11 Best Things to Do in Dunedin (New Zealand) + Cruise Port Guide

Dunedin Town Hall and St Paul's Cathedral

11 Best Things to Do in Dunedin Port of Call

Welcome to Dunedin, New Zealand!

Dunedin is New Zealand’s southernmost seaport located at the head of Otago Harbour on the South Island’s southeast coast. It is the second-largest city on the South Island of New Zealand after Christchurch, known for its Scottish and Maori heritage, rare wildlife, natural beauties and beautiful architecture.

In 2014, Dunedin was designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Literature and is known for its large student population. The city is often nicknamed “Edinburgh of the South” because it resembles the Scottish capital of Edinburgh (“Dùn Èideann” is the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh). In the downtown area, you can see kids dressed in Scottish-style uniforms, wearing skirts and long socks.

In this article, I share with you insider information on:

  • Dunedin cruise port (Dunedin cruise terminal, getting around the port)
  • 11 best things to do in Dunedin port and the best Dunedin shore excursions

Read about the ports in New Zealand: Milford Sound, Akaroa, Picton, Wellington, Tauranga, Auckland, Napier, Bay of Islands

Check out today’s cruise deals from Cruise Critic!

Dunedin Cruise Port

Large cruise ships dock at the Port Chalmers, a small town inside the Otago harbour located around 14 km/8.7 miles (a 15-20 minute drive) northwest of Dunedin. Port Chalmers is the city’s main cruise and containership port.

Port Chalmers to Dunedin map
Port Chalmers to Dunedin map. Source: google.com/maps/

The pier in Port Chalmers Wharf is flat and in less than 5 minutes’ walk there is a terminal where guests can find free wi-fi and facilities, a tourist information desk and one very small shop for souvenirs. Taxis are generally available on the pier.

Port Chalmers is a charming small town and you can reach a Holy Trinity Anglican Church, Port Chalmers Museum and the Town Hall within a short walking distance from the terminal. From the Town Hall, you can continue straight on George Street, the main street in the town filled with cafes, restaurants, stores and a pharmacy.

There are complimentary cruise port shuttles provided by the Port Authority from Port Chalmers to the town of Dunedin. The local maps are offered once you board the bus. There is one shuttle bus that provides a ramp for full-time wheelchair users. Shuttles run frequently and the ride lasts around 20-30 minutes depending on the traffic.

Smaller cruise vessels dock in the city of Dunedin itself, approximately 1 km/0.6 miles from Dunedin city center.

Useful tips:

  • The weather in Dunedin is very unpredictable. The city has a large number of microclimates and the weather conditions often vary between sunny, windy, rainy during the day. Make sure you dress appropriately (bring an umbrella, a light wind/rain jacket).
  • Make sure you stay on cruise ship’s time, as local time might not be the same.
  • The currency in New Zealand is the New Zealand dollar (NZD). 1 US dollar equals 1.43 NZD. See the currency converter. Local currency/credit cards are the preferred method of payment in most of the places in New Zealand.
  • Official languages in New Zealand are English, Maori and New Zealand Sign Language
  • Dunedin is the perfect city for shopping. You will find a great range of souvenir shops and stores selling jewelry, perfumes, clothes, chocolate, and much more at affordable prices. The heart of the city has McDonald’s and many fast-food choices, restaurants and cafes.
  • Dunedin International Airport is the closest airport to the cruise port. It is located 28 km/17 miles (a 25-minute drive) west of Dunedin, and 41 km/25.5 miles (a 40-minute drive) west of Port Chalmers Wharf.

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Hotels in Dunedin

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11 Best Things to Do in Dunedin Cruise Port

Before I share with you the 11 best things to do in the Dunedin cruise port, I invite you to sign up below and my insider Shore Excursion Guide for FREE!

1. The Octagon 

The Octagon is Dunedin’s city center that consists of a bustling, octagon-shaped square surrounded by a circular road and the city’s main landmarks. In its heart proudly stands the statue of Robert Burns, the 18th-century Scottish poet.

The Octagon is the starting point of eight streets and the two of them are particularly important: George Street to the northeast and Princess Street to the southwest, the two main streets of the city.

Dunedin Town Hall and St Paul's Cathedral
St Paul’s Cathedral (left) and Dunedin Town Hall (right). Source: Pixabay.com

The Octagon is surrounded by countless cafes, restaurants, shops and some important city landmarks including Dunedin Public Art Gallery, St Paul’s Cathedral, City Library, Regent Theater, Town Hall, and others. The Octagon is the major hub for public transport and here you will also find a tourist information center.

