The ‘wildlife capital’ of New Zealand is home to exceptional experiences and unique encounters.
Dunedin is a coastal city of style and substance that will surprise and delight discerning travellers. Its gothic-style urban landscape has a European feel, with grand architecture and ornate historic buildings mingling with edgy fashion, world-class street art, and an exceptional local dining scene. Go beyond the city and to discover stunning volcanic landscapes, pristine beaches as wild as they are romantic, and enough rare wildlife to leave David Attenborough swooning. Explore the city in style with our ultimate guide to Dunedin’s luxury experiences.
The best wildlife experiences in Dunedin
Get up close to behold the world’s smallest penguins (little blues) in their comical yet fascinating return from a day of fishing. Blue Penguins Pukekura offers exclusive tours for small groups or individuals which can include behind-the-scenes options. You’ll accompany rangers on their rounds, tending nests and checking in on adorable chicks.
Penguin Place is a private conservation project that is home to a rehabilitation facility caring for sick, injured and starving Hoiho (yellow-eyed penguin). Staff also monitor three beaches with active Hoiho populations, restore native vegetation, have an extensive trapping program, and run guided tours that fully fund the project and help educate the public about the plight of the penguins. Without this vital project, it’s predicted the mainland population of penguins would be extinct within five years.
Watch Dunedin’s famous Royals from an exclusive ‘Royal Box’ observatory at the Royal Albatross Centre. Be awed by the majestic giant of the seas with a three-metre wingspan as you learn about the breeding cycle of the Northern Royal Albatross (Toroa). A proportion of every ticket sold at the centre goes directly towards the fostering and protection of these magnificent birds.
Journey on the Waikouaiti River in a waka taurua (double-hulled waka) to plant native trees on Ohinepouwera Spit or walk the Huriawa pā site while being immersed in stories and traditions of the Indigenous culture. Rich in Māori history, with beautiful beaches and abundant wildlife, you’re not only soaking up the stunning scenery, but helping provide a new habitat for native wildlife.
Live like a royal at Larnach Castle
Get a glimpse into Dunedin’s illustrious past by visiting one of the many preserved heritage attractions. The wealthy Edwardian and Victorian merchant families of bygone eras were aficionados of the finer things in life and left a lasting legacy in the spectacular homes and public buildings that are still prevalent in the city today. The very regal Larnach Castle is set atop the stunning Otago Peninsula and surrounded by a six-star Garden of International Significance.
A sumptuous high tea is served here during the warmer months, while those with more robust palettes may enjoy a dram by the ballroom fire, or dinner in the music room. The castle does such a good impression of an aristocratic gem that it featured as the Lavanian palace in the recent Netflix rom-com, The Royal Treatment, which was filmed on location.
Explore historic homes and artefacts
Art and antique lovers will find their Shangri La in the stately Olveston Historic Home, which is nestled in an impressive garden overlooking the inner city. Artefacts, paintings, tapestries and curiosities from the Orient, Africa, Europe and beyond grace the rooms of this Edwardian mansion. The treasures were collected on the many travels of the Theomin family, who once lived here. These days you can tour the home or enjoy an Edwardian high tea in the great hall and imagine yourself as lord or lady of the manor. The city is also home to New Zealand’s oldest and most beautiful university and the much-photographed Dunedin Railway Station, among many other impressive sights.
Engage with local music, literature, art and design
Dunedin boasts a long history of music, literature, art and design. In fact, it’s a city with such a cultural edge it spawned its own indie music movement in the ’80s. Dunedin is the only city in New Zealand to hold the title of UNESCO City of Literature, luring a number of well-known writers over the years, including Mark Twain. To date, Dunedin continues to be a place where creatives gather and thrive, and literary enthusiasts may appreciate the collections of rare tomes at one of the many second-hand book stores.
Visit New Zealand’s first art gallery
Dunedin can also lay claim to the country’s very first public Art Gallery. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery houses a significant collection of New Zealand artworks dating from 1860 to the present. It’s also home to International works by renowned artists including Turner, Gainsborough and Machiavelli. Plus, the only Monet on display in a New Zealand collection.
There’s no shortage of private art galleries either with The Artist’s Room Gallery, Gallery de Novo and Milford Galleries promoting diverse collections of contemporary New Zealand painting, sculpture, printmaking and photography. One need only walk the streets to soak up Dunedin’s dedication to visual art. The city walls provide an ever-evolving gallery of vibrant, whimsical artworks by local and international street artists. You’ll see works by Italy’s Pixel Pancho, the UK’s Phlegm and Australia’s Fintan Magee.
Small group and exclusive tours in Dunedin
Dunedin’s small-group or exclusive tours offer access to areas and experiences travellers may not otherwise be able to access. Dunedin’s Otago Peninsula is a world-renowned eco-tourism destination and home to some of the rarest marine wildlife around. It’s a haven for endangered species such as the yellow-eyed penguin and the world’s only mainland breeding colony of royal northern albatross.
Charter a wildlife, conservation, photography or fly-fishing tour with UntamedNZ and the effervescent Mateo or join one of the small-group options taking in the best nature-spotting sites in the region. Enjoy the comfort and expert commentary of the long-standing Monarch Wildlife Cruise and Tours. The company offers a journey along the beautiful Otago Harbour with peninsula-based add-ons to suit your interests.
Bespoke tours in Dunedin
Take a private night-sky tour you’ll never forget with Horizon Tours. You’ll venture to the wild reaches and beaches of the peninsula as dusk falls. Sit back as the skies reveal an interstellar show of stars and often, the neon-liquid colours of the Aurora Australis. Sitting in the comfort with anti-gravity chairs and blankets, you’ll be plied with refreshments and tales of the celestial bodies. These stories are woven through Māori legends and song. Spine-tingling.
