Why Go?Most guides to New Zealand will tell you that Wellington has the culture, Auckland has the luxury, and Queenstown has the beauty. But savvy travellers have long since known that dynamic Dunedin does all three far better than the big, scene-stealing tourist traps. Home to the University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest university, the country’s seventh-largest city bursts at the seams with a vibrant student culture that keeps the rest of city perpetually on its toes – glam George Street’s designer boutiques and slick malls are a paen to sleek sophistication, while the cheerfully carefree denizens of funky Castle Street ensure the city never takes itself too seriously.
The student population has brought to Dunedin an eclectic melange of ethnic groups, from Pakeha to New Zealand European to Caucasian, and the same cosmopolitan vibe permeates the city’s eateries – from luxurious buffets (Great Taste, p99) to authentic Szechuan (China Palace, p88), Dunedin’s got the cravings of even the choosiest chow hound covered. This appetite for indulgence doesn’t end at the dinner table – Dunedinites love a sneaky tipple, and the boozers on offer range from casual-cool student dives to classy nightclubs, where the music pumps and thousands of young revellers heed the call of the dancefloor into the wee hours.
If you somehow manage to tire of sampling Dunedin’s smorgasbord of cultural delights, then stunning natural beauty is never more than a short drive away. Explore the endless white sands of St Clair, dive headfirst into the intoxicating runoff from the St Kilda sewage pipe, or take a stroll through the sun-soaked enclave of North East Valley. But don’t get too relaxed! You’ll get the most out of your trip if you completely surrender yourself to the city’s 24/7 lifestyle, and fully embrace the come-what-may, fast-living attitude of its residents. Still, beneath the luxurious window-dressing of this modern metropolis, Dunedin is a city with heart – don’t be surprised if it steals yours.
When To Go
FebruaryThe annual influx of new and returning students paint the town red for “O Week”. Bring your party hat and dancing shoes!
MayTake a seat at a graduation ceremony and soak up the satisfaction of sharply attired students finally receiving their degrees after up to six long years of hard yakka.
SeptemberPlay cat-and-mouse with the single day per month in which the sun shines and local parks and beaches heave with Dunedinites cheerfully staving off rickets for another week.
Castle St walking tourDunedin has long been a hotbed of Victorian and Edwardian turn-of-the-century architecture. Many of the best-preserved examples can be found on the tidy, tree-lined Castle Street, which stretches languorously northwards from the University to the Botanic Gardens. These days the charming houses are “flats” inhabited near-exclusively by student tenants, who don’t let their commitment to their rigorous studies stop them from having a good old-fashioned knees-up every once in a while. Set aside an hour or two to wander the tranquil boulevard, letting it soothe your fractured soul. If you get tired, stop and have a chat with the famously friendly, polite tenants – they’ll likely invite you in for a refreshing afternoon funnel, reassuring you that the future of our lonesome world is in safe hands.
St Clair Beach/Dunedin Ice Stadium(Tues – Sun 11am – 4pm, Fri 7.30 – 10pm. $13) Take a drive through the adorable, humble bungalows of South Dunedin and in a mere 10 minutes you’ll be at St Clair, the most romantic of beaches. Paddle in the shimmering turquoise waters, then lounge on vast swathes of soft white sand, letting the balmy northerly breeze tenderly caress your sun-baked skin. Once the sun starts to go to your head, escape the heat with a refreshing spin round the rink at the Dunedin Ice Stadium. Friday nights turn into a wild disco on ice, complete with strobe lights and pumping music – compete with new friends for spot prizes until you’re forced to hang up your skates and head home, exhausted from too much laughter.
One-night stand’s house($$$ - your self-respect, 30-minute catatonic trudge home, up to 12 drinks) Not only is crashing in the bed of a one-night stand a cost-effective option for the budget traveller, it is the quintessential Dunedin accommodation experience. Places to spend the night don’t get much more authentic than this – if you’re really lucky, your hotelier might even leave you with a permanent STIouvenir of your stay.
UniCol penthouse suite($$ - From $100/night) Popular with visiting academics and parents who want to keep an eye on their little Scarfie on his first year away from home. Complete with 14-inch TV, roof access with panoramic views of beautiful Clyde St and the post-modern architectural icon that is the Gregg’s factory, and the excitement of the dangerous but rewarding UniCol electrical control room.
Carousel toiletsThe most spacious and relatively clean bathrooms in town. Ideal for a revitalising two-hour power kip before you rejoin the festivities.
Great TasteA cut above even the most prestigious hotel buffets, Great Taste takes diners on a wild ride along an international gastronomic highway. An eclectic clientele of South Dunedinites in Kmart slacks and students out filling their bellies in preparation for a late-night study session are united by their passion for good food, and lots of it. So close your eyes and open wide – your tastebuds are in for one hell of a ride. On the way, make sure to sample Great Taste’s trademark Liquid Mince® and their signature crab salad – a creative riff on the classic which showcases the best in local shredded lettuce and imitation crab meat. Wash it all down with unlimited instant coffee, or get creative and squeeze your own juice from the pile of orange eighths available at the buffet.
