Located on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island, Ōtepoti Dunedin has a rich heritage and is known for its interesting inhabitants. My first time properly exploring Dunedin was during iD Fashion Week in 2016, not long after I moved to Christchurch. The experience left a lasting impression, and Dunedin has been one of my favourite New Zealand cities ever since. It’s filled with creative, friendly souls who go out of their way to have a chat and share stories about their community.
With domestic travel back on the cards, Nancy suggested taking a trip to Dunedin. Nancy is an incredibly talented photographer and I knew we had to document our experience in a way that would be helpful for Kiwis travelling their backyard. Thankfully, we had the help of the team at Dunedin NZ to put together an action-packed itinerary and we discovered our fair share of incredible establishments.
If you’re someone who enjoys wandering around cities, stumbling into art galleries and lingering in cafés, you will absolutely love Dunedin. Its compact size makes it walkable and manageable whether you have a day or a week to explore. Here’s what we did during our three days in Dunners:
We based ourselves at The Terminus Apartments, just off Vogel Street in the Warehouse Precinct. Our two-bedroom apartment reminded us of a New York loft with its exposed brick walls and high ceilings. We spent every evening taking in the stunning sunsets over the city. The spacious unit had a stylish lounge, a full-service kitchen, even a workspace, and honestly, we didn’t want to leave.
Stargazing with Horizon Tours was an otherworldly experience and a highlight of our time in Dunedin. The Otago peninsula coastline yields breathtaking views of the night sky and we were lucky to have the clearest night for our tour of the southern skies.
After being greeted by our charming guides, Kylie and Lyndon, they each pointed out celestial points of significance (most of which can be viewed with the naked eye!) Kylie sang a waiata and shared stories about Māori myths of creation, of how Te Ao Marama – the world of light emerged. Hearing the stories of Māori ancestral heritage added to the magic of the tour; it truly is a point of difference. The four-hour excursion includes a light supper, a hot beverage, (I loved my detoxifying Kawakawa tea) plenty of blankets and the comfiest chairs (with headrests!) for optimal stargazing.
As a coastal city, Dunedin has beaches scattered along its coastline and around the Otago Harbour. If you’re visiting during the summer months, the beaches are a must. It was sunny, but quite chilly during our stay, but we stopped by St. Kilda on our way to Larnach Castle.
After our visit to the seaside, we carried on to Larnach Castle where we were greeted by owner and CEO, Norcombe Barker. Having grown up in the castle, Norcombe shared its fascinating history as well as his experience renovating the castle with his parents. When they purchased it in 1967, it was in a state of near ruin and the ballroom was being used to pen sheep!
After wandering around the enormous, 25-room castle and the gardens, we were treated to high tea beside the fire in the historic ballroom (and former sheep pen). The space often plays host to various events and celebrations — from weddings to galas and the annual winter ball. We didn’t ask Norcombe about any specific ghost sightings, but he did tell us about one particular incident in 1994 when Castle of Lies, a play on the Larnach family, premiered in the grand ballroom.
We also stopped by one of city’s most prominent landmarks, The Dunedin Railway Station. Dating back to 1906, this magnificent building is often referred to as the Gingerbread House. Not only does the railway station play host to iD Fashion Week (the longest and most incredible runway in the world!) it’s also home to the Otago Farmers Market every Saturday.
EAT & DRINK
If you’re looking for a twist on the usual breakfast fare, be sure to stop into Precinct Food on Vogel Street. Owner and director, Liz Christensen retrained as a chef eight years ago and cleverly uses food to tell stories. After buying a catering company, she used the space for creative events and it reluctantly became a café soon after. You’ll find a few classic favourites on the menu, like eggs benny and the big breakfast, but there are plenty of dishes that push the boundaries including their carrot and tofu dumplings.
According to my friend, Jared, Good Good has the best burgers in New Zealand. I trust Jared with burger recommendations and he’s never failed me. As soon as we stopped in for lunch, I knew we were in for a treat. The space is a converted garage with pink neon signs and casual seating. Even though the kitchen is small (it’s housed in a small caravan onsite), the burgers that emerge are incredible. We shared the buttermilk fried chicken burger (Nancy’s favourite) and the beef burger (my favourite) with parmesan tater tots. As many of my readers will know, I’m a bit of a burger fiend, and these did not disappoint.
In search of freshly baked goods, we headed straight to Side On on Moray Place on our last morning in Dunedin. After taking one look through their window, we knew we needed to sit down for breakfast, too. Their breakfast offering is small, I think most dishes feature freshly baked bread in some form with various toppings. Nevertheless, it was satisfying and I left with a cardamon bun and a few slices to snack on later.
Tucked away on Bath Street, The Swan officially opened in January this year and quickly became a local favourite. You’ll immediately notice the gorgeous shopfront adorned with a swan, which happened to be retrieved from a pond in Balclutha. Open from 8am until 4pm during the week (Monday to Thursday), The Swan stays open late on Friday and Saturday nights and there’s live music on Saturdays. The food here is noteworthy with chef Mikhail making everything in-house from scratch. We ordered the impressive platter, which consisted of salmon, (they smoke it themselves) a whole loaf of freshly baked ciabatta, beetroot, pesto, pickled onions (again they do all their own pickling) and three types of cheese from local suppliers. Paired with a pinot noir from Central Otago, it was a memorable way to spend our afternoon.
Vogel Street is home to so many excellent cafés, bakeshops, and eateries, but we were immediately drawn into Heritage Coffee with its moody interior. It proved to be the perfect spot for a coffee in between meetings. Heritage serves coffee made with beans by small batch local roaster, Common Ground and classic breakfast staples like avocado toast and eggs benny. If you’re after a place to meet a friend or client, it’s a solid option in the Warehouse Precinct.
A new spot near the Octagon, we had coffee at Catalyst Kitchen on our first full day in Dunedin. From what I’ve heard, the food offering is equally delicious with plenty of healthy lunchtime options.
There were a few spots we didn’t have the chance to make it to this time around, but I also recommend Allpress Roastery, which is worth a visit for its beautiful building alone. Grab a coffee or some beans on your way to the university or the Otago Museum. No7 Balmac is another favourite of mine for either brunch or dinner, located up Maori Hill.
Ocho Chocolate Factory
A trip to Dunedin isn’t complete without stopping by Ocho, Otago’s own craft chocolate shop and tasting room. I initially discovered Ocho at the Otago Farmers Market (held on Saturdays at the Railway Station — highly recommend!) In addition to factory tours, they offer chocolate tastings where you can learn about what’s involved in making chocolate. During the 25 minute tastings, you’ll see the team roast, grind, temper and wrap chocolate by hand and then taste the difference between cacao from Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and Fiji.
Next door to Ocho, you’ll find Bay Rd, which is home to Dunedin’s best peanut butter. The Hastie Brothers batch roast the peanuts before chucking them straight in the grinder, the result is some of the freshest peanut butter imaginable. Their café is temporarily closed, but stop by for a fresh jar and a chat. I’m team crunchy, but I’ve heard their smooth PB is equally delicious.
And just like that, our trip to Dunedin was done and dusted. Nancy and I had the best time together and realised that despite regularly visiting this city, there was even more to discover. While international travel might not be an option for awhile, we’re spoiled for choice right here in New Zealand. Whether you travel to Dunedin frequently or you haven’t been in years, head down for a weekend and you might be surprised to find a world class city here at home.
Photography by Nancy Zhou
*This trip was a press trip with Dunedin NZ