Being a coastal city Dunedin has many beaches scattered along its coastline and around the Otago Harbour. Most are only a few minutes drive from the central city and have easy access and some have regular surf patrols during the busy summer period. Speaking of surf, did you know Dunedin's got a reputation for being a 'cold water Bali' for its plentiful surfing breaks.
Aramoana Beach and the Mole
This beautiful white sandy beach is split by the Mole, a long breakwater stretching out into the harbour entrance. It's an exciting walk when the seas are big and a great spot to watch the albatrosses swooping into Taiaroa Head on the other side the harbour.
There is a track and boardwalk that takes you through the tidal salt marshes and huge sandhill down the northern end of the beach. The settlement is full of classic kiwiana cribs.
Night sky photographers will find the beach an excellent vantage point for capturing the Milky Way and Aurora Australis when showing.
Blueskin Bay is an estuary about 25km north of Dunedin named after Te Hikututu and his nephew Kahutin because of all their Tā Moko (traditional Maori tattoos).
The estuary is abundant with littleneck clams (or cockles as the locals call them) and Southern Clams Ltd have made them a major NZ export. You might even be lucky enough to find an oyster or two. Anyone can gather a few at low tide and we recommend simply cooking them in sea water over a driftwood fire.
The village of Waitati sits alongside the bay and has a small selection of cafes and galleries. ;It is also an option for accessing Doctors Point, Purakanui, Long Beach, Whareakeake Beach and the Otago Harbour.
20km SW of Dunedin, Brighton is a small seaside town, along the Southern Scenic Route within the city limits of Dunedin.
The area is popular for day trips from Dunedin following the coastal road past Tunnel Beach and Blackhead or via Green Island.
At low-tide the small island (Barney’s Island) at the South end of the beach is a great place for exploring and the calm creek waters are perfect for paddling toddlers.
Surf-lifesaving patrols are on duty here during busy times
Across the bridge, the domain makes a great picnic spot and the nearby motor-camp in Brighton also hires out boats for you take a leisurely paddle up the stream.
Doctor’s Point is about 25km north of Dunedin, turning right at Waitati following the signs to the Doctor’s Point Reserve carpark.
It’s worth timing your visit so you are there at low tide, as the water reveals the often-extensive beach, letting you wander around its dramatic black stone caves and arches.
If you do go at low tide, and don’t dawdle too much, you can walk north-east along the sand to little Canoe Beach and the small Māpoutahi headland, once a fortified Māori pā. Look carefully and you’ll discover the sandy track and staircase across the headland’s neck to reach the longer Purakanui Beach. Or look up, and high on the cliffs you may spot the occasion train curving to disappear into a bricked tunnel.
You can’t linger long, though. Watch the tide and retrace your steps to Doctor’s Point before the water returns, and maybe grab coffee and cake at Waitati or at the Orokonui Eco Sanctuary on your way out.
Long Beach is a stunning 30-minute drive north of Dunedin, via Port Chalmers or Waitati. Known in Māori as Warauwerawera, the small coastal settlement consists mostly of holiday homes, giving it an idyllic and somewhat sleepy atmosphere.
A rock climbing mecca, the beach boasts 2.4 kilometres of shimmering white sand and coastal rock formations, including a massive cave at the far end of the beach.
The relatively calm surf and out of the way location, make it a great swimming and picnicking spot although there is no surf life-saving patrol on duty here.
Bird life around the beach and lagoon area often includes blue penguins, seals, terns, pukeko, herons, spoonbills, and ducks.
The 2006 movie Out of the Blue was also primarily filmed at Long Beach.
You’ll find lovely little Macandrew Bay on Otago Peninsula, a 20-minute harbour-side drive from Dunedin’s city centre. Set in a small garden park and perfect for young families, the beach is short, sheltered and shallow. For those wanting to mix their paddling with a quick, safe peddle, the Otago Peninsula shared cycle path goes right past.
Just across the road you’ll find a friendly café, art gallery, a playground and a traditional kiwi dairy which services the small Macandrew Bay community.
Every hour, bus number 265 goes from Princes Street in the city centre right to Macandrew Bay. It has bike carriers, too!
Not to be confused with Purakaunui Falls in the Catlins area, this beach is Dunedin’s own, lying at the mouth of Purakaunui Inlet. A white sand beach that is good for fishing and swimming with care, Purakaunui has great views of Warrington and Otago’s green north coast with its many dormant volcanic cones.
To get there, travel to Port Chalmers and as you enter Port turn left, following the signs to Long Beach, and head along Purakaunui Road. You can go to see the attractive Purakaunui settlement or drive around the inlet past Osbourne, following the road. It’s best to park at the start of the forestry track and walk to the beach, as the track is narrow and covered in soft sand.
Sandfly Bay is a bay with large dunes on the Otago Peninsula, 15 km east of central Dunedin. The bay was often thought by locals to have been named for a small biting insect known as the Sandfly, but this is incorrect. It was named after the sand which, given the windy nature of this coast, flies from the dunes surrounding the bay.
An island at the north-eastern end of the bay is known as Lion Rock or Lion's Head Rock, due to its shape. A distinctive landmark, it can be clearly seen in good weather from Second Beach, close to Saint Clair.
