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Travel Guide

Dunedin & Otago Peninsula things to do

  • 7 minutes

Otago, South Island

In this Article

Travel guide, top sights and attractions

Destination Dunedin
the centre of the world (trust us google maps got it wrong)

11 reasons

to visit Dunedin & Otago Peninsula

In this Article

Dunedin is barely a blip on the Queenstown glitz and glamour yet the place is an underrated visitor hot spot. Explore Dunedin’s authentic heritage charm while munching on delicious cheap eats fostered by a vibrant student culture. Linger in ghostly corners and hidden alleyways. Be intrigued by Victorian follies and grandeur at Larnach Castle and the celebrity glamour of a merchant’s house at Olveston.

Discover where the wild things roam; it’s the local beach. Don’t be surprised to read advice on how to approach a massive sea lion. Be flabbergasted by magnificent ocean Royal Albatross soaring over Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula is love at first sight with adorable waddling tiny penguins of Penguin Place.


Dunedin & Otago Peninsula is not a faded 19th century glory rather a vibrant, contemporary city. Visit one of Best Bits travel guide’s favourite places, Dunedin and find out why. Create holiday memories and destination Dunedin and see why Dunedin & Otago Peninsula has bewitched travel writers.


Royal Albatross and blue penguins  are must do wildlife encounters. The bird’s landing is a spectacular plunge and slight wobble on landing. Can the bird stop in time, is it safe and you are part of the drama of getting home to feed hungry chicks. The glide, the sheer weight of the enormous birds settling in for the landing is memorising. Forget the chilly breeze, the albatross love a good blow as the three metre albatross wingspan needs nature to give it an updraft for a decent lift off into the sky.


Relish the rare opportunity to view albatross on the only mainland colony in the world. Albatross are the monarchs of the sea need our support to ensure their well-being, visit the observatory and have a chance to meet the personalities who have made the Otago Peninsula their nesting home.

The best time to visit the Royal Albatross, Otago Peninsula is between September to  January when the chicks are hatching, growing and practicing their flight techniques.  In the late afternoon you could witnessl see courtship displays.

At dusk the sea breezes pick up is when the juveniles return from a day at sea.

As with all wildlife there are no guarantees what you will observe.

Self-guided tours

Royal Albatross Centre  access is via a 1 hour guided tour to their viewing platforms. You will need to organize your own way to the Centre unless you have joined a guided tour.

Guided tours with Elim Wildlife

Encounters inc Royal Albatross Centre Tour is recommended for visitors who wish for logistics as well as tour details to be fully managed. Elim offers access to private land that is not accessible for casual visitors. The tours are well known for their sustainable practices.

Royal Albatross landing, New Zealand
Royal Albatross landing
Dunedin harbour view, Otago. New Zealand
Dunedin harbour view

Wildlife Harbour Cruises

Photo moments on your harbour cruise Monarch Wildlife Cruises & Tours, you’ll travel out through the Otago Harbour to the world’s only mainland colony of royal albatross. Have your camera ready as these huge birds soar in from sea, flying past a historic lighthouse. Our cruises also frequently spot blue penguins, sea lions and occasionally dolphins! The crew will provide a full commentary during your cruise about the local history, scenery and wildlife spotted along the way. Don’t be put off by cool & windy weather. These are often the best conditions for wildlife viewing. Especially when it comes to albatross, they love a brisk southerly wind. Binoculars and warm jackets are provided during your cruise.

Length of time: one hour.

Where is the best apot to find wildlife in Dunedin & Otago Peninsula?

The best spots to observe wildlife in Dunedin & Otago Peninsula are:

  • Dunedin Smails beach – sea lions
  • Dunedin Tomahawk – sea lions, seals
  • Dunedin Victory beach – sea lions, seals
  • Otago Peninsula Aramoana spit & the Mole – albatross above Taiaroa Head, sea lions basking at Mole
  • Otago Peninsula Penguin Place and Orokonui Ecosanctuary – native lizards & penguins
  • Sandfly Bay, Otago Peninsula – sea lions, seals and seabirds

… read more Where to find wildlife Dunedin & Otago Peninsula. Getting there, the best time to visit and safety messages.

