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25 BEST Things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand (2024 Guide!)

25 BEST Things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand (2024 Guide!)

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Dunedin, New Zealand is an underrated destination on the South Island, in my opinion. Sure, it doesn’t have the mountain scenery of Queenstown or the big city vibes like Christchurch, but as you’ll read in this blog post, Dunedin has plenty of other charms! I happen to love an underdog, and after road-tripping all over the South Island, Dunedin is one of my favorite cities in New Zealand.

And besides that, there are plenty of fun things to do in Dunedin! It’s easy to spend a week or two here and still not see or do everything Dunedin has to offer.

First of all, Dunedin calls itself the “wildlife capital of New Zealand” because you can see fur seals, dolphins, and even whales a short driving distance from the CBD/downtown.

In Dunedin CBD, you can go on a brewery tour, climb the steepest street in the world, and taste some excellent coffee. Further afield, some of the best beaches in New Zealand are right here in Dunedin – head to St Clair Beach for excellent surfing and Sandfly Bay for gorgeous scenery and the chance to see fur seals!

In this blog post, I list 25 of the very best things to do in Dunedin including other important tips for visiting, so you can enjoy it as much as I do!

Don’t have time to read the full article? Check out my absolute favorite things to do in Dunedin!

  1. Go on a nature cruise to see some incredible New Zealand wildlife!
  2. Explore the city and see the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street.
  3. Take a tour of the Otago Peninsula to see the Royal Albatross and Blue Penguins.
  4. Visit the Nugget Point Lighthouse and be sure to snap a pic!
  5. Tour the Larnach Castle and Gardens– it’s so beautiful!

Things to do in Dunedin, New Zealand

1. Visit the Royal Albatross Centre to see Blue Penguins

Albatross soaring through the sky
Look at it soar!

Just under a 40-minute drive from Dunedin CBD is the Royal Albatross Centre. Here you have the chance to see in person the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross in the world. These birds are huge – they have a 3-meter (almost 10-foot) wingspan! See them up close from the Royal Box observatory and learn about their breeding habits.

The only way to see the Royal Albatross is on a 60-minute guided tour which is incredibly informative and gives you access to the viewing observatory to see the nesting birds. It’s as close as one can get!

The Royal Albatross are not the only birds you can see at the center. If you time your visit right, you may see the native tiny Blue Penguin returning from the sea onto the beach at sunset.

One of the best ways to experience this area is by taking a half-day tour with Blue Penguins Pukekura, which is a wildlife refuge! Departing from Dunedin, this tour was designed by a former wildlife ranger, so you will get a unique and in-depth perspective everywhere you go. You’ll explore the Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head to see the 10,000 seabirds that call this area home- including albatross and penguins!

If you’re keen on learning about the incredible birdlife and geology of the area, this 5-hour tour will be right up your alley! You can book it in advance for $135 NZD.

2. Surf at St Clair Beach

Surfer wearing wetsuit with surfboard watching ocean waves at St Clair Beach
A surfer going to catch the perfect wave at St Clair Beach

One of my favorite neighborhoods in Dunedin is the seaside suburb of St Clair. Several restaurants and great cafes are located here, including The Esplanade for fantastic Italian food. The beach here is also one of the best in the area.

In the evening and particularly just before sunset, you can see the New Zealand Fur Seal lazing on the beach. And of course, St Clair Beach is one of the most popular places to surf in New Zealand. It reminds me of a “New Zealand Bondi” (the famous beach in Sydney, Australia).

In fact, St Clair Beach is rated in the NZ surf world as having New Zealand’s most consistent surf break. You can rent surfboards on the esplanade, just above the beach, and even avail of some surfing lessons from a pro during the summer. Esplanade Surf School comes highly recommended and caters to everyone from beginners to advanced surfers. They have some of the best surfers in the area as their guides.

The water temperature at St Clair averages 13 degrees Celsius (55 degrees Fahrenheit), so be sure to have a decent wetsuit. What’s also super cool is that you may even find yourself surfing the waves with Fur Seals or Dolphins – both are abundant in these waters.

To ease the chill of the cold seawater, then be sure to visit the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool at the end of the beach. It was built way back in 1884 and is one of the only heated seawater pools in the country!

Related Read: One of the other best places to surf in NZ is in the small town of Raglan on the North Island!

3. Wildlife cruise

A dolphin in the waters of New Zealand's South Island
Dolphins are spectacular animals!

Dunedin calls itself the wildlife capital of New Zealand because its waters are home to fur seals, dolphins, and even sea lions. There are also loads of sea birds native to the area including albatross and shags. So naturally, going on a wildlife cruise from Dunedin is a must!

