While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
A definite must-see on your vacation to New Zealand is the Dunedin – Central Otago region. One of the most popular things to do in Dunedin is viewing many species of birds and marine mammals in their natural habitats. You’ll find a number of New Zealand’s protected wildlife including albatross, the extremely rare yellow-eyed penguins – Hoiho in Maori, little blue penguins, fur seals and sea lions.
Dunedin, the largest city in the Coastal Otago region, has strong Scottish roots and is a great base for day trips by car or train.
A wander through the city will reveal an array of 19th century Victorian and Edwardian buildings, many of which are part of the University of Otago – New Zealand’s first university – founded in 1869.
If you’re looking to get away from it all, then you’ll love the remoteness and breathtaking beauty of this rugged lower eastern corner of the South Island.
Taieri Gorge Rail Trip
The Taieri Gorge Rail Trip is one of the world’s top scenic rail trips and a one of the must-do things to do in Dunedin.
Over a hundred years ago, this railway track was laid alongside the Taieri Gorge to connect Dunedin and Central Otago. Leaving from the Dunedin Railway Station, the train hugs the steep curve of the Taieri Gorge, then plunges through an inaccessible landscape of hillsides and rivers via hand carved tunnels and wrought iron viaducts.
The trip takes 2½ hours one-way and ends in Middlemarch for lunch before heading back to Dunedin. Photographic stops and a commentary along the way make this an educational, as well as one of the most scenic experiences on your vacation to New Zealand.
Albatross & Penguins
For a unique experience of the feathered kind, head out to the top of the Otago Peninsula to Taiaroa Head. You’ll find the impressive Royal Albatross Center, home to the bird with the largest wingspan in the world. Seeing these amazing creatures swooping around the headland and feeding their chicks will give you an appreciation for why New Zealand conservationists have sought to protect them and their fragile environment.
As the environment here is protected, guided walking tours are the best way to view the Albatrosses. Wildlife cruises around the headland offer a different perspective and take in other marine life, including fur seals.
If you take a cruise you may also see penguin heads bobbing in the surf. Just down from the albatrosses is Penguin Place, where you can view and photograph the rare Yellow Eyed Penguin. As the birds are extremely shy, viewing takes place in a series of trenches and covered hides so their daily activities are undisturbed.
While you’re on the Otago Peninsula, head over to visit beautiful Larnach Castle for morning tea.
Construction of New Zealand’s only castle took over 3 years. The castle history and Larnach family saga could be the basis for a late 19th century soap opera.
Today, the castle is privately owned and open to the public, so you can learn all about the interesting family history, as well as seeing the exquisite craftsmanship and some wonderful views of the Otago coast from the top of the tower. Take some time to tour the spectacular castle grounds. They’ve recently been listed as a Garden of International Significance.
For more history head to Port Chalmers, a short drive around the harbor from Dunedin. This is a seaside village with an interesting past. It was used as a trading port for sealers and whalers in the early 1800s and flourished during the mid-1800s gold rush to become Australasia’s third largest port. It still exports various produce but not on such a grand scale.
Its charm lies in the remaining old stone buildings erected during the gold rush era including the original Post Office which houses the Seafarer’s Museum. The museum is a good place to visit if you want a dose of local history and pioneer stories. In Port Chalmers’ heritage buildings you’ll also find art galleries, antiques and boutique clothing.
Due to the laid-back lifestyle and scenic views, quite a few of the port’s residents are artists. You’ll find lots of original crafts and artwork to buy for souvenirs. This is a popular place for local Dunedin-ites to go on weekends – they love its unspoiled harbor views and many cafés.
If you like seafood check out the restaurants as well – fresh seafood is always available due to the good salmon and trout fishing in the area. If you’re here at the beginning of October, check out the annual Seafood Festival held to showcase the region’s best food and local wine.
Although the Dunedin – Coastal Otago region is a relatively small place, it’s not somewhere you should zip through on your vacation in a hurry. It has much to offer – history, wildlife, arts & crafts – and many things to do. There are few other areas in New Zealand where you can view such a diverse array of wildlife on the mainland.
This once in a lifetime experience is one you won’t want to miss on your vacation to New Zealand.