The downtown of Port Chalmers, the suburb of Dunedin city (New Zealand).
The downtown of Port Chalmers, the suburb of Dunedin city


Dunedin is surrounded by beaches, coastline and the Otago Harbour is the centreplace. Find a wetsuit and join the locals surfing remote beaches. Relish the solitude and splender of  Dunedin, ‘cold water Bali.’


A bit chilly, then hang out in the nearest cafe … plenty to pick and choose from.


Dunedin, its local wildlife frequenting the beach, the pounding surf and fascinating rock caves and arches offers an interesting alternative to the idea of a beach holiday.


Dunedin beaches local inhabitants are wild. Enjoy the sheer delight of sharing a beach with seal or sea lions.  The possibility of viewing (at a safe distance) the local wildlife is an undeniable attraction.

The popular surf beach and Esplanade at St Clair in the south of the Dunedin capital city of Otago South Island New Zealand
The popular surf beach and Esplanade at St Clair in the south of the Dunedin

What is the best time to go to the beach in Dunedin, Otago Peninsula?

Dunedin, Otago Peninsula has a very short summer season of warmer temperature. January to February the water temperature is between 12c to 15c. In the depth of winter the Dunedin water temperature can drop as low as 8c. It is brisk year round.

A bit chilly for a dip. Join a local surfing school and hire a wetsuit, you’re sorted and ready for action … read more DUNEDIN BEACHES, ATTRACTIONS AND THINGS TO DO.


Dunedin offers rhododendrons ideal growing conditions creating one of New Zealand’s glorious spring displays of mature flowering tree plants.

Where are the best places to find flowering rhododendrons in Dunedin & Otago Peninsula?

The best places to observe spring flowering rhododendrons are:

  • Dunedin Botanic Garden, Dunedin
  • Tannock Glen Garden, Dunedin
  • Glenfallock Woodland Garden, Otago Peninsula
  • Lady Thorn Dell, Port Chalmers

Picnic in the Dunedin Botanic Garden, wander through an extraordinary sight, a traditional Chinese Scholar’s Garden or dine in style in a woodland garden, Glenfalloch.

Dunedin Botanic Garden

Dunedin Botanic Garden rhododendron displays are magnificent. The best season for flowering displays is late October through to November. Year round the garden is a place for walks and connections through to outer suburbs. The gardens have nooks and areas perfect for photo moments.

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Dunedin Botanic Garden entrance, New Zealand
Dunedin Botanic Garden summer days, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

Dunedin Botanic Garden website has an excellent description of its walking tracks. Take a peep and pop the gardens on your to do list for walks.

… read more What to do and see in the Dunedin Botanic Garden, Frequently Asked Questions about the Dunedin Botanic Garden and more …

Larnach Castle gardens

Larnach Castle gardens are a testament to the nineteenth century planting styles with a walled herb and vegetable garden, a magnificent herbaceous border and garden topiary. Combined with the quixotic Victorian castle interior Larnach Castle is justifiably one of Dunedin’s must-go attractions.

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Larnach Castle in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
Dunedin, New Zealand @larnachcastle

Glenfalloch Woodland Gardens

Otago Peninsula Glenfalloch woodland garden is a beautiful example of how the harbour’s panoramic views have been skillfully tied into plantings. Dunedin festivals are held in the grounds with the well regarded restaurant an additional treat for visitors.

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Glenfalloch Garden Restaurant, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

Olveston House & Garden

Explore a Dunedin heritage merchants home. “Opened as a historic house museum in 1967, Olveston is a time capsule as little has changed inside the house since it was occupied as a family home between 1906 to 1966.” You feel as though you are stepping into someone’s sitting room rather than a static museum. It is a time capsule reflecting the early part of the twentieth century.

  • Open : 9am – 5pm, 7 days(closed Christmas Day)
  • The gardens and gift shop at Olveston are open to the public free of change
  • Entrance to Olveston by guided tour only, fees apply

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Olveston Historic Home in Dunedin, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
Olveston house @Olveston Historic Home

Tannock Glen Garden

Dunedin offers rhododendrons ideal growing conditions creating one of New Zealand’s glorious spring displays of mature flowering tree plants.

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Tannock Glen, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand @Dunedin Gardens
Tannock Glen, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand @Dunedin Gardens

Lan Yuan Garden

Dunedin is home to a classic Chinese scholars garden, Lan Yuan. A fascinating glimpse into Asian garden fung shui principles. Imagine a garden built in China, dismantled, shipped to NZ and reconstructed on a small urban site in Dunedin.

