7 Things You Didn't Know About Dunedin | Experience Oz + NZ

7 Things You Didn’t Know About – Dunedin, NZ

Dunedin is one New Zealand city that you should not leave off your itinerary when you visit the South Island. The region is rich in culture, history, beautiful landscapes and unique wildlife encounters. Situated on the Otago Peninsula, the city is the perfect place for a stopover with its close proximity to Queenstown.

Dunedin is a destination that stands out from the rest due to its unique claims to fame, historic buildings, natural attractions and an emerging cultural scene. If you want to learn more… here are seven things you didn’t know about Dunedin.

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1. Dunedin has the world’s steepest residential street

Sure, San Francisco has Lombard Street, the most “crookedest street in the world” but Dunedin can lay claim to the steepest street in the world as recognised by the Guinness Book of Records at Baldwin Street, Dunedin.

Looks can be deceiving from photos. The street may not appear to be that steep but just try walking it and you will understand pretty quickly the unique physical challenge it presents.

Baldwin Street has a 1:3 gradient or 35% incline and the street has become a quirky tourist attraction with visitors all over the world wanting to walk up the steep street. If you dare, you will be rewarded with city views of downtown Dunedin.

Instead of your usual street footpath, visitors will instead find an ominous staircase leading the whole way up to the top of the street which should give you an indicator of exactly what you are in for.

The street is only 350 metres long but it will take you on average 10 minutes to reach the ‘peak’. And for your effort, there is a drinking fountain at the top if needed.

Baldwin Street has become a quirky tourist attraction with visitors all over the world wanting to walk up the steep street. If you dare, you will be rewarded with views of downtown Dunedin.

The gradient of the street has inspired some creative thinking and engineering with the street surfaced in concrete instead of asphalt to prevent tar from flowing down on a warm day as well as the consideration of the need for tyres to grip the road during Dunedin’s cool winters.

As you walk the street, take a moment to admire the creativity and complexity of the homes built along this street and the people who navigate living in them. Even the plants and trees that line the steep street have had to adapt to life on a 35% incline.

The street is also the venue for a variety of events throughout the year in Dunedin including the ‘Baldwin Street Gutbuster Race’ that sees competitors race up and down the street. This is not one for the faint hearted or the unfit.

Will you accept the challenge and climb the world’s steepest street when you visit Dunedin?

2. Home to New Zealand’s ONLY castle and historical homes

Larnach Castle Dunedin

Did you know that New Zealand’s ONLY castle – Larnach Castle– can be found in the Otago Peninsula near Dunedin. The origins of this must see visitor attraction can be traced back to 1871 when a local businessman and politician William Larnach built this humble abode for his family.

A castle is something you would come to expect visiting a location in Europe but to have a castle in a destination such as New Zealand is a rare treat and something to be seen in Dunedin.

Larnach Castle took three years to build and another 12 years to decorate the elaborate interior in the finest materials, antiques, furniture and artwork that money could buy at the time.

The castle is open to the public and gives a fascinating insight into period living in New Zealand during the early 1900’s.

Not to be outdone by the castle are the gardens and grounds, ballroom cafe, historic stables and outbuildings which are also available for public viewing.

Larnach Castle sits on an extensive estate with gob smacking views of the mountain ranges and bays of the Otago Peninsula.

Larnach Castle sits on an extensive estate with gob smacking views (of course) of the surrounding mountain ranges and bays of the Otago Peninsula. The gardens have even been awarded a ‘Garden of International Significance’ status by the New Zealand Gardens Trust.

Larnach Castle is open daily with a range of ticketing options available. Choose from a self-guided or private guided tour of the castle, gardens or both to discover the history and architecture of this unique destination.

You can self-drive to the castle or visit on local day tours. If a day trip isn’t enough for you and you have fallen in love with the property then stay on in the onsite accomodation which has sensational views from the room.

The other period home you can visit is the Olveston Historic Home in Dunedin. The Theomin Family occupied this home for almost 60 years painstakingly fitting the home with artworks, statues, antique furniture and artifacts from all over the world.

If you like cars then you will get a kick out of the 1922 Fiat 510 Tourer that is also on display here.

The house designed by English architect Sir Ernest George was bequeathed to the city of Dunedin and now operates as a museum. Olveston is a living time capsule depicting life of a wealthy family living in the 1900’s.

A visit to these historic attractions are perfect for those who love architecture, interior design and elaborate gardens. And even if you don’t- you will still find a visit to Larnach Castle and Olveston Historic Home insightful and enjoyable to see how the wealthy lived in the early 20th Century.

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3. Unique Wildlife Encounters in Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula

Dunedin is just a hop, skip and a jump from the Otago Peninsula and has been labeled the wildlife capital of New Zealand. It is no wonder why when you consider the vast number of marine life and bird life that reside and visit here.

The Otago Peninsula is the world’s ONLY mainland breeding colony for the Royal Albatross Seabirds whose wingspan can reach 3 metres long. The Royal Albatross Centre in Dunedin has a unique observatory where you have a bird’s eye view (pardon the pun) watching the parents return home to feed their chicks.

