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Amazing experiences you can only find in Dunedin

New Zealand is a country full of natural wonders and exciting attractions. This can make it hard to decide which places to visit, especially when you’re a curious traveller who prefers meaningful experiences and interesting and unusual things to explore.

But don’t worry – we’re here to help!

Full of interesting things to see and do, we reckon Dunedin is worthy of a spot on your itinerary.

So much so that CNN Traveller named Dunedin one of the most underrated destinations in New Zealand, full of unique things to see and do.

This historic little coastal city and the gorgeous natural landscapes that surround it, hide so many standalone treasures and Instagrammable photo opportunities.

Read on to discover the only-in-Dunedin highlights to check out while you’re there.

Hikers standing on the top of huge hexagonal columns of basalt called the Organ Pipes.
Organ Pipes in Dunedin.

Uniquely Dunedin experiences

Amazing biodiversity

There aren’t many places in New Zealand, or in fact, the planet, where you’ll find some of the rarest creatures in existence so close to civilisation.

Dunedin is an exception.

The Otago Peninsula (which extends out from central Dunedin) is a renowned eco-tourism destination due to the amazing array of native marine and bird life around its beautiful shores.

The wildlife attractions here, ensure that the animals remain just that – wild, life.

You can observe highly endangered and very shy yellow-eyed penguins, along with New Zealand sea lions, fur seals, royal northern albatross and the world’s smallest little blue penguins, all in their natural habitat.

And best of all, many of them are close to the comforts this small city provides.

Tiny blue and white penguins walking up onto a grassy bank as a small number of people look on from a viewing platform nearby.
Photo: DunedinNZ.

Royal Albatross Centre

The very tip of the Otago Peninsula in Dunedin is the best place in New Zealand to see an albatross.

It’s also the only mainland royal albatross breeding colony in the world!

The majestic northern royal albatross made this windswept headland their home many years ago. It’s perfect for them thanks to plentiful fishing in the surrounding seas and strong coastal winds.

Get an up-close view of nesting pairs rearing their massive fluffy chicks and soaring overhead, stretching their 3-metre wings in the breeze.

Large black and white albatross sitting on the grass on the Otago  Peninsula
Photo: DunedinNZ.

Stargaze with sea lions

Snuggle into an anti-gravity chair under the dark skies of the Otago Peninsula and be entranced by Māori songs and tales of the stars with Southern Stargazing Tours. 

This magical experience is made even more exciting by the likelihood of snoozing sea lions chilling out on the beach nearby.

Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary

The largest mainland wildlife sanctuary in the South Island and a genuine cloud forest, Orokonui Ecosanctuary is home to many of New Zealand’s fragile and endangered birds and lizards.

These native animals flourish in this regenerating native bush reserve which is actively protected from predators.

Spot throwbacks to prehistoric times including the tuatara and takahē, cheeky native parrots and a whole host of other species flitting among the trees and extensive walkways, high above Blueskin Bay (which is just north of the city).

Tallest Tree

It’s a little-known fact that Dunedin harbours New Zealand’s tallest tree, which quietly grows without fuss or fame in the lower reaches of Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

If you feel the need to tick this unsung hero off your bucket list, you’ll need to get your walking shoes on, as this spectacular Eucalyptus specimen is a serene 45-minute walk downhill from the visitor centre.

Photo: DunedinNZ.

Escape from a Victorian prison

It’s not every day you can claim to have escaped from a genuine Victorian prison (and probably for good reason).

But if you’re looking for a novel way to experience New Zealand history and you enjoy a good puzzle, then the Escape Dunedin Gaol challenge is a sure bet.

The grand period architecture building gives no hint of its former use, but rest assured, the inside still looks every inch like the genuine, and slightly spooky original. 

Work in teams to solve clues and make your way to freedom.

Heritage architecture

There’s pretty much nowhere else like Dunedin in the whole of New Zealand when it comes to historical architecture.

In fact, this little city boasts the largest collection of Victorian and Edwardian buildings in the southern hemisphere… and we think it’s thoroughly charming because of it.

From impressive public buildings and cathedrals to the stately homes and suburban streets full of beautiful examples of the time, it’s a classic storybook backdrop that is a feast for the eyes.

Dunedin Railway Station

Stop by the Dunedin Railway Station for a snap of New Zealand’s most-photographed building. 

Nicknamed the ‘gingerbread house’ due to its distinctive Flemish Renaissance style, the station is an ornate example of the city’s wealthy past. 

And on each Saturday, you’ll find the much-loved Otago Farmers Market in the car park next door. This has the best regional produce and local delicacies ready to sample.

Photo: DunedinNZ.

Larnach Castle

It might be small by European standards, but Larnach Castle is one of Dunedin’s most beloved and renowned attractions.

