Dunedin – Museums, Wildlife and a Chinese Oasis

I hadn’t heard much about Dunedin before going there in March but I was blown away by how much I enjoyed myself there. The city is very different to other cities in New Zealand and the buildings themselves look much more British in style. Tucked away at the bottom of the country Dunedin has the perfect combination of a busy city life filled with attractions, bars and restaurants yet a short drive out to the peninsula allows you to escape the crowds and embrace the seaside and native wildlife.

Where to stay

The first night here we freedom camped in Thomas Burns Car Park which was a free site right beside the train station. Location wise this was a great place however it was between a busy main road and the train station so it was very noisy! The next night we met our friends all stayed at the Dunedin Holiday Park which was a really nice holiday park and cost $24 each per night. Its worth noting however that this was a little bit far outside the city and trying to get a taxi back here Friday night was a nightmare. Unfortunately there aren’t really any holiday parks closer to the city. If you’re willing to spend a little more (or manage to get a good deal) there are plenty of hostels in the city centre. For any Harry Potter fans like myself you could check out http://www.hogwartz.co.nz/Hogwartz which is a Harry Potter themed hostel in the center of town!

What to do

New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame

This small museum was first established in 1990 and is located in the Dunedin train station. For $6 each you get to see all of New Zealand’s greatest sporting accomplishments throughout the years. Every sport is covered from running, cricket and rugby to tennis and log chopping. There are some amazing pieces of memorabilia including olympic medals, posters, jerseys and boats.

Richie was especially eager to go in here but I have to say that I really enjoyed it. It’s a small museum and we had gone through the entire place in about 30 -40 mins but its informative, well laid out and a great celebration of New Zealand’s sporting past.

Otago Museum

This free museum was huge and had so many different exhibitions here that we ended up going back a second time in order to see everything! There is a great egyptian collect complete with mummies as well as a taxidermy exhibition and a great collection all about the life and adventures of local kiwi Sir Edmund Hillary the first person to ever summit Mt Everest.

You can also pay $20 to access the Science Center and Planetarium. The science centre is great fun especially for kids. Its an interactive area that demonstrates how earthquakes occur, experiment with light and colours as well as static and electricity. This area also contains a Butterfly House. I never realised how freaked out I was of butterflies until I went in here. There are hundreds of them in every colour size and shape imaginable. Yes they’re beautiful but they also fly up in your face and will try and follow you out the door.

Finally we also checked out a 30 minute show at the Planetarium which was (very randomly) voiced by Rupert Grint of Harry Potter fame. I love a planetarium show and the museum runs a couple different shows throughout the day.

Otago Settlers Museum

This was recommended to us by the I-Site and we hadn’t really planned on going but ended up wandering in one afternoon and I am so glad we did. This was my favourite museum we went to in Dunedin!

This free museum tells the story of the people of Dunedin from the first settlements to the evolution of the settlers clothing, transport and technology. I particularly liked some of the more modern exhibitions depicting new technology, the feminist movement and advancements in medicine.

This is a huge space and somewhere you can easily pass a couple hours.

Baldwin Street

This street currently holds the Guinness Book of Record for the longest steepest street in the world. This is located a short drive outside the city centre and frankly when we first got there it didn’t look particularly steep. It has a gradient of 36% which meant nothing to me but I can tell you that after walking up it – it is very very steep!

The steepness of the city is as a result of poor city planning which lay the city out in a grid formation without taking into consideration the hills surrounding the centre. There have been so cool records set on it including on 11 year old boy who got to the top on his pogo stick! Be warned though this is a residential street so be careful of cars driving up it incredibly fast!

The Chinese Gardens

These gardens are a complete oasis in the centre of the city. The attraction is an authentic garden which was designed and assembled in Shanghai initially before being dismantled and transported to Dunedin where it was reconstructed by supervisors from Shanghai!

Within the structure there is a Tea Room where you can get something to eat as well as try your hand at traditional chinese puzzles. There is also a scholars garden and study, tower room and gift shop. In the centre of the garden is a large pond and water feature complete with ducks and koi fish. Surrounding this are a series of walkways where you can read all about the history of the chinese community in Dunedin. It costs $9.50 for an adult and is open from 10am – 5pm daily.

Otago Peninsula

If you have the time then I would highly recommend getting out of the city itself and taking a drive down around the peninsula. Down here there are lots of beaches such as Allan Beach, Victory Beach and Tunnel Beach.

You can also check out Larnach Castle which is the only castle in the country. We have no shortage of castles in Ireland so weren’t willing to pay $34 each to go into the grounds however if you’re not as blase about castles as we are then I’ve heard it is beautiful and rumor has it it’s haunted!

From the city center Taiaroa Head, which is at the end of the peninsula, is only 32 kms away. Here you’ll find the Royal Albatross Centre where you can see the only mainland breeding colony of albatross in the world. Just beside this you’ll also be able to check out some native yellow eyed penguins as well as seal lions and a host of native birds.

Otago Peninsula has been rated the most romantic places in the world and it’s easy to see why. There are incredible views, wonderful beaches and some of New Zealand’s most spectacular wildlife.

Where to eat and drink

This is a university town so be prepared for that. We went out with friends on the Friday night and there were definitely A LOT of very young very drunk students everywhere (doesn’t that bring back fond memories). This didn’t bother us at all but just be ready for it. Dunedin has a great nightlife which is all centered around the octagon in the heart of the city. This is where you’ll find all the bars and nightclubs. Some ones worth checking out include Inch and Carousel. You could also check out Aika+ Co which at 1.8m is Dunedin’s smallest pub! Around the octagon you’ll also find plenty of great places to eat including Etrusco which is an italian restaurant, Bacchus Wine Bar and Restaurant or Lone Star which is the perfect spot for all the meat lovers out there. While in Dunedin you could also check out Speights Ale House. Here you can grab a beer fresh from the brewery, get some food or check out one of their tours of the factory.

I really liked Dunedin and its definitely a great place to spend a couple days! There are so many free museums, beaches and wildlife that this is one of the cheaper cities we’ve been to in New Zealand and other than Wellington is probably my favorite city we’ve visited!

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