Check out Dunedin city tours and activities

2. Dunedin Railway Station 

From Octagon square, turn to Stuart street and after 500 meters you’ll reach one of the most impressive buildings in Dunedin – Dunedin Railway Station dating from 1906, featuring an iconic clock tower, outstanding stained glass windows and mosaic floor.

Designed by New Zealand’s architect George Troup, this grandiose architectural marvel was built in eclectic Flemish Renaissance style and is said to be the most photographed Dunedin attraction.

Dunedin Railway Station
Dunedin Railway Station. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

The Taieri Gorge Railway currently operates scenic trips from the Dunedin Railway Station, offering an unforgettable journey into the Otago region’s hidden gems and rugged high country landscapes that inspired so many artists, filmmakers and photographers.

In case you book a tour through your cruise ship, the train usually comes next to the ship. It is wheelchair accessible, with a ramp for full-time wheelchair users.

Find more information on the New Zealand Rail webpage https://newzealandrail.com/

Explore Dunedin Railway Station tours and activities

Check out Taieri Gorge tours and activities

3. St Paul’s Cathedral

Overlooking the main Octagon Square, St Paul’s Cathedral is the city’s most impressive and photographed church. Consecrated in 1919, it is the Mother Church of the Anglican Diocese of Dunedin in New Zealand and the seat of the Bishop of Dunedin.

The cathedral was built in the Gothic style and features fine interior woodwork, an impressive stained-glass window, and a large pipe organ.

Useful tips:

  • There is NO charge to enter the cathedral.
  • Closed-toe shoes and appropriate clothing are highly recommended.
  • On some holidays, it might not be possible to visit the interior of the cathedral.
  • Find more info on the official webpage https://stpaulsnz.net/

Check out St Paul’s Cathedral tours and activities

4. Baldwin Street

Located in Dunedin’s North East Valley suburb, 4.2 km/2.6 miles northeast of The Octagon (Dunedin city center), Baldwin Street is the steepest street in the world recognized by Guinness World Records.

Baldwin Street, Dunedin
Baldwin Street. Source: commons.wikimedia.org

It is the most famous street in Dunedin and a venue for races and competitions (such as Baldwin Street Gutbuster).

Traveling time from the Dunedin downtown to Baldwin street is 10 minutes by car, and 15 minutes from the dock.

Check out Baldwin Street tours and activities

5. Dunedin Botanic Garden 

Established in 1863, Dunedin Botanic Garden is New Zealand’s oldest botanic garden holding the status of 6-star Garden of International Significance.

This beautiful colorful oasis boasts over 6.800 plant species including New Zealand’s rare and endangered native species. Located close to the northern end of George Street, approximately 30 minutes walk from the Octagon, Botanic Garden is divided into two parts – Lower and Upper Garden, with an extensive network of walking paths, plant collections and beautiful city views.

Dunedin Botanic Garden
Dunedin Botanic Garden. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Traveling time from Port Chalmers Wharf to Dunedin Botanic Gardens is 15 minutes drive.

Find more information on the official website https://dunedinbotanicgarden.co.nz/

Explore Dunedin Botanic Garden tours and activities

6. Dunedin Public Art Gallery

Public Art Gallery is one of the buildings surrounding The Octagon. Established in 1884, it is known as New Zealand’s first art gallery renowned for its impressive art collection and close working relationship with major New Zealand artists.

Housed in an imposing, modern building in the heart of Dunedin, the Public Art Gallery contains valuable artworks from the 15th century to the present and hosts numerous interactive exhibitions and events throughout the year.

The gallery features several well-structured wings displaying different themes and time periods including a selection of British and European paintings, 20th-century Australian art, Japanese prints, New Zealand’s art from 1860 to the present, and more.

Find out about the prices and opening hours on https://dunedin.art.museum/

7. Larnach Castle and Gardens

Set in 35 acres of lush green land and gardens on the picturesque Otago Peninsula, this 19th-century Scottish-style Castle is New Zealand’s “only” castle that today hosts public visits, private events, luxury accommodation and a top-class dining experience.

It was built in 1874 by the notable politician and entrepreneur William Larnach, and since 1967 it has been owned by the Barker family who restored the castle and opened it for public visits.

Larnach Castle Dunedin - One of the best things to do in Dunedin
Larnach Castle. Source: Pixabay.com

This sumptuous residence features an eclectic mixture of architectural styles and its marvelous gardens have been rated by the New Zealand Gardens Trust as a “Garden of International Significance”.

Useful tips:

  • Larnach Castle is located a 30-minute drive from Port Chalmers Wharf and a 20-minute drive from Dunedin downtown.
  • The visit to the Castle involves handling up to 100 steps.
  • Closed-toe shoes are recommended.
  • Check out the prices and opening hours on https://www.larnachcastle.co.nz/

Explore Larnach Castle tours and activities

8. Royal Albatross Colony Centre

Situated in the scenic Taiaroa Head at the end of the Otago Peninsula, Royal Albatross Centre is the only mainland breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross in the world.