At the north-eastern end of the bay the Department of Conservation (DOC) has constructed wooden hides for the public and DOC staff to view Yellow-eyed Penguin activity without disturbance. Yellow-eyed Penguin activity here is now very limited due to human interference.
The beach is a popular site for the Hooker's Sea Lion to bask on the sand. It is also an excellent site for washed up Durvillea Antarctica to be found.
Smails and Tomahawk Beaches
Tomahawk and Smails Beaches are separated by a cave-riddled headland of black volcanic rock. Neighbouring the excellent St Clair and St Kilda beaches, they have white sand dunes leading down to beaches with excellent surf breaks and increasing numbers of wildlife.
To get to Tomahawk Beach, drive along to the suburb of Ocean Grove and Tomahawk Road until you pass a bridge beside an urban racehorse training track, turn right after the bridge into the carpark and walk the track across the dune onto the beach. The stream running across the beach comes from Tomahawk Lagoon, a picturesque home for black swans and many other native birds and plants.
To access Smail’s Beach carry on along Tomahawk Road until you reach a signpost to Tautuku Fishing Club, follow the road for 150metres until you see a carpark on the right. Follow the track over the dune to the beach. The view reveals not just the surf, but also the constant swirl of seagulls over the rocky Bird Island, and the dramatic cliffs, marking the beginning of the Otago Peninsula.
With very low tides, Tomahawk and Smails Beaches join to become one golden swathe of sand that can take nearly an hour to walk from one end to the other.
Please keep your distance from any sealions and penguins you may see, for their protection and, in the case of sea lions, your own.
The closest beach to central Dunedin just a 15-minute bus ride from the Octagon, St Kilda and St Clair beaches are essentially one long stretch of white sand that face out onto the Pacific Ocean.
The go-to swimming beach for Dunedinites, both ends of the beach have surf patrols throughout the summer and New Zealand’s most consistent surf break.
Cafes and bars line the St Clair Esplanade, perfect for a quiet morning coffee while you gaze out across the horizon or a casual evening meal in a fantastic seaside setting.
The area was as popular with Dunedin’s first inhabitants as it is now, with Maori archaeological sites discovered in the vicinity and the remnants of early promenade buildings still visible.The much-photographed wooden posts on beach are the remains of an old breakwater.
The beach is also the site of the city's annual "midwinter plunge", which sees residents brave the chilly waters every year at the winter solstice.
For families, there are playgrounds and changing facilities available at both St Clair and St Kilda. The dinosaur playground at Marlow Park in St Kilda is especially popular.
At the southern end of St Clair Beach, under the shadow of Forbury Hill, lies the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, a heated open-air public swimming pool nestled within rocks just metres from the ocean.
The Salt Water Pool was opened in 1884 and heating was added in the 60s. It’s a spectacular spot with waves crashing onto the boulders below and surfers catching the breaks in the background. It's particularly suited for people who love swimming in salt water, but don't want to endeavour the cooler sea waters.
Hot Salt Water Pool Features:
- 28 degree Celsius
- 1.1m - 1.4m deep
- 6 x 25m lanes
- Toddlers Pool
- Disabled changing area
- Cafe, open 9am - 5pm daily
Best at low tide this twenty minute easy walk from the car park on Tunnel Beach Road through private farm land takes you to a magnificent sandstone sea arch and man-made tunnel to the secluded beach with fossil filled cliffs on all sides.
Victory Beach and the Pyramids
This pristine and completely undeveloped beach is named after the Victory ship that sunk of its shores.
The long arm of this white sand spit separates Blueskin Bay estuary from the Pacific Ocean and has lovely views out to sea and southeast towards distant beaches and cliffs. Get there by travelling 27km north east of Dunedin, turning right off State Highway 1 at Evansdale.
Warrington Beach is a great place to learn to surf and is a great spot for family swims or rock-pooling. At low tide, you can walk all the way along the beach and around the spit to Blueskin Bay, where clams are often foraged just beneath the estuary sands.
Warrington Domain has a designated freedom camping site and playground with picnic area and public toilets. Warrington Surf Life Saving Club patrol the beach in summer for safer swimming. Take care around southern tip of the spit when the tide turns and water rushes through the estuary mouth.
The village itself is a small and quaint settlement, once the seaside destination of choice for Dunedinites in the early 1900’s.
Formerly known as Murdering Beach, Whareakeake is a small, secluded, north-facing beach, separated from Long Beach by a high headland. A thriving Māori trading village was based there until a conflict in 1817 with sailors from an European whaling ship led to a massacre of the village’s inhabitants. Artefacts from the time have long been excavated.
Now, you will discover a quiet, golden beach that’s great for swimming and blessed with a terrific right-hand point break for surfing. The tides often create shell banks and leave large driftwood pieces, perfect for you to lean upon, gazing out to sea.
Travel there by going to Port Chalmers, turning to the left as you enter Port and following the signs to Long Beach. You quickly find yourself traveling along the top of a ridge, keep going straight ahead onto the gravel, windy Heyward Point Road. After 4km it will bring you to a left-hand turn onto a very narrow, steep gravel road. If you are confident you can drive down, very carefully, (there is no passing room if you encounter a car coming up) otherwise walk 10 minutes down to the beach.