Otago Peninsula is a beckoning finger of land lying between the Pacific Ocean and the sheltered bays of Otago Harbour. It extends from suburban Dunedin to Taiaroa Head, where a breeding colony of Northern Royal Albatross thrive on the steep and windy headland, once the important fortified Māori pa (fortress), Pukekura. Ōtākou Māori lived here in harbour-side kaik (villages) for about 900 years, taking advantage of its strategic location and abundant seafood. The Peninsula’s cliffs, inlets and beaches are home to penguins, seals, sea lions and many seabird species.
Drive out along Highcliff Rd for breathtaking views across the ocean and harbour, or choose Portobello Road far below, where you can meander by picturesque villages perched on the harbourside slopes. Dunedin city and the surrounding hills provide a panorama to the west and to the north Aramoana (“pathway to the sea” in Maori) reaches across to Taiaroa Head at the harbour mouth.
A delightful, family-friendly village with a dainty beach, playground, dairy and galleries. The tranquil view along the harbour towards Dunedin city and Port Chalmers is made lovelier still by a scattering of small moored yachts. Nourish yourself at Two Fat Stags by the Bay Restaurant and take a stroll around the charming neighbourhood.
Find Fletcher House in this water-side hamlet. This fully restored Edwardian Villa is a 1909 time-capsule, famous as the first house built by Sir James Fletcher, founder of the Fletcher Construction empire built. It was built for Hubert and Agnes Green when they got married. Hubert was the local post master and store keeper. His shop once stood in front of the house next-door.
Pudding Island, Happy Hens, Penguin Café... names out of a storybook and sights you'll see in this gentle village half-way to the ocean along Otago Harbour. Sheltered, with a warm micro-climate, this north-facing inlet mixes family farms, Bed & Breakfast nooks and plenty of history.
Penguin Café proudly boasts a fine selection of dishes made with locally produced bacon, pork and lamb and locally sourced vegetables, with all food handmade on the premises. The staff happily share their knowledge of local attractions and can even provide picnic lunches for people wanting to do some of the local walks.
Portobello Hotel & Bistro has been serving all comers since 1874 and offers traditional hotel meals, a bar with a pool table and jukebox, and over summer their ice cream parlour sells milkshakes, ice creams and sweets of every description.
Otago Peninsula has plenty of walking tracks that will suit your style. If you like spectacular cliffs, try Karetai Track or for curious-looking pyramids, gorgeous plant life and wild beaches there's the Okia Reserve Track. Feeling romantic? Try Sandymount Track, which will take you to Lover's Leap and The Chasm. Remember to take care not to get too close to wildlife. (Most tracks don't allow dogs.)
Seabirds and castles
Otago Peninsula's famous for being home to two unique and fascinating sights. Larnach Castle is New Zealand's only building to lay serious claim to the the 'castle' title. Situated in a truly inspiring Garden of International Significance, this place with offer up a different beautiful secret at each visit. The world's only mainland colony of Northern Royal Albatross lies at the Peninsula's tip. When the fluffy chicks grow and launch themselves across the ocean, they may not touch land again until their return, years later to breed. Watch them at the Royal Albatross Centre knowing you're helping those looking out for their future welfare.
Blue and Yellow-eyed Penguins can be seen coming ashore at dusk. Again, the best way to see them is on a tour that has these fragile creatures' best interests at heart, e.g. with Penguin Place, Elm Wildlife Tours, Blue Penguins Pukekura or the Royal Albatross Centre.
Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial
A short walk from Highcliff Rd, just a few minutes from Dunedin, the Fallen Soldiers’ Memorial sits on a rock the size of a small house looking down the harbour towards Aramoana and Taiaroa Head. Visible from many spots on the peninsula and Dunedin, the solitary soldier stands as a symbol of the local young men who lost their lives in the First World War of 1914 -18. Many of the 52 whose names are engraved here died in foreign battlefields like Gallipoli, The Somme and Ypres. There’s parking room for only a couple of cars on the roadside, and the 500 metre long path up to the memorial is steep, but the spectacular views from this beautiful and isolated spot are rewarding.
Cockling at Papanui Inlet
It would be hard to find a more peaceful and typically New Zealand spot than Papanui Inlet on the eastern side of the peninsula where black swans and pukekos go about their business and the occasional car raises dust on the gravel road. Come here at low tide and you will find beds of New Zealand cockles or little-neck clams which are delicious steamed open and added to pasta or chopped and made into fritters. There’s a daily limit of 50 cockles per person, but if that seems too much, leave.
Aurora Australis (southern lights) and galaxies of stars are clearly seen from Otago Peninsula on cloudless nights. Its rural swathes are virtually free of light pollution. Hear tales of the stories Ōtākou Māori read in the stars with Horizon Tours or simply tilt back your head and fall upward into the night.
Cruise the harbour - by boat or bike
Whether spotting wildlife or transporting your bike as you circumnavigate the harbour on the cycle trails, check out Port to Port wildlife tours or Monarch Wildlife Cruises and Tours.
Ever-lengthening cycle ways enable you to skim along the harbour's edge. Soon there'll be dedicated cycle trails all the way round from Port Chalmers to Portobello, giving flat scenic riding all the way. You just need a little sea-worthy help to get you across the harbour, back to where you started from.
Chisholm Park Golf Course
Rated as no 1 in Dunedin, Chisholm Park is a classic links course lying on sand dunes and with the challenge of a sea breeze off the Pacific. The stunning 360 degree views make it a very photogenic course and the rugged coastal vista from the cliff top 9th hole is particularly distracting. This is a course where you want to bring your camera and take your time. The club welcomes locals and visitors alike, and offers special deals through a local tour company to cruise ship passengers arriving at Port Chalmers. Only a few minutes’ drive from Dunedin’s Octagon and adjacent to St Kilda Beach and the Dunedin Holiday Park, it offers a tantalising glimpse of the rolling farmland and beaches of the peninsula.