Best way to spend a day in Dunedin

Dropping anchor in Dunedin? Chris Pritchard has a few tips of things to do in Dunedin.

Cabin by the bay
  • Jetstar
  • May 2018

Sunrise

Start your day as king of the castle and climb a stone stairway to a turret with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the rolling green fields of the Otago Peninsula. The only building of its kind in New Zealand, Larnach Castle was built 145 years ago by a gold-rush merchant homesick for the grand landmarks of his Scottish homeland. You can stay here too, with accommodation ranging from budget (in restored stables) to luxurious (in opulently furnished surrounds). Only 15 minutes’ drive from Dunedin, the grand estate is a fitting way to begin a tour of the city known affectionately as “the most Scottish city outside Scotland”.

Karitane seaside settlement
Karitane Coastline, Otago, New Zealand

People-Watching, Coffee and Culture

Many cities boast central squares. Dunedin goes one better: The Octagon, an eight-sided expanse dominated by St Paul’s Cathedral and a statue of Scottish poet Robert Burns. People-watch from alfresco tables at hotspot Nova, renowned for the best coffee and pastries in town. Don’t miss the handmade white-chocolate-and-pistachio-filled doughnuts.

Nearby is the Dunedin Public Art Gallery: head for the rooms showcasing leading contemporary New Zealand artists before exploring colonial-era art. A nook is devoted to celebrated Dunedin-born painter Frances Hodgkins (who did most of her work while living in England).

From there, take a seven-minute walk to Otago Museum, with the world’s southernmost planetarium, a real forest, and a gallery focused on Maori customs with an elaborately carved entranceway as a showpiece.

Before lunch, squeeze in Dunedin’s famous Baldwin Street – the world’s steepest residential street. Deceptively easy-looking to walk, it lures visitors to huff and puff along its 350-metre length. Some cheat, driving to the summit to pose for 'breathless' selfies.

Garden in front of the historic Dunedin Railway station
Dunedin Railway Station

Lunch

The Good Oil is arguably Dunedin’s hippest lunch destination. Despite an expansion next door, the tiny, casual, city-centre eatery still has few empty tables. The risotto with prawns and crème fraîche is a signature dish. Service, cheerily casual, is fast.

Wild Life

Dunedin anchors New Zealand’s wildlife strip. Tours include the Royal Albatross Centre (Dunedin’s number-one attraction, with the world’s only inhabited breeding location of these seabirds with a three-metre wingspan), walks on Sandfly Bay’s beach among basking sea lions, visits to New Zealand fur seal colonies and trips to a habitat of rare yellow-eyed penguins. Elm Wildlife Tours incorporates many of these highlights.

If the weather is balmy, take a hike. Dunedin and the adjoining Otago Peninsula are blessed with options. Arguably the best: the two-hour, five-kilometre Pineapple Track passes through tussock-studded countryside with skyline, harbour and sheep-studded farmland spread below. It runs from a car park off Flagstaff-Whare Flat Road to a Booth Road bus stop.

Cooked green lipped mussels
New Zealand Green-lipped mussels

Dinner

Local foodies insist Plato, occupying a former seafarers’ hostel, is among Dunedin’s supreme eateries – highlighting New Zealand’s celebrated seafood, including green-lipped mussels, squid and paua (abalone).

Don’t fancy fish or seafood? Plato also showcases New Zealand’s famed lamb, beef and pork, and also boasts an on-site microbrewery.

Don't miss a beat

Albar, in a one-time butcher’s shop, is renowned for craft beers and single-malt whiskies and another immersion in Scottish heritage. Yes, you’ve enjoyed dinner but there’s room for a house-speciality bar snack: deep-fried haggis balls. A Celtic band plays on Tuesday evenings, with homage to Dunedin’s vibrant live music scene on other nights.