Last month, I set off on a little road trip around the South Island of my home country. Despite living here all of my life, I’d only visited the South Island twice, back when I was a kid. I had never been to Otago, however, and that’s where I wanted to base the majority of this trip. The scenic beauty down south is what New Zealand seems to be known for overseas, and I wanted to make sure I had a good look before I jet off anywhere else in the future.
My first stop on this trip was Dunedin, known for it’s Scottish settlers and Gothic architecture. It has even been nicknamed “Edinburgh of the South”, if that’s any indication! Dunedin is also the gateway to the Otago Peninsula, home to albatross, penguins, sea lions, and New Zealand’s only castle!
Built in the 1870’s, New Zealand’s only castle is located about 20 minutes drive from Dunedin. Unfortunately it was quite drizzly when I arrived which turned into a downpour before I had a chance to properly look around the gardens! But I’ve been told they’re quite impressive. I did however walk around the castle itself, my favourite part probably being the narrow stone spiral staircase that takes you up to the “tower” (where the flag is in the picture above) where you can find some really nice views over the peninsula.
Touring the inside of the castle gives you an insight into life as settlers in New Zealand in the late 1800s. When I visited, they offered an early bird discounted price to enter the grounds. I was the first person in that day, which definitely made it easier to navigate around the castle before most of the guided tours started. After you finish having a good look, stop in at the Ballroom Cafe for a scone with cream and jam and a pot of tea!
Because of the bad weather, I didn’t end up continuing down to the end of the Otago Peninsula where the Royal Albatross Centre is. Instead, I opted for a quick stop at Sandfly Bay, not far from the castle, as I had been told there’s a chance of seeing sea lions and the odd penguin here. If you’re going here in a colder part of the year, you definitely need to rug up, it’s quite exposed on the pathway down to the beach and the wind was freezing!
I didn’t end up going all the way down to the beach as the path was steep and slippery after all the rain, I was by myself, and there was no cellphone service. There are probably other beaches around the peninsula where you have a chance to see some sea lions, but as the weather was closing in I thought I’d better head back to town…
Things to do in Dunedin City
Marvel at the Dunedin Railway Station
Built in 1906, this train station is now apparently the most photographed building in New Zealand. Pictured above, the station was built in a pretty extravagant style that has even been compared with a gingerbread house.
Wander through the Otago Museum
Near the University of Otago is Otago Museum, a great place to visit on a rainy day! The museum is free to visit unless you want to see one of the temporary exhibitions which usually require tickets. After wandering the exhibitions to your heart’s desire, you can head down to the museum’s cafe for a flat white.
Breakfast at the Otago Farmers Market
On every Saturday morning of the year you can find the Otago Farmers Market at the train station mentioned above. Grab yourself a coffee and a crepe and enjoy it as you peruse the fresh fruit and veg for sale.
See the Gothic churches that dot the city
One thing I noticed when I was walking around was how many stunning historic churches there were. Dunedin somehow almost felt like a European town rather than one in little old New Zealand. From the First Church of Dunedin to St Joseph’s Cathedral, Knox Church, and more… If historic architecture is up your alley, you should definitely add Dunedin to your South Island itinerary.