Dunedin: World Capital of Eco-tourism
Dunedin has a unique international distinction, the city is now regarded as the world capital of eco-tourism. This mantle was never contrived. It is the result of ordinary people seeing extraordinary things and their belief that the eventual protection of the natural environment can only be achieved
if it is preserved. It is also the remarkable story of people who also believe that precious and endangered species belong to the planet and not just a nation. In Dunedin's case, this is the reason why the world is looking to this unique city for inspiration.
Dunedin has always been aware of its special relationship with the Southern Ocean. The city's port became the final providoring point for Antarctic exploration. Dunedin was the last city to be seen by Captain Sir Robert Falcon Scott in 1910 before his heroic and fateful journey.
The last coastline they saw before plotting their course to the unknown was, in itself, a link with the fauna of the White Continent. Seals and sea lions come ashore to lie on the rocks of the Otago Peninsula. At Taiaroa Head, the Royal Albatross has established its only land-based breeding colony in the world. The yellow-eyed penguin took shelter among the sand dunes of the peninsula.
True sanctuary was achieved by careful planning and today you can see these birds and animals in their natural environment, living in the wild as they have always done and less than an hours drive from the city centre.
Twenty minutes northeast is Penguin Place. From eight breeding pairs in 1983, careful husbandry, predator control and breeding site development means that thirty pairs of birds now call this place home. They can be observed at very close quarters because of a network of camouflaged belowground walkways.
Further north is Nature's Wonders. Access is as unique as the site itself. Small parties are driven by Argo all-terrain vehicles to within three metres of the largest colony of fur seals in New Zealand.
The tip of the peninsula is close-by. The headland of Taiaroa, or Pukekura, is dominated by a Whitestone lighthouse built in 1864.
Many have said that their visit to Taiaroa head enters the realm of rare privilege, for it is here that the only mainland-breeding colony of the Royal Albatross is to be found in the world. To see these magnificent birds, whose wingspan is up to three metres catch the wind, hold themselves aloft then soar at speeds of up to 100 kph, is unforgettable.
You will be well briefed before you visit the birds. Your tour begins at the Royal Albatross Centre where your guide will describe to you the intimate details of his charges' lives. Birds can be seen year round, but access to certain sites is restricted within the breeding months.
The Centre has become a benchmark for worldwide eco-tourism. It features descriptive displays, closed-circuit television viewing of the colony and the much-acclaimed Richdale Observatory.
You can also see the entire fauna of the headland is from the water. The Monarch is a 16.5 metre vessel that offers a variety of options, depending on the time of year you visit, cruise both ways from Dunedin or combine coach and cruise tours.
Should you decide to spend a day or two on the peninsula, there are a number of comfortable and reasonably priced bed and breakfasts, home stays, motels, and a holiday park.
Many have said that the beauty of Dunedin's eco-tour attractions is that they are easily accessible to visitors of any age. All of them can be reached by coach, car and on-site transport. Yet the city offers many different outdoor pursuits for the more adventurous visitor. A network of mountain bike trails thread their way through the hills behind the city; kayaking is popular on both harbour and ocean.
Dunedin has achieved 'must-see' status on any New Zealand itinerary because it is the gateway to the south and the southwest of one of the most beautiful regions of the nation.
From Dunedin, the Southern Scenic Route, reveals some of the most haunting seascapes in the southern hemisphere. Stewart Island, New Zealand's major off-shore National Park, can be visited from the seaport of Bluff.
Dunedin is the starting point. Frequent flights connect with other major New Zealand cities. International flights link the city to Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane in Australia.
Although the city has a sense of quiet Victorian establishment, it is a youth culture.
It would take forty days and forty nights to visit all the city's restaurants, brassieres, cafes, pubs and clubs.
There is no particular time to visit Dunedin. There is always a season, event or performance worth catching all through the year.
It has been called a city of enchanting contrasts; casual, relaxed yet at the same time vital and stimulating.
Dunedin has had no greater accolade bestowed than when Sir David Bellamy, the internationally renowned British environmentalist stated that “the Otago Peninsula is the finest example of eco-tourism in the world.”
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 Tahuiwi. 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 its 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 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 Hooker's 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, 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.