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Lan Yuan Garden, The Dunedin Chinese Garden design, Dunedin historic precinct, Otago, New Zealand
@Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden
@Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden

Lady Thorn Rhododendron Garden

Discover a quiet treat overlooking the busy Port Chalmers harbour. A converted quarry is now an outstanding garden retreat filled with cool climate plants. Planning a day trip to explore Port Chalmers your bucket list will feature Lady Thorn Rhododrendon Garden.

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Fresh summer growth in the Lady Thorn Rhododendron dell, free public garden, with rock face in Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
Port Chalmers Town Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

WALKS – walking tours of historic Dunedin

Architecture in all its stately glory, solid stone buildings reflecting the glory days of Dunedin’s gold mining heritage

Downtown Architectural Heritage Walk

This is an excellent place to start your exploration of historic Dunedin.


Look out for Dunedin’s street art. For self-guided tours,  check out our travel pack information for details.


Tunnel Beach is a great photo moment.  Access is via a relatively steep path that leads to a rugged beach framed by soaring cliffs.  You get a sense of desolation and wild beauty that characterises much of the Southern beaches. You will pass through a hand cut tunnel. The story behind the tunnel starts on a good note, three girls wanted to swim regularly at the beach, their father John Cargill commissioned the tunnel. According to legend one of the daughters later drowned. The drowning is conjecture and unproven. The tunnel was opened to the public in 1983. Look for the hand cut tools on the sides.  If you visit only one beach for insta moments Tunnel Beach is a recommended choice.

Cliff formations at Tunnel Beach, Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand
Cliff formations at Tunnel Beach, Dunedin, Otago
Sandfly Bay, New Zealand
Sandfly Bay


With prominent sand dunes, windswept shores and beautiful coastal vistas, Sandfly Bay is one of the beautiful places on the Otago Peninsula. A great insta moment, photo moments galore on the beach. The name reflects the beaches tendency to be very windy.  Wind tossed hair is almost guaranteed.

A walk around the beach tracks Sandfly Bay Track will give you an opportunity to observe yellow-eyed penguins and sea lions making the most of their coastal habitats. Remember to keep at least twenty metres from their habitat.


Isolated, pure white sand in contrast to dramatic imposing cliffs plus a saltmarsh walk across a landscape where imagination is all you want it to be. Must visit locations for photo enthusiasts and lovers of nature at its most raw. Aramoana means pathway to the sea, and expect to meet some local residents, sea lions. Remember to keep your distance of at least 20 metres and do not get between a sea lion’s view of the sea.

Gorse, Otago Harbour entrance, Dunedin, Otago, South Island, New Zealand. The sand dune and the Aramoana mole located at the mouth of the Otago Harbor. This area is a protected Wildlife Sanctuary.
Gorse, Otago Harbour entrance, Dunedin, Otago, South Island, New Zealand. The sand dune and the Aramoana mole located at the mouth of the Otago Harbor

The Pyramids at Victory Beach

The area is known as Okia Flats with over 3km of  coastline. Victory Beach is the longest on the Otago Peninsula. Photo moments of expansive ocean views with a backdrop of natural grasslands surrounding the relatively sheltered beach. The track is a well-maintained track, with access from Victory Beach’s car park. Remember to check out a geological sight known as The Pyramids – a series of basalt volcanic columns that were named for their incredibly symmetrical shape. From The Pyramids you can continue up the surrounding dunes to soak in the panoramic views and watch basking far seals.

At the northern end of Victory beach is the yellow-eyed penguin trust regeneration site Okia that needs visitors to be observant of the wildlife in the vicinity.


Allans Beach Track. A walk around Allans Beach’s wild coastlines is another opportunity to spot the Otago Peninsula’s resident penguins and sea lions among other beach-loving native animals. A short five-minute stroll from the car park will take you across Allans Beach track – it’s not uncommon to find yourself facing the resident wildlife as you venture onto the tracks. Keep at least 20 metres from all wildlife.




Dunedin is home to two craft beers, Speight’s Ale known as “the pride of the south” and Emerson’s microbrewery. It is possible to tour the Speight’s brewery, so join the ninety minute tour that tracks the timeline of Speight’s ale from 1876 to the mammoth copper vessels of today’s brew house, before finishing with a complimentary ale.


