Dunedin is blessed with a number of excellent tour operators who provide enjoyable sightseeing the easy way. You'll find a profusion of pamphlets at the visitor center on The Octagon. During summer months, it pays to reserve early.
If you have food and wine on your mind, you should definitely hook up with Zest Food Tours (tel. 0800/937-886; www.zestfoodtours.co.nz), which will take you on a walking tour of the city, introducing you to the many gourmet tastes of the area. And if you join them on a Saturday, you'll also get a tour of the Otago Farmers' Market, which is held at the spectacular Dunedin Railway Station. Book your tour at the Dunedin i-SITE Visitor Centre and pay around NZ$180 per person.
Many of the operators are geared toward peninsula exploration. Outdoor types will find pleasure in the sea-kayak, rafting, walking, and mountain bike tours offered by Wild Earth Adventures (tel. 03/489-1951; www.wildearth.co.nz). Its Ocean Discovery Kayak Tour takes you along wild beaches and soaring sea cliffs to the albatross colony and offers amazing photographic opportunities. It costs NZ$125 per person.
Also popular is Elm Wildlife Tours (tel. 0800/356-563 in NZ, or 03/454-4121; www.elmwildlifetours.co.nz). Twice voted New Zealand’s best wildlife tour, it gives you a sound insight into the habits of various penguin species, fur seals, and sea lions. Viewing hides give you a close encounter and options range from NZ$99 to NZ$213. You’ll need good walking shoes as you’ll be walking on coastal hillsides. Most tours are 6 to 8 hours long. They are closed from December 25 to 31.
Dunedin’s Unique Tours
If you think ghosts don’t exist, Andrew Smith’s Hair Raiser Ghost Walk (tel. 03/477-2258; www.hairraisertours.com) might convince you otherwise. Get behind the city’s beautiful architecture and discover the truth behind many famous ghost sightings, the wandering habits of the supernatural, and The Octagon fires. Based on fact, not fiction, the tour is not for the fainthearted and there’s no guarantee of a good night’s sleep afterward. No garlic or crucifixes allowed. Tours leave from outside the visitor center daily April through September at 6pm, and October through March at 8pm; they cost NZ$30 for adults, NZ$15 for children 12 and under. No credit cards.
Take the hedonistic approach to touring with Top Hat Limousines (tel. 03/455-9060; www.tophat.co.nz). They can tailor-make a tour to suit your needs anywhere in the South Island; their standard hourly rate is NZ$145. Classic Jaguar Limousines (tel. 03/488-5961; www.classicjaguar.co.nz) offers a very good 5-hour Dunedin City Heritage Tour for NZ$200 per person, or a tour of the city’s heritage homes for NZ$210. It’s also a very stylish way to travel to Oamaru to see the Moeraki Boulders and the Blue Penguin Colony. Children ages 6 to 12 travel at half--price.
Coach (Bus) Tours
Citibus Newton Tours, Princes Street and Transport Place (tel. 03/477-5577; www.newtons.co.nz), conducts excellent tours of varying duration, from the comfort of a double-decker bus, all with guides providing valuable insight into the area’s highlights, along with the occasional anecdote to liven things up. All tours may be booked directly with Citibus Newton, online, or at the Dunedin i-SITE Visitor Centre. Pickups from your lodging can be arranged. The First City tour departs five times per day from the visitor center. The fare is NZ$20 per adult, NZ$10 per child 14 and under. The company’s Wildlife Tour of Otago Peninsula includes Larnach Castle; other wildlife tours include either the Albatross Centre or Penguin Place. Tours depart daily from the visitor center at 2:30pm and cost NZ$95 for adults, NZ$47.50 for children.
Cruising the Peninsula
A number of cruise options can show you the wildlife delights of Otago Peninsula. The visitor center has a comprehensive selection of brochures and a helpful staff to help you sort out your priorities.
Locals are quick to tell you about the fantastic value offered through the family-owned and -operated Monarch Wildlife Cruises, Wharf and Fryatt streets (tel. 0800/666-272 in NZ, or 03/477-4276; www.wildlife.co.nz). Established in 1983 by owners with degrees in biology and a wealth of experience on research vessels, Monarch won the New Zealand Tourism Awards Natural Heritage category in 1994 and the Ecotourism category in 1997. Crewmembers are experienced Department of Conservation officers or have degrees in zoology, so there’s not much you won’t be able to find out about albatrosses, New Zealand fur seals, yellow--eyed penguins, and other species you’re likely to see. If you’re short on time, opt for the 1-hour albatross cruise from Wellers Rock, which costs NZ$49 for adults, NZ$22 for children ages 5 to 15. It departs from Wellers Rock at 10:30am, noon, 2pm, 3:15pm, and 4:30pm in summer and at 2:30pm in winter. (Remember that Wellers Rock is a 45-min. drive from Central City.) Monarch also has full harbor cruises from Dunedin lasting just over 5 hours. Dress warmly and take your camera; if you’re unsure about which option to take, note that the most popular is the cruise--and--bus trip, which includes a guided tour of Penguin Place—it gives you a taste of everything. Half-day tours cost NZ$90 to NZ$140, and full-day options from NZ$235 to NZ$275.
A Train Trip to Taieri Gorge
The Taieri Gorge Railway (tel. 03/477-4449; www.taieri.co.nz) is more than a small jaunt on a train—it is an award-winning journey through history and spectacular scenery that is otherwise inaccessible to the public. No matter what time of the year, you’ll be impressed with both the scenic beauty and the sheer engineering feat of the railway’s construction. The 75km (47 miles) of rail includes 12 tunnels, and the magnificent Wingatui Viaduct, which took 42 years to build, beginning in 1879. Make sure you get Your Guide to the Taieri Gorge when you board the train, so you can follow your progress through to the tiny township of Middlemarch, the final stopping point—a funny little backwater of a place where bachelors need hard-to-find wives. Once here, you can get off and, if you’re not interested in finding the bachelors, you can link up to a coach to Queenstown; mountain bike, walk, or horseback ride—which will take you several days; or stay on the train for the return trip.
From October through April, the Dunedin-Middlemarch round--trip train runs Friday and Sunday morning, leaving Dunedin Railway Station at 9:30am; it takes a 45-minute stop at Middlemarch, and returns to Dunedin at 3:25pm. (Reduced hours in winter; call or check the website for details.) It costs NZ$97 round-trip for adults. Students get a 20% discount; one child (ages 3-17) per adult rides free, additional children pay NZ$22 each. The shorter 4-hour trip to Pukerangi (19km/12 miles short of Middlemarch) runs daily at 2:30pm, returning 6:30pm, and costs NZ$84. Both trips include at least two photo stops, excellent ongoing commentary, and a buffet car for snacks and drinks. An adults-only car and a wheelchair-accessible carriage (book in advance) are available. For a coastal train experience, leap aboard the Seasider, which departs on selected Wednesdays and Saturdays in the summer season. I haven’t tried this one yet, but I’m assured that the wild coastline on the trip north to Palmerston makes it more than worthwhile. You can make it a round-trip, or link with a gold-mine tour. It costs NZ$80 round--trip for adults, NZ$25 children ages 3 to 17.
Note: This information was accurate when it was published, but can change without notice. Please be sure to confirm all rates and details directly with the companies in question before planning your trip.