D- what? Dunedin– pronounced ‘D-nee-din’ – or “Dunners” as locals call it lovingly is a city located on the southeast coast of New Zealand’s South Island. Most people we’ve talked to who’ve visited New Zealand or live in this country, couldn’t really recall the city or were surprised we chose this ‘rural’, cold and rainy area as our home base while living in New Zealand for a year. Yes, Dunedin is cold, Dunedin is windy and it can have all four seasons in a day BUT it is also rich in heritage, somewhat untouched and incredibly beautiful… An underrated city which waits to be explored by you! We don’t want you to miss out on this gem and have outlined reasons to visit Dunedin – our Kiwi home- for you:
One thing we absolutely love about Dunedin are the vast and wild beaches. While it’s mostly too cold for a swim, the stunning surroundings make up for it! Many beaches are secluded and only accessible by a short walk through farms and dunes. Due to this, you often have the whole beach to yourself! Here is a selection of our favorite ‘Dunner’-beaches:
1. Sandfly Bay
Luckily, there is no sight of biting sandflies: The bay rather gets its name from sand which is flying in the wind. Sandfly Bay is an incredibly beautiful beach with big ever-forming sand dunes and amazing views. Additionally, you can spot unique wildlife snoozing in the sun or returning from sea. From the Sandfly Bay parking lot it takes about 1 ½ hours to walk to and from the beach. While jumping down the dunes is super fun, it is quite hard to get back up as sand is sliding down with each step you take.
2. Tomahawk Beach
Tomahawk Beach is easily accessible by a short walk through small sand dunes. Reaching the beach, you will have the vast ocean laid out in front of you, sounds of seagulls flying above you and tall cliffs on both sides of you. Turn to the left and walk for a few meters along the dunes until you reach a small cove. Underneath the rocks you’ll find a protected area and with that good shelter from wind. The best spot to have a sand-free picnic!
3. Aramoana Beach
What makes this beach special is that it’s covered in pointy Turret shells and billions of other little shells. We’ve never seen anything like this before! On top you can find a rock formation which resembles a heart, climb on sand dunes and have a beautiful view of Taiaroa Head to the southeast. Aramoana Beach is best accessible from ‘The Mole’ and lies to the west side of this sea wall.
4. Doctor’s Point
The arch at Doctor’s Point is a true hidden gem near Dunedin. Go at low tide and walk along the beach towards the open ocean. The beach bends slightly around cliffs and continues through the naturally formed stone arch. We barely came across someone at this section of the beach. This made it even possible for us to skinny dip on a hot summer day 😉
5. Long Beach
This sandy beach stretches for over 2 kilometers between naturally formed coastal cliffs. Facing east, Long Beach is a beautiful spot to watch the sunrise. At the northern end of the beach, you will find a huge cave carved in the rocks. If you visit this location in the evening, you will most likely encounter locals – mainly students- having a bonfire at the cave’s entrance.
6. Tunnel Beach
Tunnel Beach offers stunning sandstone cliffs, a big sea carved rock arch and a hand carved tunnel leading to an otherwise non accessible beach. Due to its wonderful rock formations many people come to this beach but this shouldn’t keep you from visiting as you will surely be amazed by its beauty. The Tunnel Beach track leads down a hill and takes about 1 hour return.
7. St. Clair Beach
This beach is the closest to the city center and the most popular beach among locals. You can find many cafés near the water, dogs playing on the sand and surfers catching waves- even in the coldest winter days. When visiting St. Clair Beach and strolling along the Esplanade look out for the by locals well known and loved Patti’s & Cream burger and ice cream truck. Seriously the best handmade ice cream we’ve ever eaten! We recommend trying one of the special flavors in the self baked, slightly cinnamon flavored waffle cone. As Patti’s and Cream doesn’t come to the beach every day but changes locations around Dunners, follow their Instagram page for updates.
One of the main reasons to visit Dunedin is its cultural and historical heritage. While Maori used to live and hunt in this area long before the European settlers arrived, the Scottish heritage is predominant in the city center. The name ‘Dunedin’ itself derives from the Scottish-Gaelic name for Edinburgh and is still known as ‘Edinburgh of the South’ by many. During the Central Otago Gold Rush which started in the 1860’s Dunedin became wealthy and was New Zealand’s largest city. If you’d like to learn more about Dunedin’s heritage, we recommend a visit to the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. The museum is accessible by donation and highly informative with fantastic audio and visual effects.