Apart from castles, parks and street art there is plenty to amuse kids and great things to do.

  • Private museum of natural history, Royal Dunedin Museum is quirky and fascinating for older kids and teenagers. The historic city villa is home to skulls, bones, biological oddities, ethnological art and unusual cultural artefacts. The Museum stocks a small collection of books and t-shirts as well as art and sculptures for sale.
  • The Otago Museum has its very own rat King lurking in the Animal Attic (Victorian era museum glory). The crowning jewel for kids is the newly opened science discovery centre Tuhura holds hours of entertainment. The area has a multi-level tropical forest frequentated by fluttering butterflies. A perfect foil on a chilly day with its warm humid temperature controlled climate. Toitū Otago Settlers Museum is part of the 6 Dunedin heritage places to visit with kids.
  • Booklovers head for the University of Otago bookshop and with kids in tow you’ve got the Childrens The Children’s Room & Book Shop  tucked in back of the premises. Retail book therapy just got a lot easier.
Middlemarch, New Zealand
  • Take the kids for a day trip to Middlemarch and find a salt lake, extraordinary rock landscapes, gold mining history and ice creams in sleepy rural towns. For further details check out Dunedin day trip to Middlemarch.
  • Kids Corner at DFAC, The Dunedin Fine Art Center is proud to offer the unique and exciting combination of art and educational experiences just for children and teens. Here, children and teens alike can explore their artistic abilities in a variety of ways. Visit David L. Mason Children’s Museum.
  • Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world. Can the kids beat the parents up to the top? The gift shop at the bottom of the street is where you can acquire the newest fridge magnet.


  • Marlow Park in St Kilda has been an iconic destination for generations and the colourful dinosaurs are fun. St Clair is home to the St Clair Salt Water Pool, open to the elements and for the summer season from October.
  • Andersons Bay Inlet is home to Bayfield Park playground with its glorious views is a great location for a summer impromptu picnic. The up to date playground has a rocktopus, climbing frames, tunnels, monkey bars, spiderweb net, see-saws, and swings with spacious open grassy spaces to jump, hop and skip between equipment.
Saint Kilda beach in Dunedin, New Zealand
Saint Kilda beach in Dunedin




@Otago Farmers Market
@Otago Farmers Market

Annual ID Fashion Week when the country’s fashionistas line the sides of the long railway catwalk.

Otago Farmers Market is every Saturday morning. It is located next to the historic railway station. On average there are over 76 stalls.


Check out Central Otago travel guide for summer festival favourites – Alexandra Blossom Festival.


  • Day road trip to Port Chalmers (OR) use public transport (bus). Port Chalmers is primarily known as a cruise ship port. Yet Port Chalmers is a port settlement that is a charming mix of heritage attractions, cafés and galleries. “The harbourside setting, intriguing galleries and relaxing eateries are all within easy walking distance of each other. For six months of the year, from October to mid-April, Port Chalmers is a busy cruise port, with ships arriving early in the morning and departing early evening. Several early Antarctic expeditions left from Port Chalmers, and up on the hill above the township is a memorial to Captain Scott, whose 1901 and 1910 expeditions departed from here. This is also a great vantage point to see the harbour and the workings of the port on a busy day.
Iona Church, Port Chalmers, Otago, Dunedin, New Zealand
Iona Church, Port Chalmers, Otago
Otago Peninsula, New Zealand
Otago Peninsula




The Catlins, Katiki Point

About an hour’s drive north of Dunedin is Katiki Point, a spectacular headland known for its wildlife viewing. It takes about 10 minutes to walk from the parking lot along the rugged coastline.

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Katiki Point Lighthouse, New Zealand
Little Blue Penguin, Katiki Point, Moeraki Peninsula, North Otago, New Zealand..


The iconic instagram stars are the Moeraki Boulders. From the car park, a short walk leads you directly to the beach, where you can admire the famous spherical rocks. The boulders are magnificent however over tourism could mar your personal moment on the beach.

This area is a tourist hot spot, especially with the large coach tours resulting in surges of people on the beach.

Railway Enthusiasts must do journey

Taieri Gorge Heritage Railway

For heritage train lovers the Taieri Gorge rail journey is a must. Book for your trip to ensure you have a place on this popular day trip from Dunedin. The train traverses winding gorges, ten tunnels and Wingatui Viaduct, the second largest wrought iron structure in operation.