China Palace Restaurant and TakeawaySmack-bang in the middle of the salubrious fine dining precinct of South Dunedin, China Palace promises not just to sate even the heartiest appetite, but to jostle your very being and set each of your senses alight with pleasure. The opulent décor pays homage to the faded Middle Kingdom elegance of dynasties gone by, with gold trim and plush red velvet rugs. Though the restaurant is roughly the size of an aeroplane hangar, the sense of intimacy and service is never compromised, with lavishly full bowls of complimentary gruel served to all customers on entry. Wolf down sweet-and-sour pork with a few good friends and make some soon-to-be-cherished gastronomic memories.
The Green AcornCome to the Green Acorn to enjoy the old-fashioned hospitality of the genial octogenarians who run the place. Stay for the perfectly-extracted strong coffee served by a team of bouncy young baristas. But if java isn’t your bag, don’t fret – you won’t find a thicker smoothieanywhere in Dunedin. Pair your beverage of choice with a vegetarian sandwich, complete with mandoline-thin slices of brie and deliciously floury tomatoes, and float home on a cloud knowing you’ve done right by your tastebuds today.
Mei WahMei Wah is justly famous for its delicious chips, which are pre-cooked then re-frozen, so they are able to be cooked pronto – perfect for the jaded traveller in need of some fast, tasty tucker! The charming, cosy takeaway shop is the ideal surrounds in which to sample the classic, crispy Kiwi treat. Old video games nestle next to Street Fighter and a collection of fine local journalism, including The Envoy From Bedlam and Onit.
CountdownThis large, well-stocked supermarket has everything the thrifty traveller needs to make themselves a hearty home-cooked meal – or just grab a Bouton d’Or Mini Brie, some Just Hummus, carrot sticks, and a deliciously doughy Pumpkin and Chive Loaf and enjoy a picnic lunch in the tranquil carpark. In a hurry? No worries – Countdown Dunedin Central employs a vast army of attractive staff to man the counters in order to cope with the steady flow of happy customers.
DrinkingThis town ain’t no place for teetotallers. Dunedinites love a strong drink served in atmospheric surrounds, and the entire city is peppered with every imaginable kind of drinking den. This may be a student town, but don’t expect too many grungy urine-soaked student dives here – the buzzwords of Dunedin nightlife are class and innovation. The bar scene is constantly changing and evolving, so don’t just rely on this guide – what’s hot today might have completely fallen off the cool kids’ radar in a month! Try asking the staff at edgy clothing boutiques and cool cafes, like Glassons on George St or Crusty Corner in North East Valley, what’s going on tonight. If all else fails, take a stroll through the CBD and listen out for the sounds of beautiful people letting their hair down.
BrimstonePacked, sweaty, but always overwhelmingly sophisticated, Brimstone is perhaps Dunedin’s most exclusive and innovative nightclub. An eclectic line-up of DJs spin perfectly mixed obscure vinyls, while shyly handsome bartenders pour the well-heeled clientele endless Manhattans as they indulge in debaucherous antics to be extensively discussed over Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict at Sunday brunch. Brimstone is a Dunedin must-do, but be warned: the dress code and face control are strict. Men, don’t even consider trying to get in without a lady friend, a shiny pair of leather loafers, and at the very least a fitted shirt and some dark-wash jeans.
MetroCarousel’s hottest competition for the most luxurious bathrooms in town (p77), the dual-levelled nightlife heavy hitter Metro does a fine line in drink teapots, and evokes a turn-of-the-century speakeasy with its moody lighting, exposed brick, low ceilings, and moodily disenfranchised clientele. The atmosphere is only enhanced by the music – downstairs, a groovy playlist of 90s pop hits gets feet moving, while upstairs too-cool-for-school youngsters in eye-poppingly skimpy attire get down to live bands while sipping on their teapot of choice. Highly recommended.
AlibiStrong, cheap drinks? Check. Strapping, broad-shouldered rugby-playing lads? Check. Friendly bouncers? Check. Lots of space in which to dance the night away? Check. The epitome of the hard-partying Dunedin spirit, Alibi is the place to get up, get down, or get more than a little tipsy. Down-to-earth yet chic, just crowded enough but with lots of secluded corners replete with couches, Alibi is beloved by Dunedin’s trend-setters and taste-makers for a reason. There’s no such thing as a perfect bar, but Alibi comes damn close.
Getting There And Away
By Plane:Both Air New Zealand and Jetstar fly direct to Dunedin from several major New Zelaand cities. Air New Zealand’s charming safety videos epitomise whimsical Kiwi charm and will get you smiling for takeoff, while Jetstar runs on island time and epitomises the relaxed, “she’ll be right” attitude of the New Zealand people.
By car:Dunedin is about five hours’ drive
from Christchurch, three hours from Queenstown, and 2 ½ hours from Invercargill. The drive from Christchurch is particularly recommended for the traveller who has overdone it on exciting scenery and requires five hours of gazing at calmingly bare plains and the back of stock trucks to refresh their jaded eyeballs.