One cruise I recommend in particular is this two-hour boat tour, where you can expect to see all of the above. The captain will take you close to the sea birds’ nesting and feeding areas as well as around Taiaroa Head to see Fur Seals lazing on the rocks. If the weather allows, you will be taken further out to sea to try to spot Dolphins and Sea Lions.

On the journey out to see the wildlife, you will also pass by the huge ships in Port Chalmers as well as an old quarantine station also known as ‘Quarantine Island’. It once housed infectious passengers arriving in Otago by boat and is an interesting bit of history to see on an already exciting wildlife cruise.

Prices for this particular tour start from $160 NZD per person. It departs from Port Chalmers or Portobello and should be booked in advance to secure your spot.

If you’re short on time, there is a one-hour cruise that is a little more budget-friendly! It departs from Wellers Rock Wharf, which is only a 5-minute drive from the Royal Albatross Centre. You’ll cruise around Taiaroa Head, spotting all sorts of wildlife and learning from the captain’s commentary. This hour-long cruise is only $63 NZD and can be booked in advance here!

4. Drive or walk up Signal Hill

Dunedin at sunset, from the Signal Hill lookout
Dunedin at sunset, from the Signal Hill lookout.

The walk up to Signal Hill is one of the most popular walks in Dunedin. That’s because the view from the top is easily the best in all of Dunedin, boasting 360-degree views of Dunedin CBD and harbor. 

The walk is 10.8 kilometers (6.7 miles) long and mostly takes you through several Dunedin neighborhoods. The track begins from the front gate of Dunedin Botanic Gardens and up Opoho Road before eventually continuing onto Signal Hill Road. Towards the end especially, it’s a bit of a workout for your legs, and this track has an overall elevation gain of 300 meters (984 feet).

The climb is worth it, because, as I said, the views are spectacular – especially on a clear day! Beware though, because of its exposed position, it can get very windy up here. Interestingly, many local tour guides either start or end their tour of Dunedin here because you will get to see all you will do in this great city or all you’ve done and reflect on your time there.

You can drive to the viewpoint and it will take you 11 minutes from downtown Dunedin. This is a good option for those who aren’t keen on the long walk!

5. Drink delicious craft beer

Outside of Arc Brewing Co in Dunedin
Arc Brewing even has live music! Photo credit: Arc Brewing Co

If you’re a craft beer fan, then Dunedin is the city for you! For a relatively small city, it has no less than six breweries, the most popular and largest being Emerson’s and Speight’s. In fact, Speights is one of the most popular beers sold in New Zealand and one of the best things to do in Dunedin is to book a short tour of the Speights brewery

The tour is 1 hour 15 minutes and gives a great insight into how this famous beer is made, and of course, you’ll get the opportunity to taste their beers at the end. Small groups mean you can ask all the questions you want! If you’re a beer enthusiast like me, you’ll get a lot out of this tour. Book it in advance here!

I love visiting smaller, lesser-known breweries, and Arc Brewing is just that. It’s a small family-run brewery in Blueskin Bay that focuses on making small-batch handcrafted beers like their NZ Pilsener. During the weekends in the summer months, they host a food truck in their large outdoor area. There’s music, beers, and lots of fun!

Another must-visit brewery in Dunedin is the recently opened Noisy Brewing Co. in Kenmure. Their beers are popular in many of Dunedin’s bars and restaurants as well as supermarkets across the country. I personally love their Blueberry White Stout!

Drinking craft beer is certainly one of the best things to do in Dunedin, at least in my book!

6. Explore Tunnel Beach

Tunnel Beach in Dunedin, New Zealand
Tunnel Beach in Dunedin!

One of Dunedin’s most popular and photographed beaches is Tunnel Beach. It’s just 11 minutes from Dunedin CBD and is famous for its photogenic sandstone cliffs and sea caves that were carved by the sea over thousands of years.

There’s also a lovely 2-kilometer (1.2-mile) walking track here that takes you to a rock tunnel. On the way, you have a chance to see the bones of an extinct whale species! The track starts from the car park on Tunnel Beach Road and should take you an hour to complete, that’s not including time spent on the beach! 

The rock tunnel is how the beach got its name – this tunnel was carved by hand in the 1870s giving access to the gorgeous beach on the other side. The tunnel has several steps inside, which can get very slippery, so be careful. The beach on the other side is sheltered, and if it wasn’t for the large crowds, it would seem as though you’ve discovered a secret beach. 

I advise visiting at sunrise or sunset to avoid the crowds.

Important info: Try to get here for low tide to see the tunnel at its best! You can check tide times here.

7. Check out Baldwin Street (the steepest street in the world!)

Baldwin Street Dunedin, the steepest street
Can you imagine living on this street?!