Located on the Otago Peninsula, the castle’s lovingly restored interior is full of Victorian treasures and antiques, showcasing the fascinating and somewhat tragic history of William Larnach and his family.

Climb to the top of the turret to capture 360° views of the peninsula and harbour, or wander through the internationally significant gardens.

Also also recommend high tea and other refreshments from the ballroom café, or booking an evening dining spot.

Did you know? You can even stay out at Larnach Castle overnight.

Larnach Castle in Dunedin, tucked in between two green hedges.
Larnach Castle in Dunedin. Photo: Camilla Rutherford.

Memorable museums

Tūhura Otago Museum’s 360 planetarium & interactive science centre

Combining a 7.6-metre DNA-inspired slide, a walk-through tropical butterfly enclosure, more than 45 hands-on interactive activities and a 360-degree planetarium, the Tūhura Otago Museum’s fun family science centre is a great pick at any time of year.

The rest of the museum is equally interesting and will provide a fascinating insight into the history of the Otago region along with relics and exhibits from the wider South Pacific and beyond.

This is one of our favourite New Zealand museums!

Photo: Isabella Harrex Photography.

Museum of Natural Mystery

This is a museum… but not as you know it.

We think this fascinating collection of unusual things is just the right amount of weird, much like Dunedin itself.

Wander the impeccably curated rooms of this small museum to discover all sorts of artefacts and artworks, ranging from the curious to the mildly macabre, including meticulously crafted sculptures made from animal bones.

Photo: Liz Carlson.

Unique scenery

Tunnel Beach

A combined natural and man-made wonder, Tunnel Beach is a totally unique attraction.

Tick off your holiday hero shot goals with the epic coastal views and stunning sea arches, and venture through the historic hand-carved tunnel staircase to explore the hidden beach below at low tide.

People heading to the sea cliffs while looking at the beautiful waters ahead of them.

Okia Reserve’s Pyramids

You may be surprised to hear talk of the great pyramids in Dunedin, as lesser-known landmarks than the famed Egyptian version.

But it’s true that there are indeed pyramids, of the naturally formed variety, to be discovered at Okia Reserve on the Otago Peninsula.

The two distinctly triangular hills are the leftovers of long-extinct volcanoes.

You can even climb to the top of the smaller one for sweeping views of nearby Victory Beach and its resident sea lions.

Birds flying over the naturally-formed pyramids during a golden sunrise.

Sutton Salt Lake

It’s not exactly the Dead Sea, but Sutton Salt Lake is special, nonetheless.

This unlikely attraction is actually New Zealand’s only inland salt lake, but it’s equally remarkable for the spectacular moonlike landscapes that surround it.

Not far from the quiet country town of Middlemarch (which sits on the inland border of Dunedin city), Sutton Salt Lake makes for a good picnic stop along the Central Otago Touring Route, which runs from Dunedin to Queenstown through the Strath Taieri Valley.

Photo: DunedinNZ.

City of Literature

A city of culture and learning, Dunedin also happens to be New Zealand’s only UNESCO City of Literature due to the number of notable authors, poets and playwrights that were born or made their home there over the years.

Today you can experience the local literary history by taking a writer’s walking tour or browsing the shelves of the many quirky second-hand bookshops.

Lan Yuan Chinese Garden

It’s no mean feat to hand carve and transport an entire Chinese garden from Shanghai to Dunedin, but that’s exactly what happened to bring the delightfully serene Lan Yuan Gardens to life.

Paying homage to the city’s historic connection to China (which started with the early gold miners and merchants long ago), Lan Yuan is the only genuine Chinese scholar’s garden in the southern hemisphere.

It even comes complete with a tea house, serving traditional refreshments.

Photo: DunedinNZ.

Steepest Street

Baldwin Street is globally renowned as the steepest street in the world.

Tucked away in the peaceful suburban surroundings of North East Valley, not far from the Dunedin Botanic Gardens, it’s almost compulsory to stop by and walk to the top for a selfie.

It may be steep but luckily there are handy steps along the way and a seat at the top when you need to rest your weary legs.

As tempting as it might be to drive to the top, it’s not encouraged, and definitely not for campervans.

Photo: DunedinNZ.

Gravity fed brewery

If you’re looking for an excuse to sample local beers, then surely a visit to one of the only gravity-fed breweries in the world is a good enough reason?

What’s more, Speights Brewery is practically the birthplace of beer in New Zealand, so taking a tour through the historic brew halls is a fascinating experience that is completed with a refreshing tasting at the end.

Photo: DunedinNZ.

And there you have it – Dunedin is a city full of unique charm.

Flying under the radar, it leaves its mark on everyone who’s clued up enough to visit!

Guest post by Sarah Bramhall. This post was brought to you by Enterprise Dunedin – the Dunedin experts

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