You can see Dunedin’s cultural heritage and former wealth throughout the city in the form of impressive architecture in European style. Many of these historic buildings are located near Princess Street and around the Octagon- the heart of Dunedin City. From here you also have a great view of the Dunedin Railway Station. Its outstanding Edwardian- Baroque style architecture (with a blend of Gothic-style elements) makes it one of the most photographed buildings in New Zealand. At the end of this article we have created a map which shows the location of some of these buildings. Another option is walking Heritage Walk 1 or 2. Round bronze signs on the footpath mark these walks. Please visit the Dunedin i-Site Visitor Center for more information on these.
Heritage train ride
While the train station is not used as such anymore, sightseeing train tours are offered daily. We joined the Taieri Gorge Railway trip which felt like entering a time machine. After passing through the first of 10 hand carved tunnels we lost reception and the only buildings we could see for the next two hours was a 90 year old holiday house and a historic hotel. To ride in a wooden passenger coach built in 1937 to a 1907 design ask for coach E.
Contemporary Street Art
In contrast to the many historic buildings found in Dunedin, there is a great presence of contemporary street art. Talented artists from different parts of the world have spray painted stunning artworks on several buildings around the inner city. To see these graffiti you can either join the guided Street Art Walking Tour, pick up a map of the Dunedin Street Art Trail at the Visitor Center or download the map here:
Every Saturday from 8am to 12.30pm vendors from the region come together to sell their goods. The Otago Farmers Market is located on the car park on the left side of the Dunedin Railway Station. You can find local fruits and veggies, free-range eggs, a variety of plants, self-made products such as sauces, spreads, kombucha and much more. Besides shopping for fresh ingredients, we loved eating at the market: there are various food stands which sell (mainly) healthy options of fast food. Our favorite is ‘Straight Up Vegan’ – a vegan burger stand with changing options! If you like to get a coffee make sure to get a reusable cup from the ‘cup library’ located at the main entrance. Isn’t that an awesome idea to reduce single use to go cups?
If you’re looking for a beautiful place within the city to wander around and relax, the Dunedin Botanical Gardens are perfect! The gardens contain a great variety of plants from all over the world and are free for you to visit. We came here for morning strolls, afternoon picnics or simply to admire the giant trees.
Another great garden located in the inner city is the Dunedin Chinese Garden. Immerse yourself in the Chinese culture by walking through the traditional Chinese garden setting and drinking traditional Chinese style tea in the beautiful Tea House. Here you can also get steamed buns, dumplings and a variety of Asian snacks. We absolutely loved the peaceful atmosphere of this garden.
‘Kiwis’ love good coffee and have an amazing coffee culture. When moving to Dunedin, we were surprised by how many local cafés you can find in this city. As we love hanging out in cafés this was perfect for us, but honestly a bit overwhelming at the beginning. No worries, we have tested heaps of them for you! Here are our Top 4 – from city to St. Clair beach:
1. Vanguard Specialty Coffee Co
This coffee shop is truly passionate about their coffee. They roast their own beans on-site and you can choose from a variety of blends for your barista made coffee. Dan came here mostly for his drip filter coffee cravings which began when living back in Victoria B.C. Canada. The café doesn’t offer WiFi and rather invites to spend quality time with your coffee companion or a good book.
2. Heritage Coffee
Heritage Coffee is located in a heritage building within the historic Warehouse Precinct. This historic charm mixed with a trendy interior, combines Dunedin’s heritage with the fresh vibe of ‘Dunners’. My (Manu’s) favorite spot in the café is the outdoor section past the counter – only on a warm and sunny day though!
3. Bay Rd. Café
This little café is a true hidden gem. It stands out from the others through its unique location in a locally owned peanut butter factory. While sipping on your coffee you can watch peanuts being roasted and enjoy their subtle smell. We highly recommend seeing Sophie the barista and trying an almond latte as they use self made almond paste which truly stands out in taste.