Would you believe the world’s steepest street is right here in Dunedin? Yep, according to the Guinness Book of Records, Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world, with a gradient of 34.8%. When you see it in person, you will understand why and you will also ask yourself as I did, “Do the people who live at the top have to walk up it every day!?”.

Controversially, its title was removed temporarily in 2019 and awarded to a winding street named Ffordd Pen Llech in Harlech, Wales. But the Baldwin Street locals appealed it, and its title was returned shortly after.

Take some funny photos here – the trick is to take the photo at an angle at the steepest part of the street (the middle), so the homes behind you look like they are sinking into the ground. Some houses have even placed their mailboxes at the same angle as the street, to make it seem like you are really losing your bearings.

Fun fact: The Baldwin Street Gutbuster was an annual race in which hundreds of runners gathered to run up the world’s steepest street. This event ran from 1988 to 2011.

8. Wander the Botanic Gardens

Blossoms and pathway at Dunedin Botanic Gardens
So many beautiful blooms! Photo credit: Dunedin Botanic Gardens

Dunedin Botanic Gardens is a great place to escape the city and stroll in nature without having to leave the city! The garden mostly displays plants from the Southern Hemisphere, but it also has a stunning rose garden as well as a greenhouse filled with tropical plants and flowers.

One of the most interesting sections is the Native Plant Trail in which 21 native plants (or taonga) are on display. The trail explains how the Ngai Tahu Maori tribe uses each plant. Some plants are food sources, others are used in clothing, and one is even used as a musical instrument.

One of the weirdest plants I’ve ever seen can be viewed in the Winter Garden Glasshouse – the giant corpse plant, or Amorphophallus Titanum, is named so because of the putrid smell it emits. The smell is so bad it has been known to make some visitors faint! Interestingly too, the corpse plant has one of the largest private parts in the gardening world – it can reach up to 3 meters (9.8 feet) in height!

For bird lovers, there’s an Aviary located next to the Upper Garden car park, which houses mainly native birds. The birds tend to sleep in the middle of the day so visit either early in the morning or later in the afternoon to see them active. At Dunedin Botanic Gardens, they also breed native birds to be released in the wild as part of a special program with the Otago Natural History Trust.

You can visit the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, as well as other notable sightseeing locations on this City Highlights tour. It is a full 6 hours, and Dunedin isn’t that big, so you really get to see a lot during this time! You’ll make 9 stops in total, including the botanic gardens, Baldwin Street, the Larnach Castle and Gardens, Dunedin Railway Station, and more. If you’re keen on digging into what makes Dunedin so special, this tour is a great option.

You can book it in advance here for $245 NZD and it includes all admission fees, transportation, and your guide!

9. Visit Orokonui Ecosanctuary

A Kaka bird in Orokonui Ecosanctuary
How beautiful is the Kaka?

Orokonui Ecosanctuary, 20 kilometers (12.4 miles) from Dunedin CBD, is the only cloud forest in New Zealand. It is home to rare and endangered native birds like Kiwi, Kaka, Takaha, and Tuatara. There are no pests here to threaten these unique birds.

There are 9 different walking tracks you can take within the reserve – the most popular being the 1.5-hour Kaka/Bellbird/Kiwi Track, which takes you on an easy path to see Kaka and Bellbirds and, if you’re lucky, the elusive Kiwi (they’re notoriously shy)!

The visitor center is often referred to as a “showpiece of environmental design”. There’s a cafe inside the center that boasts excellent views over the cloud forest and has a varied menu.

The reserve was built by the Otago Natural History Trust, and the idea for the reserve first came from local cartoonist Burton Silver.

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10. Visit the famous Moeraki Boulders

The Moeraki Boulders between Christchurch and Dunedin
Definitely, a unique thing to do in Dunedin

The Moeraki Boulders are one of the most-visited tourist sites in New Zealand. They’re around an hour’s drive from Dunedin on the way towards Christchurch, but well worth the drive as they are quite the sight to see.

Would you believe there are about 50 large spherical boulders scattered along the beach? Some of these boulders are up to 2 meters (6.5 feet) tall! Even more unique, some have cracked open like eggs, others are still intact. One thing is for sure…they’re interesting!

Visiting the boulders only takes an hour or so and the best time to photograph the boulders is at sunrise or sunset. There is a café nearby with parking and access to the beach. They do require a small fee to use the beach access though. If you don’t want to pay, you can also access the boulders via the DOC parking lot nearby.

As far as interesting places to visit on the South Island go, Moeraki Boulders is a clear winner! If you want to stay nearby so you can visit at sunset, the town of Moeraki is the best option, but Hampden is also nearby. Alternatively, just stay in Oamaru – that’s what I do!

