The road less travelled: Dunedin

When most people conjure up images New Zealand’s South Island, thoughts immediately turn to the wildly popular ski slopes of Queenstown. Few would consider the culturally rich university city of Dunedin as a tourism hotspot, yet more and more people are flocking to this unique stunner with its breathtaking rugged landscapes, rare wildlife and rich history.

If you’re keen to experience the best of New Zealand without the hustle of its flashier and more famous tourist destinations, take the road less travelled to Dunedin.

If you’re a nature lover…

Head out to the Otago Peninsula see up close the wildlife who make their home in the area’s rugged coastal reaches and inland reserves. Described by internationally renowned environmentalist David Bellamy as the finest example of eco-tourism in the world, the Peninsula hosts the only mainland breeding colony of albatross in the world which can be viewed at the Royal Albatross Centre. It’s also home to one of the rarest penguins in the world, the Yellow Eyed Penguin; visit the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve, “Penguin Place” for a close-up encounter. You can also find  the world’s smallest penguin, the Little Blue Penguin, or Korora at Pilots Beach Reserve, or book a tour and head to the best locations for sightings of New Zealand fur seals and sea lions.

If you’re a hiker…

Keen hikers will find numerous opportunities for exploring both the city and the surrounding landscape on foot. Take a walk along the Pineapple Track to Flagstaff Summit,  formed by the rim of an ancient volcano. Summit Mount Cargill, the highest point in Dunedin with stunning views of Otago Peninsula and detours to Butters Peak and the Organ Pipes, one of Dunedin’s most unique natural landmarks along the way. An hour’s drive from Dunedin, the Rock and Pillar Range in the Rock and Pillar Conservation Area (named for the schist tors or rocky pillars which dominate the landscape) offers numerous tracks with spectacular views of inland Otago. Silver Peaks Scenic Reserve has challenging routes that provide views of both inland Otago and the coastal areas. On the Otago Peninsula, there are tracks aplenty which make the most of the stunning scenery and wildlife found here; get started with walks to The Chasm and Lovers Leap on the Sandymount Track, walk the Highcliff Track above Boulder Beach or head to Victory Beach and walk through Okia Reserve to the basalt volcanic columns of the Pyramids.

If you’re a history buff…

There is plenty to keep history lovers intrigued in and around Dunedin.  The city is home to New Zealand’s first Botanic Garden, which was created in 1863. New Zealand’s oldest university, the University of Otago was established here in 1869 here, continuing to be the heart of the city and famous for its gothic clock tower. Exploring all of Dunedin’s historic landmarks and stunning architecture can take some time, but a good place to start is the Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin’s most famous monument and New Zealand’s most photographed building. Larnach Castle, completed in 1886 in the Scottish Baronial style and located on the ridge of the Otago Peninsula, is also one Dunedin’s premiere historical attractions. Visit the historic lighthouse at Taiaroa Head at the end of the Otago Peninsula or check out the Otago Museum or the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum and learn about the region’s rich Maori and European settlement history.

If you’re a beach lover…

Dunedin is a beach lover’s paradise with many stunning sandy spots located within easy driving distance of the CBD. The go-to swimming spot for Dunedin locals is at St Kilda Beach and St Clair beach, located an easy 10 drive from the city. Aramoana Beach on the edge of Otago Harbour offers views of albatrosses flying to the Royal Albatross Centure at Taiaroa Head across the harbour on the Otago Peninsula. There’s Brighton Beach, only 20km south-east of the city and popular with day trippers; here, you can explore Barney’s Island at the end of the beach at low tide. A stunning 30 minute drive north  lies Long Beach, with over 2.4km of stunning beach, coastal rock formations and a massive cave awaiting exploration. For a secluded swimming spot, head to Tunnel Beach with its sandstone sea arches and fossil-filled cliffs, or for the chance to catch a glimpse of Otago Peninsula's famous wildlife, visit Victory Beach, the longest beach on the Peninsula  and home to sea lions, fur seals and the blue and yellow-eyed penguins.

Take the road less travelled and start planning your next holiday to Dunedin, New Zealand's best kept secret in the South Island with Virgin Australia's great value fares.

Words by Rebecca Walker. Imaged courtesy of Shutterstock (licensed) - Published 23 April 2019
Quick Facts 
Population Approx 114,000
Time Zone GMT/UTC +12 hours
Languages English (official)
Currency New Zealand Dollar (NZD)
Electricity 220-230v/50 Hz
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