin's historic train station (mentioned in greater detail below) and passes through the city before making its way towards the spectacular gorge itself. Carved out over the course of thousands of years by the waters of the Taieri River, the Taieri Gorge is brimming with beautiful scenery of a myriad of kinds; mountain ranges bring to mind just how much of an alpine landscape New Zealand truly has, while the greenery is as typically bright and vivid as you'd expect from NZ's vibrant palette of colours.
Located smack-bang in the middle of Dunedin, the Otago Museum makes for one of the most obvious yet greatly satisfying attractions in the area. With an emphasis on natural history, the Otago Museum is a favourite spot for kids and adults alike as the operators go out of their way to make education a fun word for the little ones. The museum aims to cover a balance of history, ecology and sciences and does a solid job walking this delicate line; it's well organised layout is divided up into separate sections so you can cater your visit to your (and your kids') field of interest accordingly. Animals both past and present feature prominently here, with extinct birds of New Zealand's history of particular interest, while the museum's Butterfly exhibition set amongst an actual tropical environment serves as a living, breathing example of NZ's current ecosystem and is worth a visit by itself. There is also New Zealand's newest Planetarium to visit to see the night sky at its best.
Dunedin Railway Station:
If there's a symbol of Dunedin that can make the best claim to being internationally known, then the city's famous railway station would likely be it. Featured on postcards New Zealand-wide, it's a marvellous building that was constructed during the days of NZ's boom period following the Edwardian Baroque fashion which was popular in Europe at the time. No expense was spared when building the terminal that was once the country's busiest, and to this day its intricate construction and decorative mosaic floors make for a great sight to behold. Tiles and bricks spread out on the paths detail the history of the station, while the gardens that surround them are as typically beautiful as can be expected from a renaissance-style construction.
Drive, Walk or Tour the Otago Peninsula with Elm Wildlife:
We're sure you've noticed, but one of the most frequently-mentioned areas of Dunedin on this list for various reasons is the Otago Peninsula, and there are few better ways of seeing it for yourself than simply hopping in a rental car, picking a track and taking a walk, or embarking on a tour with Elm Wildlife Tours.
The peninsula juts prominently out to the sea from the mainland and features a cavalcade of sights – both natural and man-made – to take in for the interested visitor that's easily accessible from Dunedin city. With roads that are in a generally good condition and easy to navigate, a drive will allow you to get an all-round view of the city and its position nestled in the harbour while various points along the way are well worth a stop to get out and explore. For those not confident to navigate the terrain by themselves - or simply wanting to save time - Elm Wildlife Tours specialise in showcasing the native wildlife and educating visitors on their conservation all for a highly reasonable price.