Did you know – hundreds of years ago, according to a local Maori tale, these giant boulders were washed up on the beach by the voyaging canoe Araiteru when it was wrecked after hitting land. 

11. Enjoy a scenic train ride through Taieri Gorge

Twin diesel engines Taieri Gorge Railway
You’ll see some pretty lovely views on this ride!

One of the most popular train journeys on the South Island is through the Taieri Gorge. The train route is called “The Inlander” and it goes from Dunedin to Hindon. The train journey is about 1.5 hours each way, 3 hours in total, and goregous views the entire way!

Onboard there’s an open-air carriage for you to take photos of the stunning scenery as the train chugs along. The first leg of the journey will pass through some of Dunedin’s neighborhoods, into the Taieri plains, through the Taieri Gorge, and make its way to Hindon, which is another cute town to check out.

The train departs at 10 am and gets back at 1:30 pm, so you’ll have about an hour to hang out in Hindon. Train tickets are $69 NZD per person and they work well with cruise schedules!

12. Otago Museum

Outside of Otago Museum in Dunedin
Plenty for you to see, do, and learn at the Otago Museum! Photo credit: Otago Museum

The Otago Museum is one of the best free things to do in Dunedin! It has one of the largest collections in New Zealand, with more than 1.5 million items on display, from moa eggs and skeletons to Japanese armor. There are seven different galleries in the museum. One of the most interesting displays is the replica of a Maori village, which gives an interesting insight into how the native tribes in Dunedin once lived.

There’s even a Planetarium and an interactive Science Center that houses a three-tier immersive tropical butterfly experience. This tropical forest in which the butterflies are contained is hot – it really does feel like you’re in a tropical country. It also has a 5-meter (16 foot) waterfall and a sky bridge. 

In fact, this section of the museum (called Tuhura) is the biggest Science Center in the country, and 45 interactive displays in total are on display here. So it’s worth spending a few hours here, especially with kids – they seem to just love the Science Center!

The museum also houses the largest collections of southern Māori taoka (treasured possessions) in the world. There are over 22,000 items in total! With this being a free activity, and is actually an awesome stop, it’s a top thing to do in Dunedin! The Otago Museum is open daily from 10 am to 5 pm.

13. Dunedin Street Art Trail

Street art painted by Mica Still (NZ) which is located in Dunedin
There are a great number of talented artists in the area! Photo credit: gracethang from Depositphotos

Street art is actively encouraged in Dunedin. The Dunedin Street Art Trail begins on Vogel Street and showcases the best local and international street artists. There are over 30 colorful pieces dotted throughout Dunedin CBD, all commissioned by volunteer artists. Honestly, all the pieces are incredibly beautiful and are a great photo opportunity.

Some of my favorite pieces include “Chasing the Thin White Cloud” by Australian artist Fintan Magee, which takes over the side of a three-story building on Rattray Street. “Toothfish” on Wharf Street is a huge black-and-white mural that really catches the eye. There’s even a giant Ed Sheeran painted onto the side of a building just off George Street – it caused quite a stir when artist Tyler Kennedy Stent completed it in 2018, but it still seems to be the main draw card on the street art trail in Dunedin.

The Dunedin Street Art Trail should take a few hours to complete, and it’s a truly unique way to see the city.

14. Go Star Gazing and see the Southern Lights

The coastline along the Otago Peninsula is one of the best places in New Zealand for stargazing. With the right weather conditions, you may be able to see the Southern Lights! As you may know, the best viewing conditions for the Southern Lights are somewhere with no light pollution. Luckily the rural areas surrounding Dunedin are prime for star-spotting.

This four-hour stargazing tour is a great way to experience the magical night sky. The tour brings you to Sandfly Bay for a prime viewing point of the stars (and maybe even the Southern Lights, if you’re lucky). The tour gives a history of how important the stars were to native Maori. It even includes a light dinner and some hot drinks. 

You will be provided with binoculars to see the stars up close, and your guide will help you with where to look for the best stars. This specific tour includes pick up and drop off to most Dunedin hotels. It costs $160 NZD per person. Book this incredible stargazing experience here!

Related Read: A couple of other amazing places to go stargazing on the South Island include Mount Cook and Lake Tekapo – both destinations full of fun outdoor activities.

15. Take a trip out to Sandfly Bay

Sandfly Bay on Otago Peninsula Dunedin
I told you it was beautiful!

Sandfly Bay is a 20-minute drive from Dunedin CBD and is one of the prettiest beaches in the area. Don’t let the name fool you though, there aren’t many pesky sandflies here. But the beach is home to other wildlife like fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins, who are best seen here at dusk when they swim to land from the ocean. Lots of locals visit the beach to board down the sand dunes – they typically use skateboards with the wheels removed!

