Dunedin: New Zealand's most underrated city?

Dunedin, on New Zealand's idyllic ...

Posted: Jun 19, 2018 10:05 AM
Updated: Jun 19, 2018 10:05 AM

Dunedin, on New Zealand's idyllic South Island, isn't getting as many tourists as nearby Queenstown. But that's good news for travelers who want to experience the country's famous hospitality but aren't as keen on Hobbits.

Despite its low profile, Dunedin -- whose name is the Scottish Gaelic word for Edinburgh, possibly making it more Scottish than Scotland -- has a quiet, understated cool.

As a university town, it is full of inexpensive eats, street art, craft beer and live music, not to mention cheery locals who are known to argue over who gets to stop and give you directions.

Here's a sampling of the best things to do in the town referred to as "Dunners."

(Just one thing before you go: it's pronounced "done-Eden.")

Take photos at the Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin's gray, gingerbread-esque railway station may not be in use anymore, but it has a purpose these days -- being the most photographed spot in all of New Zealand, according to some.

Not only is the outside stunning. Head inside for a small gift shop and stained-glass windows depicting trains.

Enjoy high tea at Larnach Castle

As "the Edinburgh of the South," it makes sense that Dunedin has a castle -- the only one in the whole country.

Though the castle is a private residence, there are still some accommodations on the property, including in the stables. (They're really nice stables, though. Not the kind horses sleep in.)

Still, since Larnach is some ways from the city of Dunedin, a great option is heading there for high tea or a fancy dinner, complete with a proper Scottish-style blessing of the haggis.

The best time to go? Burns Night, January 25, which is the birthday of Scottish national poet Robert Burns. The Kiwi summer weather is an added bonus.

Larnach Castle, 145 Camp Rd, Dunedin, 9077, New Zealand; +64 3 476 1616

Have a flat white and a cheese roll at The Perc

Sure, it's no secret that New Zealand and Australia have vibrant coffee cultures.

But unique to the South Island is a snack called the cheese roll -- basically, just cheese and onions rolled up inside a piece of soft bread, although many places add their own secret extra ingredients or flavorings and are loath to tell you their particular combination.

If you want a to-go snack, it's hard to beat something that already comes in roll form (here, you can order it as "South Island Sushi"), and it pairs well with a flat white, long black or the bespoke coffee of your choice.

However, The Perc is so cute that it's worth sitting down and having a proper meal -- breakfast is the best, with lots of healthy avocado toast options, plus house-made muesli, porridge, bacon butties and a nice range of vegan and vegetarian options.

The Perc, 142 Stuart St, Dunedin, 9016, New Zealand; +64 3 477 5462

Hike up Baldwin Street

While there's some debate about this topic, New Zealanders deeply believe that Baldwin Street is the steepest residential street in the world.

The good news is that unlike some of its rivals to the crown, Baldwin is relatively straight (no twisty turns a la San Francisco's Lombard Street) and has ramps and stairs along the way, making it relatively safe to walk up.

That said, you won't want to just zip to the top. Half the fun of the hike is looking around at the oddly-angled houses and trees, so be sure to tell everyone that you're stopping to snap some Instagram shots and not resting your legs, even though they might feel like they're on fire.

Reward yourself for said hike with a Speight's beer

Being isolated means that it's easier and cheaper for Kiwis to make their own excellent beer than pay to import it from elsewhere.

One of those brands is Speight's, a now-ubiquitous national beer that traces its roots right here to Dunedin and brands itself "the pride of the south."

You can tour their Dunedin brewery year-round (three tours daily in the winter; six in the summer) -- and your admission ticket also includes some samples.

The brand's Gold Medal Ale is probably their most classic pour, but they also make cider and ginger beer.

Speight's, 200 Rattray St, Dunedin, 9016, New Zealand; +64 3 477 7697

Smell the roses at the Dunedin Botanic Garden

Get your nature fix at Dunedin's sweeping Botanic Garden, which is free to visit almost every day of the year.

Because of its geography, the focus is mostly on plants from the southern hemisphere, but there's also a beautiful rose garden and a glasshouse full of warm-weather plants.

Dunedin Botanic Garden, 12 Opoho Rd, North Dunedin, Dunedin 9016; +64 3 477 4000

Stock up at Hard to Find Books

Hard To Find Books is an aptly named multi-level shop full of, you guessed it, books that are hard to find.

You could easily spend a day hunting down long-lost titles in this biggest bookshop in the Pacific, but if you're not looking for anything specific your best bet is the New Zealand authors section -- win points by picking up something by Janet Frame, a local legend who lived and worked in Dunedin for much of her life.

If the North Island is in your plans, there's also a Hard to Find outpost in Auckland.

Hard to Find, 20 Dowling St, Central, Dunedin 9016, New Zealand; +64 3 471 8518

Explore the city's vibrant street art scene

Dunedin not only likes street art but actively encourages it, bringing in artists from around the world for special pieces. You can't turn a corner downtown without finding something special behind a parking lot or in an alley.

Keep an eye out for a piece dedicated to Ed Sheeran, who played three sold-out shows in Dunedin in 2017 and selfied most of his trip.

If you're hunting for a favorite artist, the Dunedin Street Art Council maintains a city map that features info on all the pieces and the artists who created them.

Spot blue penguins at the Royal Albatross Centre

Out on the Otago peninsula, about a 40-minute drive from central Dunedin, is the Royal Albatross Centre.

The site, as you may have guessed, is home to a colony of royal albatrosses -- this is their only breeding space in mainland New Zealand -- and you can sign up for a tour to see the birds (or, depending on the time of year, their nests) from a respectful distance.

And that's not the only animal who calls this area home.

Little blue penguins, also known by their Maori name of Koror-, are native to New Zealand and Australia. They're the tiniest -- and arguably the cutest -- species of penguin, but climate change, erosion, overuse of plastics, urban sprawl and other realities of modern life have endangered their communities.

To get the best view of the little guys, sign up for a sunset tour with Blue Penguins Pukekura -- the birds often return from the sea to the land when the sun sets.

In winter in New Zealand, sunset can be as late as 11 p.m., so the special New Year's Eve tour includes a celebratory glass of champagne at midnight.

Royal Albatross Centre, 1260 Harington Point Rd, Harington Point 9077, New Zealand; +64 3 478 0499

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