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Discover history and wildlife at Dunedin cruise port

Dunedin is a popular cruise port, with ships calling in frequently during the summer season. It’s a short drive from the primary port into the city centre, where the centre of activity is found. Many passengers also choose to take advantage of their time in Otago to head out on tours taking in the wonderful nature and wildlife. If you’re planning a cruise which visits Dunedin, be sure to get outside for the final approaches to enjoy the scenery as the ship passes Taiaroa Head and the Royal Albatross Centre found there.


Getting ashore

Most big ships dock at Port Chalmers, a suburb and port facility just over 10 kilometres from the city centre. Shuttle buses, public buses and taxis to central Dunedin are generally easily available from the dock. There is also an i-Site visitor information centre on the wharf at Port Chalmers.

Smaller ships can and often do dock  at Port Dunedin which is very close to the CBD. From there it is easy to walk to the city centre and attractions.

Money matters

Dunedin along with the rest of the country uses exclusively New Zealand Dollars. There are ATMs around Port Chalmers (in addition to many other spots around Dunedin) where money can be withdrawn, and currency exchange outlets in Dunedin itself - the Travelex shop in George Street is handy for most visitors. Credit cards can be used at most retailers and restaurants.

You can expect to pay normal New Zealand prices in Dunedin - somewhere around $20-$40 per person for a sit down meal or $10-$20 for a casual lunch or dinner, $5 or so for a coffee. It is not a requirement to tip and in fact the practice is not common at all.

Local life and language

Dunedin is home to a great mix of people, its diversity helped along by the university which lies in North Dunedin not far from the city centre. It has some great nightlife, lots of bars and pubs, and plenty of friendly inhabitants. There is a strong sense of heritage with a Scottish bent (you’ll find a statue of Robbie Burns at the heart of Dunedin) and the stories and culture of the country’s native Maori people. There is also a rural influence thanks to the surrounding farmland.

Most Kiwis are polite and willing to give advice and directions when asked. They generally dress casually, so don’t be shocked to see farmwear or jandals (flip flops) around town.  English is the primary language, although you may spot some signage and hear the odd phrase in Maori.

What to do in Dunedin

Cruise visitors to the city will have no reason to be bored! There are numerous things to do in and around Dunedin, both cultural and natural attractions.

Beaches and coastline

The city is placed right on the edge of the harbour, so you can get water views without straying too far from the CBD. However, a short drive can get you to some amazing places.  At the head of the harbour is Aramoana Beach, a long sandy stretch split by a breakwater. Another favourite place to escape the city is at Tunnel Beach, reachable by car or public bus plus a bit of walking. The exciting part of the trip to this beach is a stroll through the tunnel which was built by John Cargill in the 1870s to give his family access to the pretty, secluded bit of sand.

You can even get in some beach time without leaving Dunedin’s southern suburbs. St Clair has a long sandy beach open to the South Pacific, with a surf school, cafes, bars, playground and green spaces. It even boasts a hot salt water pool for when it’s too cold to brave the ocean. The perfect way to enjoy some time on land mid-cruise!

Avian encounters

The region of Otago is home to some weird and wonderful birds! The Royal Albatross centre is located 30 kilometres from Dunedin at the mouth of the Otago Harbour on Taiaroa Head, and is open to visitors every day except Christmas day. Tours are available with purchased tickets, the only way to go into the wildlife reserve itself. These huge creatures are the world’s largest seabirds, a very impressive sight!

Yellow-eyed penguins are also an avian highlight of Otago, and they are best visited at Penguin Place which is not far south of the Royal Albatross Centre and 28 kilometres out of Dunedin.  Here also you can book tours to see the fascinating flightless birds in their natural habitat.

Food and drink attractions

Chocolate lovers can rejoice in Dunedin, as the city is home to Cadbury World, where visitors can take a guided tour of the chocolate factory. It does include free samples! Cadbury is a favoured chocolate producer in New Zealand, and this place is well worth the short walk from central Dunedin.

The Speights Brewery, home of New Zealand’s famous “southern man” beer, is also open for visits and offers tours and tastings. Guides share the fascinating history of beer consumption, as well as showing the makings of the Speights brews.

City hotspots

There are a few Dunedin attractions which are top of the list to visit if you are in the sightseeing mood. These include:

  • Larnach Castle, a short trip outside the city. It’s billed as New Zealand’s only castle, although it’s technically a manor house.

  • Baldwin Street in the North East Valley suburb, which is officially the world’s steepest street. Climbing it is quite an achievement - but be careful descending! There are opportunities for interesting photos posed in front of the street’s houses.

  • The Octagon and its resident Robbie Burns statue. This is the heart of Dunedin, with plenty of people, shops and restaurants.

  • Otago University. As the oldest university in New Zealand, this campus has some lovely old buildings to wander amidst.

  • Dunedin Botanical Gardens, which offer plenty of space for a long stroll if you want to get your land legs back. They have an aviary and many themed garden areas.


Organised vs self-guided

All cruise lines will offer an array of organised tours in Dunedin - and there are independent companies which provide tours too, although the line-sanctioned ones are considered a safer bet as they come with a guarantee passengers won’t miss the boat. These are great for convenience and if you want to visit an attraction that’s far from the dock or the city centre, they are often the easiest option.

On the other hand, getting yourself around to see what you want to see on your own schedule can be a wonderful way to visit Dunedin.  With public transport, taxis, shuttles and other options, you can get around with few problems - just leave plenty of time to get back and on the ship before it departs. If you are just planning to visit the city sights, this is a great option.

Culture and history

Most cruise lines will offer one or more tours which explore the history and/or culture of this stately southern city. Whether this is a whizz around the city highlights, an historic pub crawl as offered by Royal Caribbean or visits to some heritage houses,  these kinds of tours are a great way to get a feel for Dunedin. They are perfect for those who enjoy history!

Wildlife and nature

The critters and natural beauty of Otago are well worth a look! Luckily, you’ll find plenty of tour options on most lines which allow you to get up close and personal. These include a ride on the scenic Taieri Gorge Railway, a 4WD trip into the hills of Taiaroa Head to spot seals and the various resident birds, wildlife cruises on small vessels, and more.


If you like to spend your time onshore moving and grooving, there are tours to make it possible. Various lines visiting Dunedin provide excursions like kayaking, cycling and guided walks which allow you to see Otago under your own steam. These are an excellent opportunity to get in a bit of a workout and stretch some muscles before getting back on the ship.

Any visitor to Dunedin should be able to find attractions, activities and things to do which interest them! Enjoy this popular cruise port and city full of heritage.