New Zealand- Chapter Four: The Secret of Dunedin

Dunedin, New Zealand is a great city. But, shhhhh, let’s not tell anyone.

I had read a lot about New Zealand in preparation for this trip. Everything I read, whether it be guidebook, blog or travel magazine, had positive things to say about Otago’s largest city. Yet few of these sources mentioned it as a “can’t-miss” place.

I suspect this is because most traveler’s that visit New Zealand have just a few weeks to cram in the country’s most famous sites: Milford Sound, Queenstown, the Marlborough Wine Region, Wellington, Rotorua and Auckland.

I was lucky to have made a friend (through a mutual Facebook friend) who lived in Dunedin. Andy is a Kiwi who attended his senior year of High School in the Milwaukee area with someone I went to college with. On the night I booked my trip, I changed my Facebook photo to the New Zealand flag. He saw it, sent me friend request, and we corresponded though e-mail and Facebook leading up to my trip. He had graciously volunteered to give me a personal guided tour of his adopted hometown, and I readily and thankfully accepted.

After an early morning of photographing the famous Moeraki Boulders at sunrise, I drove the hour to Dunedin and met Andy in the parking lot of the city’s most famous building, The Dunedin Railway Station.

These days, rail service on the South Island is limited to a couple of main lines and a couple of ‘tourist’ trains, but back in it’s heyday, it was the busiest railway station in the country, seeing more than 100 trains a day.
Dunedin’s Law Courts

Along with the Law Courts across the street, the railway system today is more a symbol of Dunedin than it is a thriving transportation center. It is home to the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame.

We got in Andy’s car and headed north from the railway station to Forsyth-Barr Stadium at University Plaza. This state-of-the-art facility on the city’s northern waterfront is the first in the world to be enclosed and have a grass playing surface.

We wandered around the outside of the stadium, the went across the street to check out the city’s professional cricket stadium, which we were able to enter and walk right out on the field in.

On our way back to Andy’s car in the Forsyth-Barr Stadium parking lot, we walked around the southern side of the stadium and found it open, due to some maintenance work being done by a crew of workers. We strolled into the stadium on field level, and I was able to get an impressive look at the facility. The whole time I kept marveling at how this type of experience would never happen in the United States, with our security.

Andy is a season ticket holder for the Highlanders, Otago’s professional Rugby squad. While we were checking out the field, he was able to point out where his tickets are located. The stadiums capacity is listed at a little over 30,000 for rugby and over 35,000 for concerts and events, pretty impressive considering Dunedin’s population is only 126,000.

University of Otago’s Administration Building

From the stadium, we drove over on to the campus of the University of Otago. Andy pointed out that this is the one locale in New Zealand where the college students predominantly live near the campus of the university, making it a true ‘college’ town.

As we walked around the main campus, I commented to Andy how it could be Madison, Wisconsin or East Lansing, Michigan. It had the young, energetic feeling of those places. With the fall colors and distinguished stone buildings, I felt like I could have been walking toward a packed football stadium in one of those college towns on a fall Saturday in the American Midwest. The student housing surrounding the campus also looked similar to that in which you would see in any US college town. Having lived 4 years in Mount Pleasant, Michigan, home to Central Michigan University, seeing the slightly run-down residences brought back fond memories.

Next, we headed up Signal Hill for some amazing panoramic views overlooking Dunedin.

The Otago Peninsula

To the east, I was able to observe the finger-like sliver of land known as the Otago Peninsula, which was to be my destination the next day.

Before heading to lunch, Andy drove me to one of Dunedin’s most unique sights, Baldwin Street, which is, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, the world’s steepest street.

Andy giving Baldwin Street some perspective

I was relieved when, instead of parking and climbing to the top, we drove to the top, and then strolled a short way down the street. My favorite story related to Baldwin Street was the one Andy told about an annual event where residents roll Jaffas, a Cadbury-made, New Zealand iconic treat (rounded orange candy shell covering chocolate) down the hill in a race. (I didn’t get to see this, but I did find this image of the event.)

For lunch we ventured to the suburb of Roslyn, to one of Andy’s favorite restaurant, Luna, where we has a beer and a delicious meal of fish dishes.

Smoked Hoki and blue cheese fish cakes, with walnut slaw

 My tour of Dunedin with Andy was certainly one of the highlights of my visit. On my own, I probably wouldn’t have visited the University of Otago’s campus, and certainly wouldn’t have mad it inside Forsyth Barr Stadium. Andy has all the great Kiwi traits, smart, worldly, and overwhelmingly friendly- traits I would come to admire greatly over the course of the trip. There can’t be a more welcoming people in the world than the New Zealanders.