There’s a 3-kilometer (1.9-mile) walking track here which starts at the car park and passes through farmland to a sandy path that winds through the towering sand dunes at the start of the beach.

The best view of the beach is from the viewing platform on the walking track, just before the sandy path into the dunes. You can also see Lion’s Head Rock, an island in the middle of the ocean from this viewing point too.

The easiest way to get to Sandfly Bay from Dunedin is to self-drive, and this GPS audio tour tells you all about the area and the many sights you pass along the way to your destination. It works using your cell phone’s GPS and the VoiceMap app. Both work offline – so no need to worry about internet coverage that can be temperamental in these rural parts anyway. 

The audio tour will give you insightful information on the varied wildlife in the area as well as the small towns you pass like Macabdrew Bay and Waverley and even the historic Larnach Castle. It’s a cheap way to learn all about the area without paying for a more costly guided tour, plus you can stop off wherever you like along the way. This tour is only $8 NZD, you can check the details and book in advance here!

16. Pineapple Track

The Pineapple Track is a two-hour return walking track that offers magnificent views of Dunedin CBD as well as the Taieri Plains. For this reason alone, it is one of the best things to do in Dunedin, as well as one of the most popular hikes. The track is 2.5 kilometers (1.5 miles) and is ranked as moderately difficult.

The track begins at the small car park, and in the beginning, it’s quite steep. That being said, a reasonable level of fitness is advised for this hike. After the uphill climb, you will pass through tussock fields until you reach Flagstaff Hill viewpoint.

This viewpoint is one of the best on the track and has views extending all around Dunedin Harbor, and it’s where this hike ends. You can continue further on the Flagstaff Track or Swampy Summit Track, but most hikers return via the same track back to the car park.

The Pineapple Track got its name from a local grocer who guided hikers up the track in the 1920s. Once they reached the summit, he gave the hikers cans of tinned pineapple to enjoy. Back then, they didn’t take their rubbish back down with them (like all good hikers nowadays do!). Instead, they placed the tin cans upside down on fence poles, which could be seen until recently.

17. Drive out to Nugget Point Lighthouse

Nugget Point Lighthouse in New Zealand
This is one epic coastline!

Nugget Point Lighthouse is so photogenic, especially at sunrise or sunset. In fact, it’s one of the most recognizable lighthouses in New Zealand.

From the parking lot, it is only a short walk to the lighthouse that’s well-maintained. Along the way, snap some photos and enjoy the epic views of the steep cliffs and small islands. But beware, it can be very windy here.

Nugget Point Lighthouse is about a 1.5-hour drive from Dunedin in the Catlins region. Many of the best things to do and see on the South Island are located here, so why not take your time and explore the area around Nugget Point while you’re here too?

Nugget Point is a short drive from the nearest town of Kaka Point which is a popular town to stay in when exploring the region. There’s a famous surfing beach here as well as a few restaurants and cafes.

Just 800 meters from the Nugget Point Lighthouse parking lot, be sure to visit Roaring Bay Penguins & Seals Observatory for the chance to see some rare yellow-eyed Penguins (also known as Hoiho). It’s a 10-minute walk from the parking lot to the small observatory, but be aware, seeing the penguins is rare.

For the best chance, you need to arrive either early in the morning or late in the afternoon when the penguins are going out/coming back from hunting. I spent 2 hours here one night from 6 pm to 8 pm and saw nothing. However, you are very likely to see New Zealand Fur Seals here.

Important: Do not walk down from the observatory to the beach. this is a very important area for this rare penguin.

Related Read: Nugget Point Lighthouse is one of the best places to visit on the drive from Dunedin to Invercargill.

18. Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

Toitu Otago Settlers Museum in Dunedin at night
Even the building is unique! Photo credit: Toitu Otago Settlers Museum

The Toitu Settlers Museum is another worthy attraction in Dunedin that tells the story of Otago’s first people in a unique way. There are loads of super-informative interactive displays dotted throughout the museum, which tells the story of the gold rush era and the settlement of Scottish Presbyterians in the city. 

There are 14 themed galleries here, all telling a different story of the people of Dunedin. It’s a great place to spend a few hours. And would you believe there are over 100,000 items on display here? Everything from unique handcrafted furniture from the 18th and 19th centuries to costumes worn by Dunedin’s past elite (some of the dresses on display are gorgeous!). 

Of course, there’s lots of great artwork on display throughout the museum, and featured artists include George O’Brien, Thomas Robertson, John Irvine, Peter Power, Christopher Aubrey, and many more.

