Exploring Dunedin in all Seasons

Douglas Paul
Jun 21, 2020

If you’re flying to the South Island, Queenstown isn’t the only excellent starting point for your winter holiday. Dunedin boasts plenty of areas to explore both inside and around the small city, although two or three days will let you cover the very best of the beaches, walks, and drives (and a fair few cups of Dunedin’s deservedly famous coffee). Sure it can be cold at this time of the year, but if you dress like a local and head outdoors you won’t be disappointed.

Plus, the three-hour drive between Dunedin and Wanaka or Queenstown is scenic and a worthwhile short road trip in itself – more on that and Otago Peninsula on a later date. Now for a few of our absolute Dunedin favourites.

Otago University and city walk

If you’re unfamiliar with Dunedin, you’ve got to start your exploration with a city walk or cycle. In the early days of European colonisation, Dunedin was actually the most developed place in New Zealand, which is reflected in many of the city’s stunning churches and other early buildings.

For your walk, you could begin at one of the cafes on Vogel Street, then walk north east to the railway station where there’s a great farmers market on Saturday morning. Venture up Stuart Street to the Octagon, then north along George Street to Albany Street and continue left until you reach Otago University. The university’s wonderful early buildings, plus a lovely modernist one, are next to the Leith River.

Other Dunedin city must-sees are the museums, botanical gardens, and Baldwin Street, the steepest road in the world.

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St Clair and St Kilda

One of Dunedin’s most outstanding features is its beaches. The two closest beaches, St Kilda and St Clair, offer white sand, swimming (at least in summer) and surfing (year-round for the sufficiently crazy). They’re also right next to the city.

At the St Clair end there are several cafes and a salt water outdoor pool, while the St Kilda end is a bit wilder and has a great lookout point at the north of the beach. Even in winter on a wild day, it’s worth a visit!

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Tunnel Beach

Stepping foot in Dunedin? Then Tunnel Beach is a simply must do. You’ll find it to the south of the city towards Brighton – another gorgeous surf beach. It’s a steep walk down to the cliffs above Tunnel Beach and the large natural arch. The tunnel itself was built by local landowner James Cargill in the 1870s to allow his daughters to reach the beach below the cliffs. Even when it’s wet and slippery, it’s worthwhile to see the waterfalls that cascade off the cliffs.

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Port Chalmers

Port Chalmers is a town about 20 kilometres from central Dunedin, on the way to the Orokonui Bird Sanctuary, the Organ Pipes, and Mt Cargill. While you might be tempted to race through, Port Chalmers is well worth a stop. There are good cafes and a couple of great viewpoints that overlook the town and port. Like many other towns in the South Island, it has benefitted from being relatively important in the 1800s, with a number of substantial buildings from that period surviving to give the town a sense of history.

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The Organ Pipes and Mount Cargill

The Organ Pipes is an interesting rock formation on the walkway that leads to the top of Mt Cargill. You can walk up Mt Cargill all the way from near sea level from a few different access points, but if you’d just like to see the pipes, start about half way up on Mt Cargill Road (from here it’s about thirty of forty minutes of walking to reach the Organ Pipes).

When you find the Organ Pipes you’ll initially see what looks like a steep pile of rubble – these are sections of the pipes that have eroded and collapsed over time. Don’t worry, it’s stable and a few minutes of scrambling will get you to the top where the pipes are still intact.

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Blueskin Road to Orokonui Ecosanctuary

Another must do in Dunedin is to drive up Blueskin Road from Port Chalmers to Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Blueskin Road has fabulous views over Port Chalmers, the harbour and Otago Peninsula, so it’s worth stopping on the way to take a look around. From here you can access a number of stunning and remote beaches, including Long Beach, Doctors Point and Purakaunui Bay.

At the Ecosanctuary there’s a lovely visitor centre and cafe with great views to the west. The bush walks at the sanctuary are superb and there are plenty of native birds to see, including kaka and takahe. While there are only several hundred takahe left in the world, these have little fear of people and will let you get up close.

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Portobello and Highcliff Roads

The Otago Peninsula really deserves more than a day or so, as there are plenty of great hiking trails and wild beaches. But if you don’t have the time, take a drive along Portobello Road to Portobello, then return to Dunedin via Highcliff Road. Both roads are stunning in their own right, but Highcliff Road has the advantage of spectacular views, with potential for stops at Harbour Cone, Larnach Castle and the Otago Peninsula Soldiers’ Memorial.

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Want more South Island trip ideas?

Check out our recent posts about Stewart IslandThe CatlinsCentral Otago and Wanaka!

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