The Otago Peninsula
The Otago Peninsula is just a short drive eastwards towards the coastline from Dunedin city. Home to an array of unique wildlife, within its borders you will find Northern Royal Albatross, seals, Yellow-Eyed penguins, sea lions, the cutest Little Blue penguins, and an abundance of other oceanic birds and marine mammal species. Include Highcliff Road in your itinerary for the most amazing ocean views, steep hill country landscapes, and birds-eye views of village life dotted far below.
Besides the beautiful landscapes and marine wildlife, there are several other places worth visiting on your travels along the Otago Peninsula, Larnach Castle is definitely top of the list. Spend some quality time taking a self-guided or guided tour through the interior, garden, grounds, and outbuildings of New Zealand’s only existing castle.
A little further out, approximately an hour’s drive, is the head of the peninsula, Taiaroa Head. Other than its spectacular views Taiaroa Head is home to a historic lighthouse built in 1864, the Royal Albatross Centre, and the ruins of the former coastal defenses. There are also many places along the way where you can depart the comforts of your Dunedin rental van and take a leisurely walk, enjoying the fresh air and views while getting up close and personal with some of New Zealand’s flora and fauna.
Located roughly half an hour’s scenic drive from the city, heading up the East Coast lays Waikouaiti. Easily accessible along State highway 1 in your rental van, the area offers a great place to fish, surf, go boating, tramping, kayaking, or horseback riding, and of course, encounter some of our native wildlife.
Originally settled by local Maori prior to the 15th century and home to a great number of gold prospectors from all over the world in 1858, the township is drenched in local history. As you make your way east you will encounter the Hawkesbury Lagoon Wildlife Refuge whose protected wetlands provide a safe haven for aquatic birdlife during their migratory or nesting periods.
Examples of birds you might see depending on the time of year include; Paradise Ducks, White Herons, Royal Spoonbills, Shoveller Ducks, Grey Teal, Shelducks, Shags, Pied Stilts, Geese, and Black Swans. Waikouaiti Beach is also not to be missed, it stretches out between the two prominent headlands; the northern Cornish Head where you can visit historic farm buildings at Matanaka Farm, or the southern Huriawa Peninsula, the site of an old fortified Maori pa.
Brighton is a popular day trip for those not wanting to stray too far from the central city. A relatively small seaside town 15 minutes southwest of Dunedin, its broad sheltered beach provides great swimming in the summer months with the added bonus of regular Surf Lifesaving patrols.
Hire a boat from the local motor camp for a spot of fishing or just a bit of good old-fashioned exploration. South Seas Gallery is a very popular stop; visitors can view artworks from artists such as Lindsay Crooks, Janet Weir, and Ollie Crooks. Along with showcasing well-known artists the gallery also promotes student artwork.
If you are visiting in January, the Brighton Gala Day is definitely worth a look, with over 150 stalls offering food, crafts, and entertainment it’s a fun day out for the whole family.
Middlemarch is roughly an hour’s drive in your rental van heading west from Dunedin city and it offers the perfect setting for outdoor recreation. Middlemarch is perhaps most well known for being the start of the Otago Rail Trail, a popular multi-day hiking and biking track that weaves its way through the central Otago landscape.
The township of Middlemarch has a local museum featuring relics from the region's farming and gold mining history, a golf course, and multiple trout fishing opportunities in the Taieri River. Middlemarch also offers the chance for visitors to see New Zealand’s only inland salt lake; the Sutton Salt Lake.
Only a quick 10-minute drive from the township, it is definitely worth the detour. Walking around the Lake takes roughly an hour depending on your pace and offers some great photo opportunities. If you are a bit of a Lord Of The Rings fan, check out the Rock and Pillar Ranges, which offer an impressive backdrop of schist pillars that were featured in the famous Peter Jackson films.
15 km northeast of Dunedin city is the little township of Port Chalmers. A popular cruise ship port of call, Port Chalmers is a vibrant village full of an eclectic mix of heritage features, shopping, galleries, and restaurants, with the surrounding bays offering fantastic views out over the harbor. The sheltered waters are perfect for aquatic sports like kayaking and rowing, and even a spot of Salmon fishing.
Just a few more minutes up the road you will find Orokonui EcoSanctuary, a 307-hectare predator-free sanctuary for multiple species of plants and animals. Make your way around the various tracks at your own pace or take one of the guided tours. When you are finished at the Orokonui Sanctuary, head out towards the coast to Aramoana.
Sitting opposite the tip of the Otago peninsula, Aramoana is an easy 30-minute drive from Dunedin. The sandy white beaches are a great place for a picnic lunch and you might even spot a sea lion or penguin if you are lucky.
Heading out for a day trip around Dunedin is easy in your rental van. Here at NZ Rent A Car, we have two options available; ten seaters or twelve seaters, with convenient pick-up and drop-off available from Dunedin City, Dunedin Airport, and Port Chalmers.