Toitu Settlers Museum is the oldest history museum in New Zealand and is located at 31 Queens Gardens in the CBD. This is a great way to dive into the regions culture and history a must-do activity in Dunedin!

19. Larnach Castle Gardens

Gardens at Larnach castle near Dunedin, New Zealand
Imagine strolling through here on a nice spring day.

Larnach Castle is easily one of the most-visited historic sites in Dunedin, if not the whole of New Zealand. The castle has a long history dating back to 1871. The castle’s beginnings are a love story similar to that of the Taj Mahal in India. William Larnach built Larnach Castle for his first wife Eliza – it took a whopping 14 years to complete, and all the best furnishings and finishings were used.

Today, Larnach Castle is owned by the Barker family, who purchased the castle in 1967 and went to great lengths to restore it to its former glory. It has 7 acres of manicured gardens, the pride and joy of owner Margaret Barker and it has won numerous awards. Sections of these gardens include the Patterned Garden, the Lost Rock Garden, the Serpentine Walk, the RainForest, the South Seas Garden, and the Alice Lawn.

Inside the castle, you can see the effort that went into restoring all 43 bedrooms. The level of grandeur and opulence displayed here shows just how wealthy the Larnach family was. Touring the castle and the garden is the best way to understand the significance of this castle!

While you can tour the castle on your own, I recommend pre-booking this Larnach Castle tour. It provides an audio tour so as you wander around the grounds you can learn about the controversial history of the Larnach family, which is rather saucy if you ask me! This tour also lets you skip the entrance line and come at any time of the day. If you love goregous architecture and learning more about its history, you can book your tickets for $45 NZD.

However, you can also visit the Larnach Castle while touring the entire city of Dunedin! I love this full-day tour because it hits the highlights of the city, such as Port Chalmers, Baldwin Street, Dunedin Railway Station, Otago Peninsula, and the castle- of course! You’ll have six hours with a local guide to really dig into the city. Dunedin is definitely underrated, find out for yourself by booking this tour for $185 NZD.

20. Lan Yuan, Dunedin Chinese Garden

Lan Yuan Chinese garden in Dunedin, New Zealand
Relax and enjoy the beautiful scenery.

Lan Yuan, Dunedin Chinese Garden was developed to celebrate Dunedin’s Chinese heritage. In fact, the gardens were built to honor Dunedin’s sister city relationship with Shanghai. Many people from Shanghai settled in Dunedin during the Gold Rush of the 1860s. Today it is estimated that 2% of Dunedin locals are of Chinese descent.

The gardens are a great example of a late Ming/early Ching Dynasty garden and offer an insight into the unique history of Chinese culture. Every season is different in the Chinese Garden, and it’s so photogenic, especially in spring! The central Chongyuan pavilion (also known as the ‘heart of the gardens’) is especially pretty, especially when the light is right and you can see it reflecting on the lake next to it.

A lot of the material in the Gardens came from China. For example, all the rock was imported from Lake Tai, all the wood used is Chinese Fir, and even the roof tiles have been imported from China!

There’s a tea house, a giant chessboard, and several pretty areas to sit and relax and take in the scenery. The Dunedin Chinese Gardens are open daily from 10 am to 5 pm and admission is $10 NZD.

Did you know – this is the only authentic Chinese garden in the Southern Hemisphere? The only other two outside of China are in Vancouver, Canada, and Portland, USA.

21. Play a round of golf by the beach

Golf is a popular pastime in Dunedin, and even if you’re not an avid golfer, you will still enjoy the stunning scenery on offer from Dunedin’s golf courses.

The 18-hole Chisholm Park Golf Club in Tahuna offers views over the Pacific Ocean and many of Dunedin’s beaches. It has been rated as having the best links (sand dunes to you and me) of any New Zealand golf course. So as you can imagine, it’s a pretty popular golf spot in Dunedin. 

Chisholm Park has also hosted many golf tournaments in recent years!

In the beach-side neighborhood of St Clair is the 18-hole St Clair Golf Course which is perched high up on the cliffs above St Clair beach. It is quite a challenging course, so, this one I only recommend to experienced golfers. If you wish, you can avail of golf lessons via their on-site Pro Shop.

22. Road trip through the Catlins

Koropuku Falls in the Catlins
Koropuku Falls is my favorite waterfall on the drive!

The Catlins is such a neat place! Located in the far South, this area is famous for its beautiful coastline and a seemingly endless number of amazing waterfalls. To truly enjoy this area, you really should spend a night or two in the wild and rugged Catlins. It’s the road-less-traveled and gives a true sense of the South Island. There are penguins, sea caves, a very photogenic lighthouse (mentioned previously), and as I said, lots and lots of waterfalls.

