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Wild about Dunedin: 6 must-do experiences

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As the New Zealand city closest to Antarctica, Dunedin combines natural beauty with cosmopolitan chic. With its volcanic origins, rugged coastline and abundant wildlife, the Otago Peninsular is New Zealand’s answer to the Galapagos Islands, but with great Dunedin food and coffee! There’s plenty of epic things to do in Dunedin so here’s a nature lover’s guide to the area’s best attractions. 


Best wildlife spotting 

Dunedin is a habitat for rare wildlife. On the Otago Peninsula, you can spot little blue or yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, sea lions and The Royal Albatross Centre, home to the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross in the world. Take a guided tour and explore hidden underground tunnels underneath the albatross colony, to view these magnificent birds up close. A separate observatory provides a nursery for parents raising their young albatross chicks. On a breezy day, watch the adult albatross take to the skies with their huge 3-metre wingspan. 

A visit to the Orokonui Ecosanctuary, 20 kilometres north of Dunedin, will reveal more native wildlife within its huge predator-free enclosure. Tuatara lizards, Otago Skinks and seventeen species of native birds, including the rarest Haast tokoeka kiwi, thrive at Orokonui. The Ecosanctuary has created a crèche where up to fourteen baby kiwi are nurtured, until they can defend themselves in South Westland from their stoat predators.  


For garden lovers 

One of the best walks in Dunedin is through the delightful Dunedin Botanic Gardens, with its Edwardian Winter Garden and glorious Rhododendron Dell. Stroll the hillside paths and breathe in the scents of camellia and the striking Cedars of Lebanon. 


Best natural history experience 

A fantastic rainy-day activity is The Otago Museum, Dunedin which showcases nature, culture, and science from New Zealand and around the world. For the kids, there’s a three-story slide, a bike-riding skeleton, a Moa diorama and an indoor Tropical Forest where you can walk amongst a thousand rain forest butterflies, which flit around and often land on your hand. Because the Museum is a magnet for local schools, the exhibits are interesting and interactive. There’s even an animal attic, a Victorian-inspired zoological gallery, with nearly 3,000 historical specimens, including lions which escaped from a traveling circus!  


Most dramatic landscape  

If you love rugged coastline, sealions, unusual rock forms and sliding down golden sand dunes, then head to Sandfly Bay, one of the Dunedin beaches you don’t want to miss. Don’t fret about sandflies, as the name Sandfly Bay refers to the sand which scoots across the beach in strong winds.  

Grab a delicious lunch from Marbecks Foodstore at the Wall Street Mall, before the 20-minute drive to the track head. A grazing platter of cheeses, condiments, premium salami and a baguette, will provide the perfect picnic to refuel after a short hike to the bay. 

On arrival, follow the track to Sandfly Bay over farmland, while pausing at the optimally located viewing platforms, which frame stunning coastal views, including the aptly named Lion Rock, a small knoll beyond the breakers. 


Best secret beach and creepy castle 

Once the private domain of the influential Cargill family, discover mysterious Tunnel Beach, Dunedin on the spectacular Otago coastline with its wind-battered arches, sandstone cliffs and headlands. Follow the steep path from the carpark before it disappears into an arched tunnel, hand forged by the 1870’s owner of Cargill Castle. As you descend the steps to this secluded beach, where the Cargill daughters once sunbathed, swam and searched for fossils, you’ll understand why the Tunnel Beach Track is regarded as one of the best things to do in Dunedin.  

While Cargill’s Castle is now in ruins, it’s still visible from the street, where it continues to command outstanding views of the ocean and Dunedin’s southern coastline. 

Whatever your interests, whether it’s bird watching or hiking, the Bella Vista team can provide suggestions on the best walks in Dunedin and the Otago region’s bountiful natural attractions.