A small city with big character, Dunedin is where you can discover street art, heritage architecture and penguins - all in one day. This city of contrasts is blessed with New Zealand's largest collection of Edwardian buildings, a passion for excellent food and buckets of Kiwi ingenuity that's highlighted in galleries, designer boutiques and museums. Dunedin is also close to the natural wonderland of Otago Peninsula, which is home to colonies of fur seals, albatrosses, little blue penguins and rare yellow-eyed penguins. And if you love walking, there are close to 50 coastal, valley and hill trails to explore.
High on Otago Peninsula is Larnach Castle, a Gothic Revival residence built in the 1870s. It's a true castle, complete with ghosts.
Where to go and what to see in Dunedin
A beautiful neo-gothic city by the sea, Dunedin's quirky urban centre is a mixture of grand old buildings, intriguing shops and bustling eateries, with vibrant street art around almost every corner. To add nature to the mix, extending out from the city centre is the picturesque Otago Peninsula, home to some of New Zealand's most treasured wildlife.
Where the wild things are
Extraordinary rare marine mammals and seabirds live close to downtown Dunedin, including royal albatrosses, yellow-eyed penguins, little blue penguins, New Zealand fur seals and sea lions.
The best place to see these amazing creatures is at the end of Otago Peninsula, a wonderland of coastal scenery and wildlife habitats. The road along the peninsula is punctuated by pretty bays, historic villages, farmland, wild surf beaches and sea cliffs.
Right at the tip of Otago Peninsula is the Royal Albatross Centre, where you can visit the world's only mainland breeding colony of royal albatross. Nearby is the Penguin Place, a private conservation reserve for yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho). You can also see little blue penguins, fur seals and sea lions with a local tour operator, such as Elm Wildlife Tours or Monarch Cruises, who will know the best locations for sightseeing.
In the hills just north of the city, the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary sits high on a forest-clad hill overlooking Blueskin Bay. A wonderful nature attraction, this sanctuary is home to many native bird and lizard species, which you can encounter by following a network of walking trails through the native forest. A visit to the sanctuary can be combined with exploration of spectacular northern beaches and inlets, such as Long Beach, Purakanui and Doctors Point.
Phenomenal historic architecture
Many of Dunedin's most impressive buildings were built in the gold rush days, when cost was no object. As a result, the city has the best collection of ornate Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the southern hemisphere.
Perhaps the most iconic of these is the Dunedin Railway Station, an outrageously beautiful example of classical and neo-gothic architectural styles. The combination of dark basalt and white limestone make it look like the world's biggest gingerbread house.
In the inner city, many of the heritage buildings have taken on a new lease of life. Make sure you discover the Warehouse Precinct, which features an eclectic array of eateries, shops, businesses and street art pieces that complement the area's unique historic character.
High on Otago Peninsula is Larnach Castle, a gothic revival residence (complete with its very own ghosts) that's often called the only true castle in New Zealand. A fascinating glimpse into the Victorian past, the castle and gardens are an impressive sight for even the most experienced heritage connoisseur.
Another stately home to visit is Olveston, a veritable treasure trove of antiques and curios from all over the globe. This home showcases a slice of the Downton Abbey lifestyle once enjoyed by the upper classes.
Dunedin's cuisine scene
Dunedin is a city of passionate foodies with a flair for the creative use of locally-sourced ingredients. Tucked away in elegant historic buildings or hidden within the twists and turns of inner city streets, there are culinary adventures of all kinds to discover - from the cheap and cheerful through to the supremely sophisticated.
Great little bars and craft breweries are also easy to find in Dunedin, each with its own distinct character reflecting the city's intriguing, humour-driven personality. For an immersive beverage experience, be sure to visit Emerson's Brewery where there's always a choice of at least eight beers on tap. To make sense of all the flavours, do a brewery tour first. Bar snacks, sharing plates and a brunch & lunch menu will make sure your beer intake is balanced with tasty food.
Every Saturday morning, the Otago Farmers Market at the Dunedin Railway Station shows off the best of the region's produce and artisan foods. Considered one of the best in Australasia, and well-patronised by locals, this market is a great place to sample everything from exquisite chocolate and sweet treats through to artisan breads, dips, fresh meat and produce. Stop by for breakfast on the go before heading off on a city adventure.
Refreshing outdoor adventures
A quick bus or bike ride from the Dunedin's city centre is St Clair Beach, a gorgeous stretch of white sand with one of the most reliable surf breaks in the country. You can swim here in summer or get wet the relaxing way at the hot saltwater pools. There are more than 30 beaches within 30 minutes' drive of the city centre - everything from popular through to peaceful.
Dunedin's long, sheltered harbour is another great place for water fun. Paddle boards, kayaks and windsurfers are available for hire; lessons can be easily arranged too.
Be sure to pack your walking shoes for your trip to Dunedin, because there are some blockbuster walks in the region. Tunnel Beach is one of the best, offering spectacular views and a hint of intrigue as you descend into a hand-hewn tunnel cut into the headland. Another favourite is the Mount Cargill track behind the city, which delivers huge views of the hills, city and harbour. There's also a skyline walking route known as the Pineapple Track - you'll need half a day for this adventure, but it will be totally worth it.
For biking enthusiasts, there's no shortage of exciting downhill terrain or more sedate cycle routes to choose from. The Otago Central Rail Trail kicks off in nearby Middlemarch and makes a wonderful day trip or multi-day excursion.
Best time to go
If you're keen to appreciate Dunedin's heritage architecture and vibrant cultural scene any season is good. However, if albatross encounters are high on your list of things to do, December to March is when the parent birds are raising chicks. .
How much will it cost?
This will depend on your tastes and what you want to do. As a rough guide, not including air travel and hotels, you should allow about NZD $100 to $150 a day per person for food and entertainment.
There are no mandatory vaccinations required for visitors to New Zealand.