After spending a few great days in the Catlins, the southernmost region in New Zealand’s south island, it was time to take a short drive up to Dunedin. The gothic revival styled city has around 125,000 inhabitants, with 25,000 of those being students at the University of Otago. The city center had a few nice looking churches that were interesting to visit, but again the main reason you visit New Zealand isn’t really for the cities as they tend to be relatively bland. Our favorite part of the city was Baldwin Street, which claims to be the world’s steepest street.
Baldwin Street is a bit outside the city center, so there was plenty of room to park. Not really trusting that our car could make it up the street, we decided we’d better walk it. It was definitely one steep street! Quite a few people put their pretty rough looking cars to the test, and drove up.
Not far from Dunedin’s center is one of the more special beaches we have seen in New Zealand – Tunnel Beach. From the parking lot a 20 minute walk leads down to cliffs high above the ocean. From the limestone cliffs the beach looked pretty amazing, but the way you access the beach is what makes it so special.
Walking through narrow, 30 meter long tunnel, with steps carved into the ground leads down to the beach. The beach’s namesake tunnel was built in 1870s by a local politician for his family to access the beach.
On the beach there are numerous boulders of all sizes scattered about and a small cave that can be accessed at low tide. Tunnel Beach is quite small, but the high limestone cliffs and the tunnel to access it makes it a must-see in Dunedin.
After visiting Tunnel Beach we headed out to the Otago Peninsula. It’s not far from Dunedin, but thanks to the winding and narrow roads on the peninsula, it took us quite a while to get out there. First we headed to Taiaroa Head, to the Royal Albatross Center, hoping to do a free walk and spot some albatrosses and blue penguins. Our slightly outdated guidebook mentioned that there are paid, guided tours, but also a free walk. When we got to the center, we tried to find the free walk around the cliffs where the albatrosses apparently were hiding out, but the only way to access it now was with a guided tour. As the tour was pretty expensive ($55) and we weren’t too keen on spending that amount of money to see birds, we walked down to the ocean on a free trail where they offer tours to see the blue penguins ($30) walking past in the evenings. It was too early to spot any penguins when we were there, but we saw a few seals laying around. One of the seals seemed a bit upset by people invading its territory and it kept chasing after some people, showing its teeth.
A bit disappointed in the high prices of the center, we headed back toward Dunedin and decided to stop on the way and do a short hike on the peninsula. When we got to the parking lot we saw a big sign saying that the track we had planned to do – the Sandymouth Track – was closed due to lambing. Instead we decided to walk to Sandfly Bay, an area where penguins and seals sometimes show up. It was only about 2km each way, but for most of the way we had to walk on relatively steep loose sand hills, so it took us a bit longer than expected. Once we got to Sandfly Bay we luckily didn’t see or feel any sandflies, just huge seals laying lazily in the sand. They were the biggest seals we had seen in the country yet, and we were glad they seemed to be sleeping deeply and not bothered by humans walking around them.
The next morning we had an early start again, to catch another sunrise. This time we headed to the Moeraki Boulders, about an hour north of Dunedin. The huge boulders along Koekohe Beach are strangely round and look totally out of place and almost unnatural. From the parking lot there is a 5-10 minute DOC maintained track leading onto the beach (go left as you face the beach) or a shorter way from the cafe right next to the parking lot, but you’ll either have to buy something in the cafe or pay $2 to use their path.
The boulders look man-made, but are a result of natural erosion by waves of the cliffs on the beach. Seeing them at sunrise was particularly nice, but at any time of the day, they look a bit out of this world and are definitely worth checking out if you’re around Dunedin or Oamaru.
Next up on the list was Mount Cook National Park, and the highest point in the country, Aoraki!