If fine cars are more your style, Classic Jag tours offer an impeccably stylish way to view the scenic highlights. Sit back and relax as you’re chauffeured on one of the curated itineraries or create your own. Classic Jags are also the local tour of choice for National Geographic private expeditions.
What better way to appreciate the spectacular coastal scenery than by air. Highland Helicopters offers tailored flights taking in the natural wonders so easily accessible from Dunedin. Have breakfast in the city, then take a short flight to lunch at one of the renowned Gibbston Valley wineries. All this, and you’ll still be back in time for dinner by the ocean.
The best places to drink and dine in Dunedin
One of the brightest rising stars of New Zealand’s dining scene, Dunedin is spoiled for world-class culinary choices. From degustation dining to craft breweries, visitors should allow plenty of time to wine and dine. The local approach is more relaxed sophistication than fine dining, but don’t let the lack of airs and graces fool you. Dunedin knows good food and isn’t afraid to embrace new flavours and techniques to deliver an outstanding dining experience.
With five eateries on the latest Cuisine New Zealand top 100 list, work your way through the heavy hitters first. Each takes a very unique approach to the culinary arts. Starting with the heart of the city, or rather the Octagon in the centre, the smoky scent of the chic and vibrant Prohibition Smokehouse might just prove irresistible. Specialising in locally-sourced and expertly aged meats with sensational sides, this is a place where flavour sings in every dish.
In Dunedin’s hip and historic Warehouse Precinct, Moiety offers a cool and casually sophisticated option for diners. The restaurant showcases the very best of locally sourced, seasonal ingredients, along with five-star service and edgy style. It’s a must visit for enticing snack options or decadent five-course degustation dining.
As a city proud of its Scottish ancestry and influence, Bracken restaurant is a fitting way to experience the local dining scene. Serving up modern Scottish cuisine in a degustation style, this is sophisticated fare that reflects the seasons and local flavours. A little slice of Highland hospitality in downtown Dunedin, there’s a well-stocked whiskey bar and yes quite frequently, a few men in kilts.
Tucked away in the hill suburbs of the city, No. 7 Balmac does fantastical things with an applewood smoke grill. This inviting eatery dishes up modern bistro fare with international influences. Meanwhile, relative newcomer tītī, hones in on creative flavour combinations through a dazzling ‘trust the chef’ menu, paired with mesmerising views of the ocean on the St Clair Esplanade.
The Vaults at the Distinction Hotel offers luxe dining with a difference. The former Chief Post Office vaults whisks diners back to a 1930’s speakeasy. Opulent décor and glittering chandeliers provide the backdrop for bespoke menus, custom made just for you. With its green velvet, muted golds and art deco styling, The Press Club restaurant at The Fable Hotel is impeccably stylish, sleek but not stuffy, much like Dunedin itself.
Dunedin institution Nova delivers exceptional fare with a local focus, underpinned by the recent arrival of notable chef Marcus Verberne, fresh from London’s private member’s club 67 Pall Mall and previously Roast restaurant. Seek out subterranean sophistication and excellent cocktails at Mr. Fox and sample fine wine over dinner at Bacchus. Or sample the newest and tastiest craft beers from Emerson’s, Moons or Steamer Basin breweries.
The best golf courses in Dunedin
Hit the green for a day or two and experience Dunedin’s world-class golf clubs. Golf, as we know it, originated in Scotland, so it’s no surprise that there are several excellent courses in Dunedin. The Otago Golf Club is one of the best. Established in 1871, the championship-class Par 71, 5972-metre course is the oldest in the Southern Hemisphere. And its stunning native bush setting offers iconic city and harbour views. Closer to the city is Chisholm Links, an 18-hole championship links course that has hosted multiple pro tournaments. Offering incredible Pacific Ocean vistas, it’s located just an eight-minute drive from the Dunedin CBD. For the real enthusiasts, there are at least seven other courses within wider Dunedin, from the coastal to the rural.
Where to stay in Dunedin
With its grand gothic architecture and spectacular scenery, Dunedin is a city like no other with boutique accommodation to match. Inspired by the land, sea and sky that surrounds Dunedin, Ebb Dunedin is New Zealand’s first modernist boutique hotel. The adult-oriented hotel’s 27 unique rooms and penthouse suite offer contemporary luxury. The artistically inclined will love its four-level atrium, resplendent as it is with themed artworks.
The elegant Fable Dunedin, originally constructed in 1862, offers a bespoke boutique experience. Think carefully curated hospitality and beautifully appointed five-star accommodation. Plus, a chic restaurant and bar augmented by artful details and contemporary touches.
Distinction Dunedin was once a grand Chief Post Office, but is now a well-appointed hotel with spacious modern suites, studio rooms and luxe touches. In the heart of Dunedin is the heritage-listed The Chamberson. What was formally a warehouse has been revamped with contemporary décor. It boasts spacious, light-filled, apartment style rooms, whilst preserving the original features. Nearby is The Burlington, a luxurious two-bedroom apartment accommodation with two designer lounge areas, banquette dining and full kitchen. This is a premium alternative for discerning travellers seeking privacy and exclusivity.
The Bell Hill Apartments combine tasteful elegance, history and modern comforts with an unrivalled inner-city location. Choose from one of three apartments which embrace arts & craft, art noveau and art deco influences. Enjoy views overlooking the majesic spire of First Church. One of the most exclusive places to stay in Dunedin would have to be Camp Estate . This luxurious country house offers the highest standards of hospitality, privacy and comfort. It is positioned high on the Otago Peninsula, minutes from Larnach Castle.
This article was produced with content supplied by Dunedin NZ and is a Signature Luxury Travel & Style digital exclusive. Be the first to see more exclusive online content by subscribing to the enewsletter.