Summer’s here and it’s the perfect time to brave the beautiful south. A trip to Dunedin shows off New Zealand’s nature at its finest, with plenty of diverse cultural and adventure attractions thrown in to boot.
With a unique fusion of Scottish and Maori heritage, Dunedin is a vibrant university town boasting old world charms with a distinctly kiwi twist. And just moments from the modern pleasures of the buzzing city streets, the magnificent Otago region lies waiting to be explored.
What are you waiting for? Pick up a car rental in Dunedin and see it all on your own schedule with our Outsider’s Guide.
Distance from Dunedin city centre – 10km
Jutting out into the Pacific Ocean and running parallel to the mainland for 20 kilometres, the volcanic origins of the Otago Peninsula are apparent due to the many steep peaks and cones that dot the landscape – and what a landscape it is. With wild, secluded beaches, rolling green hills, soaring albatross above and blue penguins below, this is a nature lover’s dream destination.
Distance from Dunedin city centre – 7.5km
Surrounded by rugged sandstone cliffs, Tunnel Beach is home to mysterious caves, grand rock arches and majestic views. The only way to access the beach is via a steep track and hand carved passage that leads visitors down 72 steps to the sand below. As you descend, the tremendous sound of waves crashing against the rock will send your imagination spinning into a world of pirates, smugglers and wild adventures before you emerge to find yourself standing on the edge of the earth.
Distance from Dunedin city centre – 8.5km
Overlooking Otago Harbour, Signal Hill is the perfect place to get your bearings. Offering panoramic views of the Otago Peninsula and Dunedin city and boasting a surrounding 180-hectare reserve, this is a favourite spot for locals and visitors who want to soak in fresh air and scenery. Not feeling too active? Drive straight to the top for the best views in town, without the climb.
Distance from Dunedin city centre – 27km
For a slice of isolation close to the city, take the beautiful coastal drive to the small settlement of Aramoana, situated on the entrance to Otago Harbour. This secluded spot offers white sand, crystal waters and and big surf without the crowds to match – although you might have to share the sand with a few sunbathing seals and sea lions.
Distance from Dunedin city centre – 13km
Constructed in 1871, Lanarch Castle is a Scottish-style Victorian estate situated on a ridge of the Otago Peninsula. Known as New Zealand’s only castle, the main draw here is the 14-hectare grounds and gardens, which offer truly stunning views over the city, harbour and peninsula. View aside, the grounds themselves have been rated as a Garden of International Significance by the New Zealand Gardens Trust, making this the perfect escape for green-fingered nature fans. Drive to the castle and take a self-guided tour, before settling in for a sumptuous High Tea at 3pm daily.
Distance from Dunedin City Centre – 35km
A picturesque seaside settlement north of the city, Karitane is a popular escape for Dunedin locals, thanks to its tranquil atmosphere, rolling countryside and beautiful beaches. As the site of a fortified Maori village and an 1837 early settler whaling station, Karitane is also known for its Maori and European history. Meanwhile, the beaches provide plenty of walking, kayaking, surfing and fishing opportunities, while a range of birds, sea lions and fur seals add to the appeal.
Distance from Dunedin City Centre – 80km
Take the scenic drive west of Dunedin and find yourself in another world. Middlemarch is rural New Zealand at its finest and here, it’s all about nature, peace and wide open space. A favourite destination for cycling enthusiasts, load up the bikes and let loose on the Otago Central Rail Trail, peddling your way through the Maniototo Plain and Ida Valley with no traffic or cities in sight. Alternatively, explore the distinct landscape of the Rock and Pillar Range as you visit New Zealand’s only inland salt lake. But keep an eye out for those pesky orcs – this is one of the filming locations used for Peter Jackson’s blockbuster movie, ‘The Hobbit’.
Ready to explore New Zealand’s South Island? Pick up a rental car at Dunedin Airport and have the freedom to explore the best of this beautiful region at your own pace.