4. Long Dog (Our pick)
The Long Dog Cafe is our absolute favorite- so much that Dan even had to get a job there! Besides great coffee and amazing food this cafe has by far the best view in town. Located at St. Clair right next to the sea, you can look out towards the ocean and watch the rolling waves while sipping your coffee. Come down and test the head barista Tufele for some amazing latte art – this guy has some serious talent. Rachel goes above and beyond when preparing her food in the kitchen and uses the best quality ingredients with a range of vegan meals and treats too! Paul and Jackie, the owners of the cafe, and the rest of the team have truly set the bar for an epic experience at the cafe! For us the Long Dog Crew is one of the main reasons to visit Dunedin.
Dunedin has a great variety of species unique to New Zealand/ Australia which can be found in this area. Consequently, it is often referred to as NZ’s wildlife capital. For your best chance to witness this wildlife you’ll have to leave the city center and head east to the Otago Peninsula. Among others you can see the Royal Albatross, two species of penguins and eared seals. Below we have added further information on these animals and on where you can spot them:
1. Royal Albatross/ Toroa
While Royal Albatross are not exclusive to New Zealand, the Otago Peninsula is the only place in the world where these birds can be seen on the mainland. To protect this bird species with a wingspan of 3 meteres the Royal Albatross Center was established. It is located on Taiaroa Head and well worth a visit!
You can either book the Royal Albatross Viewing for an informative tour of the breeding grounds or simply read the displayed information at the center and watch them from the Taiaroa Viewing Platform next to the car park. Tip: If you walk to the left of the visitor center and peak around you might also be able to see them flying above the breeding grounds.
2. Little Blue Penguins/ Kororā
Blue Penguins are the world’s smallest penguins. They live in southern coastal parts of Australia and various coastal areas of New Zealand. To see these adorable little creatures in their natural habitat in Dunedin we recommend booking a viewing tour at the Royal Albatross Center. Why? You are guaranteed to see some returning from a day of fishing, you will get heaps of interesting information and as this species is endangered, you support the protection of the Little Blue Penguin colony on Pilot Beach through the tour fee. As the penguins return to shore at dusk, the starting time of the tour varies according to the time of sunset.
3. Yellow Eyed Penguins/ Hoiho
The Yellow Eyed Penguin is exclusive to the southeastern parts of New Zealand’s South Island and several smaller southern islands of New Zealand. If you’re lucky you can watch these funny creatures waddle from sea to their nest at Sandfly Bay around sunset. Looking out towards the ocean we saw one coming to shore on the right side of the bay. To not disturb these animals, it is important to stay quiet and keep a minimum distance of 50 meters. Don’t forget to bring a light for your walk back to the car!
4. New Zealand Sea Lion/ Whakahao & Fur Seal/ Kekeno
The New Zealand Sea Lion is a rare species of sea lions, only found in New Zealand. It is bigger than the New Zealand Fur Seal and has a rounder nose. Sandfly Bay is the best spot to see the New Zealand Sea Lion as this species prefers sandy beaches. We saw these animals every time we visited Sandfly Bay. The New Zealand Fur Seals, on the other hand, love to sunbathe on rocky surfaces. It can be spotted on various locations such as ‘The Mole’ at Aramoana or Tunnel Beach. Even though both of these animals seem lazy and slow, they can be quite fast and have a lot of strength. Therefore, it is important to keep a safe distance and never walk between them and their quickest path to the ocean- their escape route.
To learn more about these animals you can book a wildlife tour. We have joined the Elm Wildlife Tour before we owned a car and were able to explore on our own. Elm Wildlife Tours consists of small groups, are very engaging and highly informative. The tour includes pick-up and drop-off in town.
Wild Dunedin 2020 is an upcoming festival in Dunedin. This event promotes all of the unique wildlife and native plants of the surrounding areas. We recommend checking it out as many of the cities nature tours (such as the Elm Wildlife Tours) and educational activities are offered for free or significantly discounted prices. You can learn more about the festival on the Wild Dunedin website (http://www.wilddunedin.nz/), and remember to save the date from the 17th to 23rd of April 2020.
Comment below which of these reasons to visit Dunedin is the main one for you!
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