In David Attenborough’s own words “Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head is a unique place that every visitor in Dunedin should see”. That is quite the testimonial.

In David Attenborough’s own words “Otago Peninsula and Taiaroa Head is a unique place that every visitor in Dunedin should see”. That is quite the testimonial.

Visitors also have the opportunity to join a wildlife cruise with Monarch Wildlife Cruises to see the wildlife in action cruising around Taiaroa Head at the top of the Otago Peninsula.

Within 60 minutes you will encounter not only the majestic Albatross but New Zealand Fur Seals and Sea Lions breeding, playing and fighting on the rocks surrounding their rookeries.

Some lucky passengers have even spotted Whales during their annual migration period.

But wait there is more because the region is also home to the world’s rarest penguin- the Yellow-Eyed Penguin and the world’s smallest penguin- the Little Blue Penguin. Like we said, it is the wildlife capital of New Zealand and animal lovers will be in heaven here.

The distinct Yellow-Eyed penguin can only be found on the Eastern and Southern Coasts of New Zealand’s South Island.

Penguin Place is a conservation reserve in Dunedin that has dedicated itself to ensuring the preservation of endangered Yellow-Eyed Penguins. It is funded by guided tours of the reserve.

So by visiting, you are actually helping the organisation to provide health care, research and habitat management for the cute little penguins and it is a great experience too.

Tours run for 90 minutes year round and you have the opportunity to witness the living and breeding areas of the penguins in close range with minimal disturbance to their natural environment.

Or pay a visit to Pilots Beach at sunset to see the Little Blue Penguins– (the world’s smallest penguin) as they return to their mainland burrows after a day at sea to feed their chicks. Access to the beach is restricted by private tours at sunset with transfers available from Dunedin.

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4. Dunedin has it’s own ‘Gingerbread House’ and Octagon Shaped Plaza

Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station is one of the grandest railway stations in New Zealand. And certainly the most photographed. The iconic heritage building was operating at its peak in the early 1900’s as the centre of the city but has now been restored and repurposed as the new home for a restaurant, art gallery, a sports hall of fame and weekly farmers markets.

The grand exterior is what initially grabs visitor’s initial attention. The building reflects Victorian and Renaissance style architecture with white Oamaru limestone on black basalt rock. The design is also why it is affectionately called the ‘Gingerbread House’.

Dunedin does a brilliant job of preserving its heritage buildings and this one is no exception. Go for a wander inside the interior of the building to view the foyer and booking hall, mosaic floors, ceilings and over the top but beautiful design.

The Dunedin Railway Station now only runs daily tourist railway services to Taieri Gorge in heritage carriages and is one of the world’s best railway journeys that you should consider adding to your Dunedin bucket list.

The building reflects Victorian and Renaissance style architecture with white Oamaru limestone on black basalt rock. The design is also why it is affectionately called the ‘Gingerbread House’.

Within the building, you will also find the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame – New Zealand’s only sports museum. And sport is taken very seriously here. Athletes are local heroes and you can see their career defining moments, trophies, medals, uniforms and equipment across all sports here.

The museum pays tribute to New Zealand’s sporting legends from a variety of sports and there is even something for non-sport fans who will find a visit to the Hall of Fame a place to learn about the way sport has shaped the nation.

Dunedin Railway Station is also home to the first Otago Art Society on the first floor. View their permanent collections and pick up a unique souvenir in the gift shop. If you visit in summer,  you can meet the artists in residence and witness them creating their masterpieces.

Furthermore, just steps away from the Dunedin Railway Station is ‘The Octagon’ in central Dunedin. The eight–sided plaza creates a ring around public and civic buildings in the city including the public library, art gallery, St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral and various other bars and restaurants.

Finally, every Saturday the station plays host to the weekly Otago Farmers Market from 8am to 12.30pm. The markets are hugely popular with the locals but also visitors are in on the secret.

Find fresh food, herb, spices, produce, coffee and delicious treats or a bite to eat here. Who would have thought an old railway station could be so popular and cool?

5. Home to the award winning Emerson Brewery

Emerson’s Brewery is a unique microbrewery that has been operating in Dunedin since 1992. The brewery is the brainchild of Richard Emerson who after an extended holiday in the UK decided to open his very own brewpub in Dunedin.

The dream came to life after many months of construction (and several moves to larger premises) but visitors will find this brewery on Anzac Ave not far from the Forsyth Barr Stadium.

This industrial style microbrewery is a big hit with locals and visitors who are keen to sample the local brews. Emerson’s Brewery offers tours of the brewery several times a day which last 45 minutes.

The brewery is the brainchild of Richard Emerson who after an extended holiday in the UK decided to open his very own brewpub in Dunedin.

Go behind the scenes of the modern (5000 L) brewery and learn how the unique blends of beer are made at each and every step. The tour ends with a tasting session sampling the range of beers that are produced here.

The beers have a personal touch with creative names; some which serve as a dedication to friends and family members of the creator, Richard Emerson.

Try seasonal beers such as ‘Phantom Lord’, ‘The Rapture’, or vintage favourites such as ‘Taieri George’- a dedication and favourite recipe of George Emerson, Richard’s father.

