Dunedin and The Catlins New Zealand
Dunedin is the second largest city on New Zealand’s South Island, and it’s located on the southeast coast at the base of the Otago Peninsula, which juts out into the Pacific Ocean. It’s most well known for its Scottish heritage, dramatic natural sights, and high student population thanks to the University of Otago.
The Catlins are a region at the very bottom of New Zealand’s South Island, starting just south of Dunedin and extending along the coastline as it curves to the southwest. Wild and remote, The Catlins are a great place to get off the beaten path and experience rural New Zealand at its most beautiful. Picture wind-swept cliffs over the ocean and green grass on rolling hills dotted with white sheep. We especially recommend the Catlins as the most scenic driving route between Queenstown and Dunedin.
When to Go
Since Dunedin and the Catlins are at the southernmost tip of New Zealand, they can get chilly from around April through October. Summer is the most popular time to visit, especially between about November and February.
However, all of the area’s wonders, both natural and man-made, are gorgeous at any time of year. Plus, since it’s not in the Southern Alps, the area tends to be a bit warmer with less snow in winter than points West like Queenstown and Wanaka. In fact, some of the best wildlife \can be found in the colder months, so depending on your interests, that might be the best time of year for you to go!
Where to Stay
Dunedin is a great place to spend two or three days, and the Catlins are best as a two or three day drive. There are a couple of high-end properties around Dunedin, mostly in the scenic natural areas to the North (around Oamaru) and on the Otago Peninsula. Dunedin itself has a number of three to four-star hotels, B&Bs and apartment-style rentals that offer a comfortable stay. In the Catlins, you can visit a farmstay or homestay, or if standard hotels are more your style, then the small city of Invercargill offers a few good options. Invercargill is the southernmost city in the world and the jumping-off point for flights and ferries to Stewart Island.
What to Do
Our favorite activity around Dunedin is to spend a day (or more!) out on the Otago Peninsula, just East of town. The Otago Peninsula is home to the world’s rarest penguin, the Yellow-Eyed Penguin, as well as the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross colony and a healthy population of Little Blue Penguins. Marine mammals are also common here, with the world’s rarest sea lion, the New Zealand Sea Lion, as well as New Zealand fur seals.
On the Otago Peninsula you’ll also find Larnach Castle, a large stone Scottish manor with extensive gardens and lovely views. Or if you’re just here for the nature, head out on any of the peninsula’s lovely hiking trails, leading off towards the shoreline where you may find some sea lions basking in the sun. Or try to spot marine life from on board a cruise around the harbour.
Within the city of Dunedin, you have the sense of immersing yourself in history. This city is home to New Zealand’s oldest University, oldest surviving newspaper, first public art gallery, and stately Edwardian and Georgian architecture. Head over to Baldwin Street, renowned as being the steepest street in the world, where the sidewalk is actually stairs! In the city of Dunedin, you can also stroll through the Chinese Garden, or visit a number of museums — Otago Settlers Museum, New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame, and Otago Museum are favorites especially for those traveling with kids.
About an hour’s drive North of Dunedin, you’ll find the unusual Moeraki Boulders. Like giant marbles on the sand, the creation of these natural boulders is mysterious and offers a striking place to explore for an hour or so.
Once you head into the Catlins to the South of Dunedin, sightseeing is all about getting off the beaten path. There are lots of little stops along the road that make the experience here all about the drive, not the destination. Some of our favorite sights include Curio Bay, where you can see petrified tree stumps at low tide. We also love Nugget Point, with its lighthouse and occasionally, spotting of yellow-eyed penguins. Slope Point is the Southernmost Point in New Zealand, with nothing but a few tiny islands and a lot of ocean between you and Antarctica.
For those who love scenic drives, wilderness, wildlife and history, Dunedin and the Catlins are the perfect place to visit in New Zealand. Whether you’re coming from New York, Calgary, Seattle or somewhere in between, this region is well worth a visit.
Contact your New Zealand Travel Experts to learn more!