Swing by the visitor center to watch the half-hour video Dunedin Discovered, which will give you an overview of the region. Also pick up a sightseeing map and look for the Walk the City brochure (NZ$3). There are terrific scenic drives around the city and on the peninsula, and the visitor center has plenty of maps and brochures to show you where to go and what to look out for along the way. One of your first stops should also be the Otago Museum . Its gallery, "Southern Land, Southern People," will bring more meaning to your visit.
Forgive me for not walking up Baldwin Street, which, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, is the world’s steepest street. I couldn’t face the 270 steps that take you to the top, or the footpath and its impossible gradient. Just minutes from the city center, this little street tricks you with a gentle beginning. It then rears dramatically skyward to come to a dead end on the hillside. If you’re hale and hearty and have something to prove, this could be a good test, and I believe the views from the top are worth it. And if you want a certificate to prove to your friends back home that you had what it takes, then stop by the World’s Steepest Street Tourist Shop, 282 North Rd. (tel. 03/473-0923). To get to Baldwin Street, take the Normandy bus to North Road; Baldwin is the 10th street on the right past the Botanic Gardens. And remember, if you drive to the top, there’s only a very tight turnaround space and only one way out—down the way you came!
Dunedin’s Railway Station warrants more than a cursory glance. This marvelous old Flemish Renaissance-style structure was designed by George A. Troup and built between 1904 and 1906. Troup won the Institution of British Architects Award for his efforts and was later knighted. Built of Kokonga basalt with Oamaru limestone facings, the station’s most prominent feature is its large square clock tower. Equally impressive are the Aberdeen granite pillars supporting arches of the colonnade across the front, the red Marseilles tiles on the roof, and the colorful mosaic floor (more than 725,000 Royal Doulton porcelain squares) in the massive foyer depicting a "puffing billy" engine. Look for the replica of Dunedin’s coat of arms and the stained-glass windows above the balcony. This is where you’ll find the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, 1st floor, Main Railway Station (tel. 03/477-7775; wwwnzhalloffame.net.nz), which gives you an overview of New Zealand’s great sporting moments. It’s open daily from 10am to 4pm. Admission is NZ$5 per person.
The Dunedin Gasworks Museum, 20 Braemar St., South Dunedin (tel. 03/455-5062; www.gasworksmuseum.org.nz), is an unexpected find. The gasworks opened in 1863 and today it is one of only three gasworks museums in the world. You’ll find interesting displays of old, steam-pumping engines and an appraisal of the city’s early industrial heritage. It’s open the first and third Sunday of every month, plus every Tuesday, from noon to 4pm; visits by appointment at other times. Admission is NZ$5 for adults and NZ$8 for a family.
Chocolate lovers and fans of Charlie & the Chocolate Factory, rejoice! The famous Cadbury World, 280 Cumberland St. (tel. 03/467-7967; www.cadburyworld.co.nz), is open. This unique, interactive chocolate-themed center offers daily guided tours of New Zealand’s most famous—and favorite—chocolate factory every half-hour from 9am until 3:15pm. Immerse yourself in the process and sample treats along the way. A full tour takes about 75 minutes, but be aware that many of the most interesting processes are "secret" and you don’t get to see them. I found that a little disappointing, and I suspect younger children may be less enchanted by the mechanical focus. It costs NZ$18 for adults, NZ$12 for children ages 5 to 15, and NZ$48 for families. A retail outlet here also offers special "tour only" prices, but you can’t shop here unless you do take the tour.
Taking in the Views
There are three good lookout points from which to view the city and its environs: Mount Cargill Lookout, 8km (5 miles) from the city center (turn left at the end of George St., then left on Pine Hill Rd. to its end, and then right onto Cowan Rd., which climbs to the summit); Centennial Lookout, or Signal Hill (turn onto Signal Hill Rd. from Opoho Rd., then drive 3km/1 3/4 miles to the end of Signal Hill Rd.); and Bracken's Lookout (at the top of the Botanic Gardens), which was named after poet Thomas Bracken, who wrote the words to New Zealand's national anthem.
Exploring Otago Peninsula
Otago Peninsula is simply spectacular, especially on a clear day. It has some of the finest views of the southern coastline and is one of New Zealand’s most renowned ecotourism areas, with several excellent wildlife centers. You can book tours of the peninsula through the visitor center, or pick up the free Visitors’ Guide to the Otago Peninsula, which features a comprehensive map of attractions, arts and crafts, accommodations, and restaurants. The 33km (20-mile) peninsula curves around one side of Otago Harbour. It’s an easy road, although some portions are unpaved, and it takes you past quaint coastal boatsheds and quiet settlements. The listings below cover Otago’s highlights. As most tourism operations based on or visiting this area depend on the welfare of the peninsula’s wildlife, you’ll find most take a conscientious approach to environmentally safe viewing practices.
If you're traveling with kids - or even if you're not - don't miss the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre & Westpac Aquarium, Portobello, Otago Peninsula (tel. 03/479-5826; www.marine.ac.nz). I can't keep my hands out of things, so I delighted in being able to delve into marine tanks - although it goes without saying that you should first see who's living in there. After all, there's no point in losing a finger to a lobster. You can help feed the sea critters every Wednesday and Saturday from 2 to 3pm; or take one of the daily guided tours at 10:30am. The center is open daily from 10am to 4:30pm. A self-guided visit costs NZ$13 for adults, NZ$6 children 5 to 15, and NZ$25 for a family; the guided tour is NZ$22 for adults, NZ$11 for children, and NZ$49 for a family. If you're heading out to view the albatrosses, it?s on your way. Be aware that it's a narrow, unsealed road through farmland to the aquarium (slippery when wet) and when you get there, there is a sudden, very steep descent into a small car park. The views for photographs are well worth the effort.
Experiencing the Heartland: Central Otago Rail Trail
Get off the beaten track to see the dramatic landscapes and quaint villages of central Otago by following the Central Otago Rail Trail (tel. 03/474-6909). Opened to the public in 2000, this 150km (93-mile) trail between Middlemarch and Clyde -- great for cycling, walking, or horseback riding -- follows the old railway line that took 16 years to build between 1891 and 1907. The trail can be started and finished at either Middlemarch or Clyde and you should allow 4 days to complete it, cycling for around 4 hours a day over gravel surfaces. There are no very steep climbs but a good level of fitness and some cycling experience makes for a much better experience. If you’re walking, you’ll need to be fit and you should allow 6 days. You’ll pass through tunnels (take a torch), over viaducts, and through surreal rocky landscapes, stopping each night at one of the many excellent accommodation spots along the way, which must be booked well in advance. Informative panels dot the trail, detailing the history and geography of the region; and pubs, cafes, and grocery stores in some small villages can be found along the way. Make sure you take cash as ATMs are few and far between. You can find out all you need to know about the trail, bike hire, accommodation, and transport at www.otagocentralrailtrail.co.nz. There is also an excellent brochure available from the Dunedin i-SITE Visitor Centre.