Ōtepoti Dunedin’s shared pathway which lines the scenic Otago Harbour is the perfect excuse to get out and about, enjoy some scenery and explore the wider Dunedin area. Equal parts therapy, workout, and discovery, you can complete the loop of the harbour on a purpose-built trail for both cyclists and walkers.
About 30(-ish) kilometres in length, the loop has been bestowed the official name of Te Aka Ōtākou (The Otago Vine), fitting, as the trail clings to the shores of one of the most picturesque locations in the country.
Te Aka Ōtākou comprises two sections; Te Ara Moana (The Ocean Path) which spans the section from about the Leith Stream bridge to Port Chalmers, and Te Awa Ōtākou (The Ocean River) which is the eastern or Otago Peninsula trail to Portobello.
Start where you like, finish where you like. Tackle it in one day or pick a side to explore over two, there’s no wrong way to do it. It’s a real choose your own adventure.
Before you begin
The path is mostly flat and fully sealed. The duration of the full loop, with ferry crossing, can take from 2-4 hours depending on how many photos you stop to take, and snack stops you make. Walking can take between 6-7 hours, but nature sets the pace if there’s a strong head/tailwind or a sealion parks itself in the road.
Remember to keep to the left where possible and cyclists should ring their bell to alert others as they approach, before overtaking.
All dogs should be on a leash and wildlife should be given a wide berth, where possible, if encountered.
Te Ara Moana (The Ocean Path)
Te Ara Moana refers to the direction of the tide as it flows out of the harbour towards the ocean.
Te Ara Moana is the part of the shared pathway that hugs the harbour from the city out to Port Chalmers. This West Harbour section was completed in late 2023 and is the closest you’ll get to the harbour without getting wet or boarding a boat…although that can be part of the adventure too.
The path is separate from the State Highway, creating a safer track that you can take at your own pace. The trail to Port Chalmers is beautiful, taking you past rustic railway tracks, tussocky inlets and over the bright blue boardwalk at Blanket Bay.
There’s lots to explore once you arrive in the portside village of Port Chalmers. Amazing views can be seen from Centenary Lookout which has a distinctive giant anchor and a memorial to the Scott Antarctic Expedition which launched from Dunedin. On the opposite side of the village is Flagstaff Lookout, which is also home to the Ralph Hotere Sculpture Garden, a renowned New Zealand artist who called Port Chalmers home.
The town is sprinkled with small boutiques and coffee shops that are worth spending time to explore. Union Co serves a lovely coffee and Café Santosha’s courtyard is a perfect place to eat al fresco on a lovely day. Port Fish Supply is your pick for a quick takeaway fish and chips. If you’re looking to wet your whistle The Portsider is a classic pub with a collection of craft beers on tap. Continuing past the port you’ll find the fabulous Careys Bay Historic Hotel which is known for its delicious seafood.
Beach Street takes you around Flagstaff Lookout to Back Beach where you can pay to cross the harbour by ferry. Consider taking the journey via the historic Quarantine Island or carry on straight over to Portobello.
Te Awa Ōtākou (The Ocean River)
Te Awa Ōtākou refers to the flow of the tide into the harbour and towards the city. This oceanic current is of singular and enduring significance to the Ōtākou hapū. It was the main highway for travel to and from the inland trails to the ocean. Known as an ‘awa moana’ – a mixed river of both fresh and saltwater. Te Awa Ōtākou was an abundant mahika kai harbour.
Te Awa Ōtākou comprises the shared harbour path on the Otago Peninsula from Portobello back to the city. Portobello is home to several eateries worth stopping at when the hunger pangs set it, such as Cove Café, 1908 Cafe and the Portobello Hotel and Bistro.
Weave past the deliciously named Pudding Island and Pineapple Rock towards Broad Bay which is home to the historical Fletcher House. This is New Zealand’s only fully restored Edwardian villa.
Broad Bay and Macandrew Bay both have mini beaches which make perfect spots to bask in the afternoon sun or take a paddle in if it’s warm enough. The Duck café is a short walk from the beach in Macandrew Bay. Beyond the bay on the harbour path back to the central city, you might happen across a sign pointing to Glenfalloch Gardens. Meaning 'hidden valley' in Gaelic, the botanic trails around the grounds are beautiful and there’s even a café on site.
The peninsula side is stunning, it’s no surprise it was twice ranked by Lonely Planet as one of the top ten rides in the world and that was before the pathway existed.
The urban path
The urban part of Te Aka Ōtākou connects the two sections of the Vine via the city. The built-up industrial area by the harbourside provides a bit of variety and contrast to the natural beauty of the peninsula. This quirky bit of the pathway runs past rustic loading docks, heritage buildings and a handful of giant teeth…#IYKYK.
The Steamer Basin is an up-and-coming area with newer businesses like Dunedin Craft Distillers and OCHO boutique chocolate factory joining long time experiences like Monarch Wildlife Cruises and restaurants Harbourside Grill and Plato.
The harbour path takes you within walking distance of New Zealand’s most photographed building, the stunning Dunedin Railway Station. If you’re there on a Saturday morning, the impressive Otago Farmers Market is a great place to grab a hot drink and some local produce and baked goods for a picnic.
A short walk south will take you past some beautiful trains on display before you arrive at Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. Here you can trade you e-bike for a stationary Penny-farthing. Next door to the museum is the beautiful Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden, crafted by artisans from Shanghai using authentic Chinese materials.
Past the railway station the urban section of the shared path passes Emersons Craft Brewery and Taproom, which takes a behind the scenes tour of its production of the tasty drops. A cable bridge takes you over the waterway behind the impressive Forsyth Barr Stadium on the way to the marina where the Te Ara Moana section begins again.
Ending up back where you started isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, it’s probably where you left your car.