It would be easy to overlook Dunedin, but visitors willing to spend a few days exploring will find a charming city rich in both urban and natural attractions.
Unlike the rest of New Zealand, where beauty is spectacularly present in almost every scene, Dunedin’s beauty is in its layers. Along with its stunning peninsula, its architecture, its beaches, its hidden walking trails and beautiful gardens, this university town has a vibrancy and a relaxed atmosphere that make it a pleasure to visit.
The secluded bays, emerald hills and magnificent sand dunes of the Otago Peninsula make it one of the most beautiful spots on New Zealand’s coast, but it is the area’s abundant wildlife, including Blue and Yellow-Eyed penguins, albatross, elephant seals and sea lions, that really draw the visitors.
Start with a wildlife tour so you get taken to the best spots and learn about the birds and animals as you view them; try the Sunrise Penguin Walk with Nature Guides Otago for a memorable experience with an expert nature guide. After seeing the area’s wildlife hire a car and explore on your own, making sure to bump down the dirt tracks and narrow lanes that lead to some of the region’s prettiest beaches.
Parks and Walking Trails in Dunedin
Surrounding the city are many beautiful gardens and parklands that offer ample opportunities for hiking and other outdoor activities. Many walking trails wind through the forested ‘Town Belt’ that runs along the top of the hills above central Dunedin, and these are fun to explore on their own as well as providing access to the pretty suburbs beyond. Walk up any of the steep hills that rise up west of the city center to find a trail.
Woodhaugh Gardens, at the northern end of the belt, is absolutely magical, its pretty lawns and garden beds surrounding a verdant, fairy-tale forest that houses the city’s loveliest walking trails. The Botanic Garden in North Dunedin is also beautiful and offers a panoramic view of the city and surrounding hills from its upper reaches.
University of Otago is The Oldest University in New Zealand
The nation’s first university is also its most beautiful, set on spacious grounds adjoining the Botanic Gardens. Wandering through the dark bluestone buildings it would be easy to think you were in old Europe rather than in one of the world’s youngest countries, and this makes it a lovely diversion from other sightseeing activities.
Go outside of class time for a contemplative experience or during the day to absorb the hustle and bustle of student life. Whatever time you go be sure to spare a few minutes to relax on the lawn by the creek, which, sitting under the eye of the clocktower building, is surely one of Dunedin’s nicest spots.
Anyone interested in the natural or cultural history of New Zealand and the South Pacific shouldn’t miss the Otago Museum, which could easily consume a day. If you’re traveling with children then go straight to the Discovery World Tropical Forest, where you can mingle with colorful butterflies and watch as tiny local birds scurry around the ‘forest’ floor.
Dunedin Architecture and Historic Buildings
Being among the first places in New Zealand to be settled by the Europeans, Dunedin has more than its fair share of grand buildings. The best of these include the First Church on Moray Place, which is possibly the most striking structure in the city, and, on the Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle, a 19th century manor house with lovely gardens that is one of the city’s top tourist attractions. For those who don’t mind hills, a walk through the inner suburbs will take you to some of the country’s most beautiful Victorian mansions.