If you time your visit right then you can stay on in the brewery and enjoy a meal here or an afternoon session sampling the variety of beers on tap.

6. Dunedin has a vibrant culture and arts scene

Dunedin Street Art

Dunedin is undergoing a subtle transformation from a historical city to one that is slowly emerging as a modern cosmopolitan city with a bright arts, live music and foodie scene.

Artists from all over the world have descended on the city to turn blank walls into their own personal canvas. The result is a vibrant, colourful and cultured city with 28 decorated walls (so far) that make up the Dunedin Street Art Trail.

The Dunedin Street Art Trail can be found in the city centre around the streets surrounding The Octagon. Grab a map and see them all on a self guided 90 minute walk through the streets of the city.

Artists from all over the world have descended on the city to turn blank walls into their own personal canvas and the result is a colourful and cultured city with 28 decorated walls that make up the Dunedin Street Art Trail.

Not only will you discover the unique street art that has been commissioned by volunteers but you will uncover the sights of Dunedin’s city centre along the way.

This is a fabulous initiative that brings art to the public and reaches a much wider audience than those who would make the time to traverse through the halls of a traditional art gallery.

If you do enjoy art galleries though than you won’t be disappointed as Dunedin has New Zealand’s oldest Public Art Gallery and at least another 20 other small galleries all within walking distance showcasing jewellery, ceramics and visual art.

If you want to immerse yourself in the local culture and learn about the people and country you are visiting or living in them a visit to the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum is a must.

Dunedin Museum

The journey of the early settlers, Kai Tahu and their ancestors are presented in interesting and interactive displays that tell powerful and historically significant stories.

The Museum has accumulated over 100,000 objects that demonstrate the change of culture, technology, art, fashion and transport of the local Otago region from early settlers to the present and admission is FREE.

If it is live and local music that you crave then Dunedin has it in spades. Listen to the distinct “sounds of Dunedin” at a variety of live music venues that make a deliberate effort to foster and support local artists, composers and bands.

The Museum has accumulated over 100,000 objects that demonstrate the change of culture, technology, art, fashion and transport of the local Otago region from early settlers to the present and admission is FREE.

Among some of the venues to head to for live music are: The Cook, Craft Bar, Craic, The Crown and more. Find a list of upcoming local gigs on the Radio One Playtime Report.

After discovering the sound of Dunedin, you must also taste the food of Dunedin because we don’t want you to go hungry. The best part of travelling and exploring a new city is having the time and money to eat out frequently and try the local cuisines and favourite restaurants.

Dunedin is not short of coffee hangouts to get your coffee fix. Vogel St Kitchen rates high among local and visitors and its packed to the rafters on a weekend. Try the Polenta Fries or order off the pizza menu with food sourced locally.

Continue the culinary adventure at the Otago Farmers Market to find the freshest and organic produce in Dunedin. Don’t miss out on the Tart Tin, a quirky pop up bakery that operates at a kitchen in St Clair but can also be found at the markets. Satisfy your sweet tooth and find macaroons, cakes, slices, berry pies, cup cakes and much more here.

7. Tunnel Beach

It is hard to believe that just 7.5 kilometres from Dunedin Central, you can see sandstone cliffs, rock arches and hand carved tunnels that lead to secluded beaches that penguins and sea lions can sometimes be found playing or taking a nap on the rocks.

Thanks to years of erosion from the sea, the crashing waves from the ocean have created the jagged and rocky coastline and a sea carved archway.

What makes this coastline unique to Dunedin, however, is the hand carved rock tunnel that leads to a secluded beach at the base of the cliffs.

Tunnel Beach gets its name from John Cargill who in the 1870’s decided to carve out for himself and his family their own small private tunnel to the beach so they could swim in privacy.

Walk through the dark tunnel and you will emerge onto a beautiful beach only to be dwarfed by the imposing, yet beautiful sandstone coloured cliffs.

Walk through the dark tunnel and you will emerge onto a beautiful beach only to be dwarfed by the imposing, yet beautiful sandstone coloured cliffs.

The short 2 kilometres return walk begins atop the sea eroded archway with views out to sea. Follow the fenced track down a steep hill which leads to the tunnel with steps to the beach.

It is impossible to take a bad photo here. The spectacular views are great from any angle regardless of whether you stay at the top of the track or venture down the hill through the tunnel and out onto the beach.

Tunnel Beach can be accessed by car on Tunnel Beach Rd or on public transport with bus services throughout the day. Catch route 32, 33, 34, 35 or 36 to reach here.

A visit to Tunnel Beach is best at low tide so that you can actually take a walk on the beach below and take a closer look at the fossils that can be found within the cliffs otherwise you will need to walk in water.

Tunnel Beach is one natural attraction in Dunedin that you absolutely cannot miss visiting.

So there you have it- seven things about Dunedin you didn’t know and seven reasons why you should visit. For further information on additional experiences and attractions in Dunedin, visit our Dunedin Experiences page to browse and book online!

 

Chloe Smith

Chloe's love of travel began at an young age when she went on mystery flights around Australia with her family. Having now travelled extensively around Australia and internationally, she is excited to be working as a travel writer sharing her tips and experiences with you.

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