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Larnach Castle on the Otago Peninsula, Dunedin. Photo: Tourism Dunedin

When the chimes of the University of Otago’s clock tower toll, it’s the start of a new semester at New Zealand’s oldest university. Dunedin bursts with youth. Well-known as ‘Scarfies’, some 20,000 students add a special vibrancy to this city and contribute to its distinctive culture.

University of Otago
University of Otago Registry building, photo: Tourism Dunedin

You too can experience Scarfie life - without having to take out a student loan. Stroll through the university grounds, trawl through second-hand shops for vintage treasures or visit North Dunedin’s iconic student flat streets. Catch a gig at student haunts such as Refuel or the Crown Hotel. Loads of great bands have come out of Dunedin - Straightjacket Fits, The Clean, The Chills, 3Ds and many more embodied “the Dunedin Sound” in the ‘80s and ‘90s. Built in 1862, the Crown Hotel is a bit of an indie music icon, and you can still enjoy a jug, with your wall of noise.

Dunedin history and heritage

Head to the excellent Toitū Otago Settlers Museum to understand the history of Dunedin/Ōtepoti. Exhibitions bring to life Maori perspectives, first encounters with European explorers, Scottish Presbyterian settlement and the founding of a “New Edinburgh” in 1848, the gold rushes from 1861, and more.

The city of Dunedin has retained its distinctive 19th century architecture. Many of its finest Victorian and Edwardian buildings are not museum pieces; rather, the city lives within them. Take a step back in time in The Exchange - the city’s hub in the late 1800s - and see the old National Bank and BNZ Bank, and post office buildings nearby.

Visit the city’s historical buildings - the historic home of Olveston, Fletcher House, Dunedin Railway Station and Speights Brewery - and you’ll see that Dunedin’s early founders and traditions still stand proud on the cultural landscape.

The Octagon in Dunedin
Statue of Robbie Burns in front of St Paul’s Cathedral and Dunedin Town Hall, photo: Tourism Dunedin

Dunedin delights in its Scottish heritage: there are numerous pipe bands and highland dancers and a statue of Scottish bard, Robbie Burns, presides over The Octagon, the pedestrian plaza at the city’s centre.

Street Art and Galleries in Dunedin

Dunedin boasts New Zealand’s first public art gallery. Established in 1884, Dunedin Public Art Gallery is renowned for its collection of New Zealand art works from 1860 to the present, historical European works, Japanese prints and decorative arts. Set in the heart of the city, the gallery is a great place to explore, for works by famed local artists such as Frances Hodgkins, Colin McCahon, Ralph Hotere and Kushana Bush, along with thoughtfully curated exhibitions, and a cafe. Dunedin offers other art galleries as well, handily listed by the Otago Art Society.

You’ll find art out in the streets too. Dunedin Street Art brings the walls of the warehouse precint to life. Follow the street art trail and you’ll discover fantastic artworks from international as well as homegrown artists, blazing across huge walls, or turning up little quirky surprises, all lifting the city into a more interesting, provocative and imaginative sphere.

Family activities around Dunedin

Otago Museum is a great place to go with the family, especially if the weather isn’t too good. Entry is free to most parts of the museum. The Tāngata Whenua gallery presents the story of Māori arrival, along with many taoka (taonga, treasures) of Kai Tahu and other iwi. There is a small charge to visit the Tropical Forest - here you can enjoy a balmy 28 degrees, with colourful butterflies flitting about, orchids and palms.

Otago Peninsula - wildlife, beaches and Larnach Castle

The Otago Peninsula stretches out for about 20kms, enclosing Otago Harbour. With superb views of the sea and harbour, it’s a wonderful place to explore, for sparsely populated beaches, and unique wildlife, especially seabirds and seals.

Larnach Castle should not be missed. In a spectacular setting on the Otago Peninsula, the castle was built in 1871 by William Larnach, merchant and politician, for his wife Eliza. While the history of its founding family is touched with scandal and tragedy, the castle is now a peaceful and fascinating place to visit: interiors have been lovingly restored and furnished, and the gardens are famously beautiful.

For tranquil garden walks and excellent food, visit Glenfalloch, a woodland garden, with restaurant and cafe, run by the Otago Peninsula Trust. It’s free to enter the gardens, though donations are appreciated. You could go green - catch a bus from Dunedin, then hire an electric bike from Glenfalloch to tootle around the peninsula.

Albatross at Taiaroa Head
Albatross chick at Taiaroa Head, photo: Tourism Dunedin

The Royal Albatross Centre, at Taiaroa Head, is the only mainland albatross colony in the world. There are cultural and wildlife tours available - giving you a chance to see these great seabirds, and to learn more about the area’s Māori heritage and natural history.

From soaring flight to a bit of a waddle: the hoiho, or Yellow-eyed penguin is an endangered native penguin, found around Otago. At Penguin Place a conservation reserve, funded by guided tours, visitors can watch the penguins from trenches and hides, getting a much closer view of these charming but shy seabirds.

Yellow-eyed penguins
Yellow-eyed penguins, photo: Tourism Dunedin

Where to stay

Dunedin Area

What to do

More info - for more info on Dunedin - Dunedin Gig Guide

Find a Dunedin Area property


Getting there

  • From Invercargill by road: 217km
  • From Christchurch by road: 362km
Piwa perched