Picturesque view of Otago Peninsula
Picturesque view of Otago Peninsula

From blue penguins and street art to the steepest road in the world, Karishma Kirpalani is riveted , Otago Tourism Board

As our flight lands at Dunedin, a welcome board reads, ‘Welcome, if you’re visiting, you will probably want to refund that return ticket’. That definitely is great marketing by the Otago Tourism Board, but it also sets high standards of expectation. As we drive through the city, I notice Dunedin is where Edinburgh meets San Francisco. Dunedin is known as the most Scottish city not only in New Zealand, but also outside Scotland.

This is due to the huge influence that the Scottish poet Robert Burns has had on the city. The name Dunedin is the ancient name for Edinburgh. There is abundance of Scottish architecture, vast green spaces, golf courses, Scottish spirits: both figuratively and literally, pipe bands, performance of the Haggis ceremony, and also the cool ocean climate. Believe it or not, just like the Scots have a Tartan, there is a Dunedin Tartan as well. It also has some influence of San Francisco as the whole city is steep and hilly, and the buildings look exactly the same.

Here are the highlights of Dunedin:

View the blue-eyed penguins

The blue-eyed penguin at the Royal Albatross Centre
The blue-eyed penguin at the Royal Albatross Centre

The Royal Albatross Centre takes care of these penguins, does research on their development, and operates the tours. These little blue, blue-eyed penguins called Kororā, are the smallest in the world and are unique to Dunedin. We took a Tiki van tour, which included a pick up and drop off to the main city.

The tour commenced around 5:30 pm from the city centre, and the van drove us up the hill, driving through some great Instagram worthy picture places en route. At the time of dusk (which in summertime is around 9 pm) these tiny creatures come out of the water, walk through Pilots Beach, and start scurrying up to their burrows. Ideally you will see 80-90 of them. We were lucky and got to see 110. We heard some loud squawks as they did the penguin parade retiring for the day. The best part of visiting these penguins is, they allow you to take pictures, without flash. Nowhere else in the world are cameras allowed on the observation decks.

Visit Lanarch Castle

New Zealand’s Hidden Gem: Dunedin

Built by famous banker and politician William Lanarch, this is NZ’s only castle that has a scandalous and tragic history. The banker had three wives, two of whom died after the castle was built. The third wife, who was relatively much younger, started an affair with William’s son. In depression, William shot himself inside the castle. They say some of the rooms in the castle are haunted. I did get an eerie feeling when I walked into Constance, the third wife’s, dressing room. The rest of the castle, with its amazing teak wood, Italian flooring, grand chandeliers, colourful carpets, tartan designs and ever so beautiful gardens, was very well refurbished and maintained by the Barker family. In my opinion, the gardens are as pretty as the Gardens of Versailles. We had the high tea in the dining hall, and highly recommend it to tourists visiting.

Walk up the steepest road in the world

Baldwin Street
Baldwin Street

Dunedin has the world’s steepest street. It’s really quite a task to climb up Baldwin street, a 350 metre long steep street. What’s more impressive is the speed at which the residents’ cars race up but tourists have to walk. To make climbing up the street easier, there are stairs as well, but I don’t recommend it. The real thrill is in strolling up and it’s a lot more fun walking backwards. When you reach the top, stand on the bench and  take a proud picture.

Walk around the Octagon, the surrounding area and observe the street art

Street art in Dunedin
Street art in Dunedin

Every city has something unique to it, and I found mine in Dunedin. Usually city centres are squares or circles, Dunedin has an Octagon. We thoroughly enjoyed our dinner at Craft Beer and Kitchen, the American kind of food, with some great unique vegetarian options too, not that easily found in New Zealand. This place was recommended to us by the Airport Hertz Manager, when we were renting our car. It’s always great to get recommendations from locals as they know the best about their city. The entire Octagon is buzzing with cafes.

You can park at a pay park and start walking around to check out some very cool colour pop street art. There are over 35 of them around town, all in a radius of 2 km. If you don’t want to do the hunt yourself, visit the iSite right there and ask them for a street art trail. It’s a 1.5 hour walk to see most of them. My favourite was the smiling girl. She actually plays a hide and seek game as it is little tough to find her.

After my three days in Dunedin, I really felt it’s one of the most underrated cities in not only New Zealand but the world, and I wonder why travel agents, don’t add it to the itineraries of Indians travelling there. Of all the places I visited in NZ, this was my absolute favourite.

(Karishma Kirpalani is a Travel Blogger @globejamun)