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Landscape in Taieri River Gorge, New Zealand

Journey to the seaside

“Departing from the magnificent Dunedin Railway Station, the Seasider travels along the edge of the picturesque Otago Harbour, before climbing the gentle slopes above Port Chalmers, a pretty port-side town. At the top of the hill, the train emerges to look over the dazzling Blueskin Bay, revealing breathtaking views over bays, inlets and beaches”.

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Dunedin railway station interior staircase, Dunedin, New Zealand
The downtown of Port Chalmers, the suburb of Dunedin city (New Zealand).


The central city is very walkable with most attractions within 2 -3 kms of the Otagon. The city is very hilly providing visitors with a workout.

The public Dunedin buses – Public Transport is a student favourite. There is a handy PDF map of the timetable on the website together with the latest fares.

Cycling in Dunedin is for the fit with many steep streets and crisp autumn / winter season a deterrent to cycling. For visitors wishing to cycle the Otago Rail Trail there are a number of bike hire tour operators available in the small towns dotting the trail.

  • You have arrived on a cruise ship, either your cruise trip manager will arrange guided tours or you can independently manage this process. For an independent day trip, including pick up from your cruise ship, check out your choices before deciding what to see.
  • The historic precinct is compact and walkable. This includes The Octagon, notable buildings such as The Courthouse, Merchant Buildings, historic Post Office building, original Railway Station, University buildings and the Cathedral.
Albert Hall, a monumental late Victorian style public building in Launceston, Dunedin, New Zealand
Albert Hall


Dunedin Airport is over 28km from the city centre.

For visitors there are two choices, a shuttle bus service which is very reasonably priced however you will need to be patient as passengers are dropped off at various locations or a personalised more expensive taxi service.

The rental car companies have depots at the airport.


The central city is very walkable with most attractions within 2 -3 kms of the Otagon. The city is very hilly providing visitors with a workout.

The public Dunedin buses – Public Transport is a student favourite. There is a handy PDF map of the timetable on the website together with the latest fares.

Cycling in Dunedin is for the fit with many steep streets and crisp autumn / winter season a deterrent to cycling. For visitors wishing to cycle the Otago Rail Trail there are a number of bike hire tour operators available in the small towns dotting the trail.

There is no public train service in Dunedin.

Visitors generally arrive in Dunedin by air or road.

@Otago Regional Council
@Otago Regional Council


Robert Burns statue, Dunedin Town Hall and St. Paul's Cathedral
Robert Burns statue, Dunedin Town Hall and St. Paul's Cathedral

Year round.

  • Winter is chilly, spend time indoors in the numerous museums and cafes or simply indulge in brisk
  • Summer is the time to enjoy the outdoors, the Otago Peninsula and the nearby natural attractions of Central Otago.
  • Spring is magnificent with gardens in full bloom
  • Autumn is a glorious blaze of leaf gold and bronze

Dunedin Weather Forecast and Observations

What to see and do in Dunedin

Dunedin spoils the visitor with plenty of things to do. The city attractions are based around heritage, wildlife & the outdoors and culture, a combination encouraging visitors to return.


There is plenty of attractions and things to do beyond Dunedin with Central Otago offering visitors a chance to experience quintessential glimpses of heritage small towns that sprung up in the 19th century gold rush heyday. Cromwell is home to award winning pinot noir vineyards that tempt visitors to linger in wineries and indulge in courtyard lunch. The sheer beauty of the area has attracted artists and crafty people with art studio trails a visitor attraction.

Dunedin Cromwell 220.3 km
Dunedin Naseby 143 km
Dunedin Clyde 197.9 km
Dunedin Ranfurly 131.5 km
Dunedin St Bathans 168.9 km
Dunedin Roxburgh 149.5 km

Central Otago is a holiday destination away from the tourist hub of Queenstown and the busy regional capital of Otago, Dunedin. The wide open blue skies beckon the adventurer to explore side roads of Central Otago and find out why film directors fall in love with the extraordinary landscape.

And consider linking your Central Otago road trips with The Catlins, Southern Scenic Road Trip: Wildlife Safari Road Trip, The Catlins – Best Bits and Southern Scenic Road Trip: Invercargill to Fiordland National Park – Best Bits.


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