In this large wildlife sanctuary, you can observe these elegant birds raising their young from an on-site observatory, take a guided tour through the preserve and even see them flying with their huge wingspan of above 3 meters (9.8 feet) – a sight that you’ll remember for a lifetime!

Taiaroa Head is also a historic site and nowadays you can admire the views of Taiaroa Head Lighthouse, Fort Taiaroa and observe these royal seabirds from several viewing platforms.

Taiaroa Head and Royal Albatross Centre, Dunedin
Taiaroa Head and Royal Albatross preserve. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Useful tips:

  • The distance between the Port Chalmers Wharf and Royal Albatross Centre is approximately 43 km/27 miles (a 50-minute drive) and from Dunedin downtown to the Royal Albatross Center 30 km/18.6 miles (a 40-minute drive).
  • The visit involves extended periods of walking/steps and is not recommended for guests using any type of device.
  • Read more on https://albatross.org.nz/

Check out Royal Albatross Centre tours and activities

9. Penguin Place

Otago Peninsula is also home to one of the world’s rarest penguin species – the yellow-eyed penguin, also known as “hoiho” or “tarakaka”, a penguin species endemic to New Zealand.

The colony is also known as Penguin Place and is located on the Otago peninsula close to the Royal Albatross preserve.

Penguin Place is a private, tourism-funded conservation reserve dedicated to helping the endangered yellow-eyed penguins survive. The conservation site is entirely funded by guided tours of the reserve, lots of independent tourists, or cruise ship organized tours going to the peninsula to learn more about the penguin colony.

yellow-eyed penguin, New Zealand
Yellow-eyed penguin. Photo courtesy of Roxana Popescu.

Useful tips:

  • Traveling time from the Port Chalmers dock to Penguin Place is approximately 50 minutes.
  • Traveling time from Dunedin downtown to Penguin Place is around 35 minutes.
  • Closed-toe shoes, a wind/rain jacket are recommended due to unpredictable and windy weather.
  • This site is not recommended for guests using any type of device.

Check out Penguin Place tours and activities

10. Otago Museum

Located only 15 minutes walk north of the Octagon, close to the University of Otago, this exceptional museum boasts one of the largest museum collections in New Zealand with over 1.5 million items from all around the globe.

The museum features exhibits on natural history including a remarkable collection of maritime exhibits, a zoological gallery, artifacts from the islands and cultures of Polynesia and Melanesia and all over the world, and so much more.

It has a planetarium, a large, immersive tropical butterfly house, and a hands-on science area that is interesting for all ages. Admission to the museum is free.

Find more information on the museum’s official webpage https://otagomuseum.nz/

11. The Speight’s Brewery 

Beer lovers should definitely visit the renowned Speight’s Brewery, New Zealand’s biggest beer brand best known for its Gold Medal Ale, one of the best-selling beers in the country.

Speight’s Brewery was established in 1876 during the middle of the world’s second-biggest gold rush. The Brewery offers award-winning interactive guided tours through the historic working brewery accompanied by beer tasting of several types of beers.

The Speight’s Brewery is located only 700 meters south of the Octagon, in the heart of Dunedin city center.

Useful tips:

  • Closed-toe shoes are recommended.
  • The Speight’s Brewery is not wheelchair accessible as it involves handling up to 200 steps.
  • Check the age restrictions before booking the tour. The legal age to consume alcohol in New Zealand is 18 years old.
  • Check the cruise ship policy on the number of alcoholic drinks you are allowed to bring onboard.
  • Find more information on the official website https://www.speights.co.nz/

Check out The Speight’s Brewery tours and activities

Wrapping Up

Whatever you decide to do in this amazing port of call, make sure you plan your day ahead in order to get the most of it!

If your cruise itinerary includes other ports in New Zealand, I suggest you check out my articles on Milford Sound, Akaroa, Picton, Wellington, Tauranga, Auckland, Napier, Bay of Islands

Happy cruising!

11 Best Things to Do in Dunedin
  1. The Octagon
  2. Dunedin Railway Station
  3. St Paul’s Cathedral
  4. Baldwin Street
  5. Dunedin Botanic Garden
  6. Dunedin Public Art Gallery
  7. Larnach Castle and Gardens
  8. Royal Albatross Centre
  9. Penguin Place
  10. Otago Museum
  11. The Speight’s Brewery
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This article may contain affiliate / compensated links. For full information, please see my disclaimer here.

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