My Dunedin Itinerary

Taiaroa Head

A scenic one hour drive from Dunedin, the historic Taiaroa Head area offers spectacular views and numerous activities.

Taiaroa Head is the stunning landscape feature proudly denoting the end of the Otago Peninsula, overlooking the mouth of the Otago Harbour. A scenic one hour drive from Dunedin, the historic Taiaroa Head area offers spectacular views and numerous activities.

The headland is named for Te Matenga Taiaroa, a 19th century Māori chief of the Ngai Tahu iwi. Pukekura, a significant Māori pā was located on the headland, having been established about 1650 and still occupied by Māori in the 1840s. It is associated with a daring warrior called Tarewai who was active in the 18th century. Pilot's Beach was formerly known as 'Hobart Town Beach' from the whaling tryworks established there in 1836 by the Weller brothers employing men from Hobart. Previously it was called 'Measly Beach' from being a place where Māori went to bathe when afflicted by a measles epidemic in 1835.

Home to a historic lighthouse which was built in 1864, the Heads are also the only mainland colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses in the world; they established themselves here in 1930’s. With a population of around 140 royal albatross, the Taiaroa colony has seen more than 500 chicks hatch since its establishment. In the 1930s, Dunedin ornithologist Dr Lance Richdale campaigned to protect the colony from interference.

Richdale's efforts were rewarded when the first Taiaroa-reared albatross chick flew from the colony in 1938. In 1951 a full-time field officer was appointed to act as caretaker of the albatross colony, and as wildlife ranger of Otago Peninsula. Now the Royal Albatross Centre is based at the colony, where access is restricted to guided tours.

A small beach, Pilots Beach, is located just inside the harbour entrance to the south of the head, and many forms of marine life, such as New Zealand Fur seals and New Zealand Sea Lions are often to be seen. At Pilots beach is the largest colony of little or blue penguins remaining on the Otago Peninsula. Nearby are important breeding habitats of the threatened yellow-eyed penguin. There may also be seen a number of Dusky dolphins, Hectors dolphins, Orcas and migratory large whales such as Southern Rights and Humpbacks. Their sightings in these areas are on the increase.

Explore the ruins of former coastal defences that are located nearby, notably a restored Armstrong Disappearing Gun emplacement built in 1886 following a scare that New Zealand might be invaded by the Russians.