Initially, we were drawn to the chocolate carnival – and it was chocolate we certainly enjoyed – but there was far more to see in Dunedin than we first thought: from the wild coastline, penguins and castles to the mysterious snickleways of the city. It was a full-on family adventure in this Scottish-inspired city.
Who knew there was so much for families to enjoy in Dunedin. This was my first trip and I was blown away by how busy we were for five solid days, but even more surprising was the variety. We had plenty of outdoor adventuring and plenty of indoor entertainment. It’s a fantastic ‘weekend away’ destination, or as add-on to a South Island excursion. If you’re visualising the damp and dark flats of Otago University days, then purge this from your mind … you will be cosy, well fed and inspired by nature.
What to do in Dunedin
Nature’s Wonders Wildlife Tour
Get caught in the boundless enthusiasm from owner and operator Perry Reid, fondly referred to as Perry Dundee; however I felt more like I was in the presence of Steve Irwin, as the energy was abundant and contagious and the kids couldn’t help but smile. You get a bumpy and fun ride over their beautiful farm on the Otago Peninsula headland, with 360 degree views, while heading down to see the local seals and shy yellow-eyed penguin community. This is a close-up encounter (to the seals), so very special for kids, and evidently a favourite eco-tour for Sir David Bellamy. See natureswonders.co.nz
Off-Track Mountain Biking Tours
Owner Nick Beekhuis set us up with our bikes, all great quality and ready to go. We cycled around the Peninsula back roads, on the Southern side of Dunedin, close to Larnach Castle. We chose a lovely easy three hour trail along the harbour inlet road, past cute boat sheds and farmland. We stopped at the beach and went for a windswept walk, past a few lounging sea lions and fur seals who gave us the beady eye. A great beach for the kids to scramble over the rocks and play around for a while. Check out offtrack.co.nz for all the cycling options.
Royal Albatross Centre
The albatross in full flight is really quite majestic, but we found this tour very interesting, even before we set off to see the birds. It gives you a good dose of our history, and even more reasons to want to preserve our great land. I love the way the tour leaders really speak to the kids and inspire them, the key to the next generation of environmentalists. See albatross.org.nz
Little Penguins at Pukekura
You can walk down Pukekura Beach to wait for the sun to fall, and watch the little penguins float to shore. Their little waddle up the hill is so cute, I don’t think our kids expected a real life penguin to be so much like Happy Feet the character. It was great for the kids because the nests are very close to the viewing platform, they just have to be patient waiting for it to get dark, and make sure they’re dressed very warmly. Go to bluepenguins.co.nz
Toitu Otago Settlers Museum
Recently refurbished, this is a terrific historic museum. The kids followed the treasure trail around – it was a good way to get them engaged by making them seek out treasures in every corner of the museum. See toitusm.com
Hair Raiser Tour
For slightly older kids (aged 8 and up), this is an after-dark tour of the creepier alleyways and shadows of Dunedin. Andrew Smith (The Hair Raiser) is a wonderful storyteller, who managed to capture the imagination of our kids with tales of fires, murders, skullduggery and bombs. Sounds scary and horrific for kids I know, but it’s told as mystery not horror and includes some fascinating titbits of history, and a backstreet orientation of the city. You’ll get a haunting photo opportunity of the cathedral for prosperity. Check out hairraisertours.com … if you dare!
We were here during the school holidays, so our kids joined a session on New Zealand frogs. Baz, a biologist with a wonderful Irish accent, kept the kids busy with how traps work, introducing and feeding his pet frogs, and explaining the froggie ecosystem by heading out into the wildlife park and testing the various ponds for bug life (with nets, bug charts and magnifying glasses in hand). The park is 307 hectares of protected land, and is a lovely place to spend half a day mooching around, and if you’re lucky you will get to meet the resident pair of Takahe. There are only 300 of these birds left in New Zealand, so it could be your last chance! Holiday programme details on orokonui.org.nz
There is a lot to see here, but we spent our time in the rainforest, hanging out with the tropical butterflies. So cute watching kids dance around trying to attract one on to their shoulder, with some very littlies trying a bit too vigorously for the delicate wee butterflies!
We also loved a demonstration by Amadeo, a well-known scientist at Otago University, who was using helium and magnesium to create spectacular explosions for science week. Check out the photo right … not something kids get to do every day.
Find out what’s on for kids at otagomuseum.govt.nz
Where to stay
858 George Street Motel – Central Dunedin/George Street
We loved this motel on George Street and it gave us such easy access to the city. We seemed to be five minutes from wherever we needed to be. Great for the days you choose to visit the museums, markets and enjoy the chocolate festival.
The architecturally designed units are large and modern. Ours had a full kitchen and was super comfortable and very toasty. Because we are a family of five, we combined an upstairs and downstairs unit that could only be accessed by us, so the kids were safe upstairs. This is a favourite spot for the visiting families of university students. See 858georgestreetmotel.co.nz
Larnach Castle (near Otago Peninsula)
What child doesn’t dream of living in a castle? Well here’s a chance to deliver. In hindsight, I should have taken a few accessories, as the kids played for ages in the gardens, so imagine providing a few swords and shields for my young knights to play with amongst the ruins, tall trees and maze of hedges. We stayed in the old stables: cost-effective accommodation set up specifically for families, with bedrooms upstairs and breakfast tables set up downstairs, and even a horse in one of the stables. There’s a lounge with a fireplace where the kids can go and watch TV or play games in the mornings.
Of course, you get to see around the castle and learn all about the Larnach family. Our most memorable moment at the castle was probably the nightly big dinner party held in the dining room in the castle. Here, all the guests come together to enjoy beautiful food in authentic castle style. You just order earlier in the day, and the kids get to choose from the ‘real food’ kids’ menu (no horrible nuggets served here, thank goodness!). Amusingly, the kids had a plethora of questions ready for us after our cheeky waiter recounted the colourful history of the Larnach family affairs! larnachcastle.co.nz
- Walk up Baldwin Street, both the steepest Street in the world and home to the Cadbury Jaffa Race. Cute seat at the top for a photo.
- Head to the Farmers’ Market held at the train station on Saturday morning. This is not exactly free though, as there are so many delicious things on offer, you’ll want to dip into your wallet.
- Museums, library, public art gallery and botanic gardens (check out the aviary).
Kids’ favourite food!
- Ice-creams – Rob Roy on George Street (good ol’ scoop ice creams at a great price)
- Fish & chips – Portobello Hotel and Bistro (on the way home from the Pukekura penguins)
- Pancakes for breakfast – Capers on George Street
- Croissants – Friday Shop on Highgate (definitely worth a visit, Fridays only)
- Bacon butties – Otago Farmers Market, train station off Anzac Ave
By Aana Marinovich