Dunedin is an excellent hub to base yourself between gentle road trips to nearby coastal and inland areas of natural and historical beauty.
Middlemarch sits at the foot of the Rock and Pillar ranges in a sweeping valley that extends up towards Central Otago. Within this dramatic backdrop of mountains, rocky outcrops and golden tussock, the quaint township of Middlemarch is a beacon of country hospitality. It’s a scenic one-hour drive from Dunedin, but If you prefer a more sedate yet picturesque method of travel, Dunedin Railways offers excursions through the stunning Taieri Gorge from Dunedin to Middlemarch or to nearby Pukerangi. Here you can cycle the start of the Otago Central Rail Trail, walk to Sutton Salt Lake and fish for trout among other peaceful country-side pursuits.
As the summer passes the Central Otago hills turn from green to gold. You can immerse yourself in the sun-baked landscape by cycling along the Clutha Gold Trail the which draws you toward vineyards stretching from Roxburgh to Clyde and beyond. Rising hills lead to mountainous country, still tipped with snow, reflected by blue alpine lakes and rivers. Small rural villages often retain a ‘frontier’ feel, while providing delicious café and dining experiences. Tourism centres offer adventure highs and shopping delights.
An easy morning drive takes you to the rare sight of lush native Aotearoa bushland stretching onto wide, white-sand beaches by the Southern Ocean. Wooded trails lead to waterfalls and riverside walks giving you an opportunity to spot rare native birds such as the mohua (yellowhead). The seashore’s surprises include fossilised remnants of a 160-million-year-old forest and cathedral-like caves. Beach visits may lead to sights of seals, sealions or sea elephants. Local museums, intriguing trinket shops and fulfilling dining can be found along the way at Papatowai and Owaka.
Big skies, suede-coloured ranges and hillsides scented with wild thyme all shelter the Maniototo’s small, peaceful townships. You can wander about, discovering relaxing dining, quirky shopping and a sense that the larger-than-life characters from past goldrushes passed their genes on to today’s friendly residents. Hop on a bike at Dunedin’s Middlemarch to explore the valleys from the Otago Central Rail Trail, a flat 150km ride following a former railway line all the way to Clyde.
To witness a New Zealand geological wonder, take the 70km drive north of Dunedin to the fishing village of Moeraki, which means ‘a place to rest by day’. There you’ll find Koekoe Beach and a group of astonishingly spherical boulders, formed over the last 60 million years in ancient sea floor sediments. Moeraki is also home to the famous culinary marvel, Fleur’s Place – a rustic restaurant serving locally sourced, market-fresh seafood and wine in a waterside setting. The area is rich in Māori, whaling and sealing history, and there are lovely walks along the nearby headland.
With a similar architectural heritage to Dunedin, this coastal town has become the Steampunk capital of the southern hemisphere. It’s Victorian precinct of restored whitestone buildings houses an eccentric collection of artists and artisans, clothing and culinary gems, as well as Steampunk HQ. Oamaru guardians care for the Little Blue Penguin colony perched right on the township’s coastline, as well as preserving the oldest public garden in New Zealand. Seek out the Whitestone Cheese Factory for its traditional and innovative flavours, or explore the nearby Totara Estate for an insight into early southern farming life.