Cathedral Caves

These caves are 200 meters (656 feet) long and 30 meters (98 feet) high. These are only accessible at low tide, so be sure to check tide times beforehand. There’s a $10 NZD entrance fee payable at the gate per vehicle. They are often compared to the very popular Cathedral Cove on the North Island.

Curio Bay

A must-visit to see the 170 million-year-old petrified forest and complete the Curio Bay Penguin Walk. On the walk, you may be lucky to spot yellow-eyed penguins and keep your eye on the water too as you may spot dolphins too. Locals will tell you that the best time to spot the penguins is at dusk.

There’s a Café in the Visitor Center, at the Tumu Toka CurioScape, as well as an excellent campsite. This campsite has powered sites as well as communal indoor facilities featuring a nice kitchen, lounge room, and hot showers. It is a great place to spend a night if you’re traveling in a campervan or with a tent. Campsites are around $55 NZD for power sites, or you can get a cheaper, non-powered site for $30 NZD.

Purakaunui Falls

It’s a 20-minute return walk that takes you to the viewing platform for the cascading 3-tier falls. The Purakaunui Falls Walk takes you to the falls and is flat, easy, and is suitable for wheelchairs. It is one of New Zealand’s most photographed waterfalls and what many consider to be one of the best hikes on the South Island.

Tautuku Estuary Walkway

The Tautuku Estuary Walkway is made up of trails and boardwalks through podocarp forests into the Tautuku Estuary. It’s a unique landscape, that much is for sure. The walk will take about 30 minutes to complete. You will also spot fernbirds here.

Located in Port Chalmers, Flagstaff Lookout, also known as Flagstaff Hill, is a popular viewing platform in the area because it offers expansive views over Port Chalmers and the Otago Harbour. It’s a great spot for big ship spotting as many huge vessels come in and out of Dunedin Port hourly.

Access is via the steep Aurora Terrace from Port Chalmers town and I advise driving up as it’s quite a steep hill to walk and there’s no footpath.

Flagstaff Lookout was where the first map of Otago Harbour was created way back in 1860 when the crew of HMS Acheron used this excellent vantage point to draw up the map. There’s a small plaque at the viewpoint acknowledging this feat.

23. Go for a delicious coffee

The Good Earth Cafe Coffee Shop in Dunedin
Be sure to grab a cup of joe from here if you get the chance! Photo credit: The Good Earth Cafe

Okay, Dunedin may not be as high up on the best coffee cities list as Wellington (the home of the flat white) or Auckland, but I have tasted some excellent coffee in Dunedin! 

Dunedin is a student city with over 20,000 students calling the city home. In order to cater to them, many cool and quirky coffee shops have popped in in the CBD and suburbs.

Good Earth Cafe and Morning Magpie are two of my favorite cafes in Dunedin CBD. And of course, I can’t forget Perc, you won’t miss it because there’s likely a crowd queuing outside! It’s especially popular with locals, and not only is their coffee good (and strong) their baked goods – the carrot cake and brownie especially are delicious! They also serve up an extensive breakfast and lunch menu.

Related Read: There are some really great cafes in Queenstown too!

24. Sir Leonard Wright Lookout

An easy lookout to access is Sir Leonard Wright Lookout! The viewpoint here boasts views over South Dunedin’s beaches and is especially pretty on a clear day. 

However because of its position, it can get very windy up here. But, walk from the viewpoint to the beach below, it is a lovely golden-sand beach backed by sand dunes. The trail to the beach is uneven in parts and quite steep, so be careful!

From the carpark, it’s a short and easy walk up to the viewpoint. The track is suitable for the whole family.

Worth noting is that vehicle access is only permitted to the car park here from Monday to Friday between 11 am – 3 pm! But it is open to walkers and cyclists at all hours! 

25. Go on the OCHO Chocolate Factory Tour

A chocolate stand at OCHO Chocolate Factory
Mmm, chocolate!

Not many people think of chocolate when they visit Dunedin, however, this little off-the-beaten-path experience is a must for chocolate lovers. The OCHO Chocolate Factory is a small chocolate producer in Dunedin that actually runs tours. On the tour, you can see how the chocolate is made and most importantly, taste some chocolate.

The factory is actually owned by 3,500 crowd funders and they pride themselves on ethically produced chocolate with cocoa beans sourced from the Pacific. They say you can taste the difference!

You can even go on a tour of the factory or take a self-guided “tasting journey”. Tasting journies include 10 different chocolates to taste and your favorite bar to take home. These happen twice an hour and you don’t have to book anything in advance.