My room at Hogwartz (Nice Place)

After Andy had dropped me off at the train station, I had to hustle over to the Cadbury factory for my 2:30pm tour. The tour was informative and cute, and our enthusiastic guide rewarded people for participating with Cadbury treats, and few people say no to free chocolate. There were no photos allowed on the tour, and while this usually causes me to think twice about booking such a tour, I was glad I had booked this one, as it was raining hard outside while I was on the tour. 

Having stayed the first three night in my campervan, I decided to book a room at a well-reputed hostel known as Hogwartz for the evening. The biggest reason for this was that it was right up the street from the Speight’s Brewery, where I had an evening tour booked. This would allow me to park the campervan near the hostel and to try as many samples as I wanted to without worrying about having to catch a cab back to my campground. 

I enjoyed the Speight’s tour (if not the beer so much), and my next post will be a photo essay from that tour. 

St Joseph’s Cathedral (right across the street from my hostel)

As the title of the post states, Dunedin seems to be one of New Zealand’s best kept secrets. It lacks the rampant commercial tourism of some other places, and that just adds to it’s charm. 

So, please, visit Dunedin when you are in New Zealand, I guarantee you won’t be disappointed. Let’s just keep it our little secret, ok?


NEXT: Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
My photo set for the day- Facebook   Flickr

Other Dunedin Links:
Cadbury Factory Tour- Dunedin 
Speight’s Brewery Tour- Dunedin
Luna- Roslyn (highly recommended)
Forsyth Barr Stadium
Baldwin Street
Hogwartz Hostel, Dunedin

The New Zealand 2012 Series-
New Zealand 2012 by the Numbers
Chapter One: Christchurch in One Word: Broken
Photo Essay- Sunrise outside Christchurch
Chapter Two- The Banks Peninsula & Hector’s Dolphins
Chapter Three- Washed Out at Tekapo
Photo Essay- Moeraki Boulders Sunrise
Chapter Four- The Secret of Dunedin
Photo Essay- Speight’s Brewery Tour, Dunedin
Chapter Five- The Otago Peninsula
Photo Essay- Otago Peninsula Wildlife
Chapter Six- The Edge of the World in the Catlins
Chapter Seven- Southern Scenic Route
Chapter Eight- Cruising Doubtful Sound (Pt.1)
Photo Essay- Lake Manapouri Cruise

8 Responses to “New Zealand- Chapter Four: The Secret of Dunedin”

  1. You definitely found all the super spots – I would have just added in the Botanical Gardens (I lived in a residence hall across the street from them when I went to uni there… before I moved to a flat 2 blocks away from Baldwin Street)

    I love all your photos, they take me right back to the awesome year that was my first in NZ. Dunedin will always be considered my adopted New Zealand “home” in my heart, I’m really glad you got to experience and love it too!

  2. eriksmithdotcom says:

    I think it's likely to keep growing- from what I understand, it's a pretty popular spot to relocate to within New Zealand.

  3. eriksmithdotcom says:

    Yes, you should go. Everyone should go 🙂 It is the most amazing country. 

  4. Ali says:

    Ok, I was going to say pretty much what Andy said 🙂 We really enjoyed Dunedin, I'm glad you made it there! 

  5. Hogga says:

    I feel like all of NZ falls into this category… and I kinda hope people don't overwhelm it so it stays as awesome as it is…

  6. Andrew says:

    We ended up in Dunedin for New Years last year. It really is a neat place with that college town feel. It is however not a very warm place. In the height of summer it was rainy, cold and windy making us happy for our coats nearly every day.

    The university build looks prety cool and as you said could be a half a dozen different colleges in the US. It looks a lot like my own Virginia Tech as well.  We didn't make it over there, but did go to the steepest street. And I walked up it. 🙂

    Didn't get to the rounded boulders, but we did go down to Tunnel Beach (which is within public transport range) and the only sunny day we did the tourist train which I enjoyed a lot.

    Dunedin is kind of a secret, but I think mostly because nearly the entire tourism budget of NZ goes toward promoting nature-y stuff.

  7. Catherine Sweeney says:

    OK, I promise not to tell anyone about Dunedin. How lucky that you got the tip to go there. Baldwin Street looks like a fun spot to see — that is really steep! Glad you've been having such a great time in NZ — I must go there sometime!


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