Prepare to be enchanted by this burly, historic city with its Scottish warmth and lively student culture.

Dunedin, the South Island’s second largest city, is situated at the bottom of the Otago Peninsula, a long finger of green land, home to an abundance of rare wildlife, including (the world’s rarest) yellow-eyed penguins, sea lions and royal albatross. Often dubbed the “Edinburgh of the South”, Dunedin was founded in 1848 by Scottish Presbyterian immigrants.

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Kayaking near pilots beach

History

The small (population 130,000), elegant city boasts many fine Victorian and Edwardian buildings. A trip to the popular Olveston Historic Home, built in 1906 for a wealthy merchant family, is a window back in time and houses a fantastic collection of world treasures – www.olveston.co.nz. Dunedin in Scottish Gaelic means Edinburgh, and the link to Scotland remains strong. A bronze statue of poet Robbie Burns stands at the heart of the city in The Octagon, and these days he looks down on dozens of lively cafés, bars and bistros. Some of the patrons in these bars could be “scarfies”, the name bestowed on Otago University students because of the long scarves they wear.

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Robert Burns statue and Dunedin town hall in the Octagon

Things to do

Dunedin is a culturally rich city. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery is among the best in the country and the world-class collections at the Otago Museum attract more than 340,000 visitors annually. Meanwhile, the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum (www.toituosm.com) celebrates early British settlers, Māori and others, including the Chinese who worked the goldfields and made Dunedin rich. The link with Chinese settlers is also celebrated via the recently completed Dunedin Chinese Garden. Step inside the ornate walls and you will find a sanctuary of manicured trees, pergolas and water features that will make you feel as if you are miles from the city, rather than right in the middle of it.

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Dunedin Chinese Garden

The Dunedin Botanic Garden boasts a fabulous rhododendron dell and is a serene place to visit at any time of year. You can also tour Speight’s brewery, one of New Zealand’s oldest, or pop into one of the town’s many bars and cafes including local favourite Pequeno Lounge Bar to sample other local brews by Emersons and Green Man. The Otago Farmers Market is a winner for a leisurely Saturday morning wander, featuring locally made chocolate, peanut butter, cheeses, kombucha, breads, honey, and heaps of fresh fruit and veggies.

Explore by rail

The Taieri Gorge Rail Experience departs daily from New Zealand’s most-photographed building, the iconic Dunedin Railway Station located in central Dunedin. This half-day journey travels south along the outskirts of Dunedin before crossing the tranquil Taieri Plains and turning into the Gorge, where the train navigates numerous historic viaducts and tunnels created by New Zealand’s railway pioneers over 100 years ago.

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Taieri Gorge Rail Experience

For those with greater time constraints, Dunedin Railways also offers a stunning 2 and a half hour coastal journey in the summer months, the Seasider, which travels north of Dunedin through quaint seaside villages and along stunning clifftops which offer spectacular views across the Pacific Ocean.

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Dunstan

Out of the city

North of Dunedin lie the curious Moeraki Boulders, huge round rocks scattered randomly along Koekohe Beach. Further down the coast, visit Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary - a 300 hectare, wildlife sanctuary. Orokonui is home to many of New Zealand's native birds and reptiles, including the kiwi. Explore their beautiful forest, or enjoy a coffee in their Horopito Cafe.

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Moeraki Boulders

Dunedin is also the start of the Southern Scenic Route, which takes in some of the deep south’s least visited regions. A highlight of this journey is The Catlins, a rugged stretch of coast renowned for its beautiful beaches and diverse wildlife.