However, if you’ve got a real sweet tooth, you’ll enjoy a guided tour and tasting. For $35 NZD, you will explore the factor with a guide, learning about the process “from bean to bar” as they like to say. These tours depart at 11 am every weekday and you get 10 tastings and a chocolate bar for yourself! You can book a guided tour in advance here.

This is a pretty unique thing to do in Dunedin, which is a unique city in itself!

Where to Stay in Dunedin, New Zealand

bathroom in the Distinction Dunedein Hotel
How gorgeous is this bathroom! Photo credit: Distinction Dunedin Hotel

If you’re going to check off each item on this list of things to do in Dunedin you’re certainly going to need a place to spend a night or two. First off, the city center isn’t too big but has everything you need and is easy to stroll around. Thankfully, there are also lots of fun things to keep you occupied too. Plus, there’s a fantastic array of great restaurants.

Some of the best hotels in Dunedin include:

538 Great King Motel – this 4-star motel is within easy walking distance to the city. The rooms are clean and comfortable and there’s a guest laundry on-site.

Distinction Dunedin Hotel – once a post office this hotel is historic and charming but has recently been upgraded. It has a restaurant and bar on-site and the rooms are luxurious. Also, a cool feature is that you can choose to dine privately in one of the original vaults of Dunedin’s former Post Office.

On Top Backpackers – just a few minutes walk from many of Dunedin’s attractions. With its very own cafe and bar with 19 pool tables, it is a fun, comfortable, unique, bright, and sunny Hostel with a relaxed vibe. You can choose from shared dorms, single and double rooms with shared facilities, or our deluxe double private rooms with en suite.

If you want a stay a little out of the city, then I love St Clair. St Clair is one of my favorite areas in Dunedin, just an 8-minute drive from the city center. There’s a long white sand beach here, where you can spot sunbathing seals if you’re lucky. There’s a small but varied selection of great bars and restaurants too. Hotel St Clair is a great place to spend the night.

Renting a Car, Campervan, or Motorhome in New Zealand

Bailey stands in front of a right green JUCY campervan
JUCY is one of my favorite campervan rental companies (read below for a discount code!)
Bailey stands behind her Mad Campers campervan cooking in the kitchen at Piha Beach
I also really like Mad Campers!

Let’s face it, you’re going to need wheels to get around New Zealand. Although a small country, buses between destinations are infrequent and expensive. Plus, some of the best experiences you can have in NZ are on road trips!

You have three options when it comes to getting wheels in New Zealand; a car, a campervan, or a motorhome. Here’s what you need to know about each and where to get them:

  • Car – A normal car is the cheapest rental vehicle you can get in New Zealand. It’ll get you around to all of the best destinations with ease. The only downside to a car is that you will need to stay in hotels or Airbnbs during your travels (no camping.) The easiest place to rent a car in New Zealand is on Discover Cars where you can compare cars, companies, prices, features, and more very easily.
  • Campervan – A Campervan is a large van that has a bed and a small kitchen in the back. It’s what most budget travelers use for traveling around New Zealand since it allows you to camp comfortably and for free (most) nights. Campervans are best for couples or solo travelers who are happy to live in a small space. You should also love the outdoors and camping…and be prepared for an adventure of a lifetime! My favorite campervan rental company is JUCY because they have a huge selection of campervans to choose from, plus multiple pick-up/drop-off locations. You can browse JUCY’s campervan selection online here. Alternatively, you can easily compare all campervans available in NZ on Motorhome Republic here.

EXCLUSIVE DISCOUNT CODE: I’ve managed to snag a discount code for 5% off for my readers if you book your JUCY or Star RV campervan or motorhome before the end of June 2024! Simply click here to select your JUCY campervan, or click here to select your Star RV motorhome, and then use the code DTRAVEL24 at checkout to get 5% off – it’s that easy! One thing to note is that this code is only valid for travel before Dec 21, 2024.

Thanks for reading!

Bailey from My Queenstown Diary on a bridge near Te Anau
Thanks for reading!

And there you have it 25 of the best things to do in Dunedin! It is a charming city with lots of fun activities and epic beaches a short drive away from the CBD. It’s a bit off the beaten tourist track, which makes it even more fun to explore in my opinion. If you like the outdoors, wildlife, and quaint cities, you’ll love spending some time in Dunedin.

I hope this blog post has given you lots of inspiration for your New Zealand travels! If you’re looking for other places to visit on the South Island, or perhaps take a trip up to the North Island, then be sure to check out my other blogs. Here are some helpful ones below!

13 BEST Places to Stop on the Drive from Christchurch to Dunedin

21 FUN Things to do in Picton, New Zealand

Queenstown to Dunedin Scenic Drive – The Best Route and Stops