Dunedin and Central Otago

The city of Dunedin is the second largest in the South Island, and well known for its Scottish heritage and large student population. We spent several days exploring the city and the surrounding Otago region. 

As we arrived into the city, we immediately noticed the large number of well preserved historic buildings. Most impressive of these was the railway station, which dates back to 1906. It is the starting point for the popular scenic train journey inland to Taieri gorge. With the train set to depart soon after our arrival, the station was busy with tourists. 

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Just a short walk from the train station is the city centre, which is marked by an unusual octagon shaped plaza. This area is home to a number of civic buildings including the Town Hall and Public Art Gallery, as well as plenty of busy cafes and restaurants.

On one of the adjoining streets we came to the First Church of Otago, an imposing church which is definitely the most impressive we have come across during our travels. After looking around the church, we found a shaded spot in the grounds to relax and enjoy some lunch.

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We spent the rest of the afternoon wandering around the rest of the city’s compact centre, checking out some of the shops along the bustling George Street. This was followed with some great burgers from the very popular student hangout Re:burger.

Dunedin was more welcoming to campervans than other cities we have visited and we stayed in a council run facility, just a short walk from the centre. Waking early the following morning, we made the short drive to Flagstaff Lookout, which is located in the Port Chalmers area of the city.

It seemed like we were the first visitors of the day, and we spent some time admiring the the great panoramic views over the city and across the bay to the Otago Peninsula.

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Nearby to the lookout, we found Dunedin’s most unusual claim to fame. Baldwin Street is the world’s steepest residential street, and is of the city’s most popular tourist destination, having even made it onto coach tour itineraries.

With the campervan definitely unable to handle the 35% gradient of the street, we had no choice but to climb to the top by foot. Deciding to make it more interesting, we attempted to run to the top, much to the amusement of several other tourists who decided to film us.

We managed to reach around halfway before our legs gave up and we had to stop. After taking a minute to catch our breathe, we struggled the remaining way to the top, all the time wondering why anyone would buy a property on the street! 

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Leaving Dunedin behind, we continued north for around an hour, before arriving at Moeraki Boulders. After parking at the visitor centre, we walked down onto the beach and towards the large spherical boulders that are spread out across the sand.

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The boulders are formed from hard, compacted sediment, and have been exposed by the erosion of the softer surrounding coastline. There are over 50 in total, with the largest measuring over two metres across and weighing up to seven tons.

We spent some time wandering around the boulders, before returning to the visitor centre where we found a great cafe, complete with wooden deck overlooking the beach.

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Our next stop along the coast was at the small town of Oamaru. It was another beautiful day, and before exploring the town we parked and had some lunch while overlooking the small harbour.

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Oamaru has some of the best examples of Victorian architecture in New Zealand, with most of this located within a specially designated Victorian Heritage Precinct. It felt like we had gone back in time as we wandered along the narrow streets and into the quaint antiques and craft shops.

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The town’s other claim to fame is the Steampunk HQ gallery and museum, which has led to Oamaru being labeled the ‘Steampunk capital of the world’. For those who don’t know (we didn’t either), Steampunk is a genre of science fiction that features Victorian era technology. We didn’t go into the museum but did take a look at some of the interesting coin operated contraptions located outside.

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We ended a relaxing afternoon in Oamaru with a visit to Scott’s Brewery. It was clearly a popular spot with locals, and we soon discovered why after sampling some of the great beers on offer.

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After an enjoyable few days of driving along the coast, it was time to head back inland towards Mount Cook National Park.

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