Ace Rental Cars Blog

A Coastal Drive Across Dunedin

The second-largest city in the South Island, Dunedin is known for its unique attractions and landmarks including the prestigious Otago University, historic buildings like the Olveston Historic Home and Baldwin Street - the steepest residential street in the world. This coastal city boasts a vibrant cultural scene, with multiple festivals and events held here throughout the year including the Dunedin Fringe Festival, Dunedin Arts Festival, as well as Dunedin Craft Beer and Food Festival.

Interested in taking in the sites and scenes of the Otago Peninsula? Savour it with a scenic drive along the coast in a comfy rental car. With an Ace branch at Dunedin Airport, simply pick up the keys to your car and start your journey. To make your trip seamless, we’ve listed three of the best stops along the way before arriving in the big city, and what to do once you get to Dunedin.

  • Otago Peninsula
  • Sandfly Bay
  • Tunnel Beach
  • Dunedin

Otago Peninsula

The landform that separates the Otago Harbour from the Pacific Ocean is known as the Otago Peninsula and is commonly referred to as the ‘wildlife capital of New Zealand’. Starting from the tip of the Peninsula in Harington Point, visit the world’s only mainland albatross colony at the Royal Albatross Centre. Here you can take a guided tour to learn about the seabirds' breeding cycle and view the majestic birds at the observatory. Enjoy a bite to eat at the Centre’s Toroa Cafe and take in the view of Taiarora Head Lighthouse in the distance. For an extra dose of history, sign up for the Fort Taiaroa tour. Here, you’ll walk through the secret underground fort that was built to guard the Harbour from Russian invasion in the 1880s.

Moving from seabirds to flightless birds, get up close and personal with the world’s smallest penguin, the kororā (blue penguin), on a tour at Blue Penguins Pukekura. Conveniently located just next door to the Royal Albatross Centre, visit Pukekura at dusk to see the little penguins emerge from the sea and make their way over to retire in their burrows for the night. Make sure to pack warm clothing as it can get cold when viewing the penguins after dark.

  • Royal Albatross Centre
  • Taiaroa Head Lighthouse
  • Fort Taiaroa
  • Blue Penguins Pukekura

From Harington Point, it’s a 30-minute drive to Sandfly Bay on the southern coast of the peninsula. But first, stop by the Portobello Hotel and Bistro for a tasty meal in the heart of the Otago region. With locally caught seafood and a family-friendly atmosphere, it’s worth settling in here for a moment to connect with the scenery and serenity of the area. Continuing on, another landmark on the way to the bay is the historic Larnach Castle. If you’re visiting on a sunny day, the picturesque garden here is one-of-a-kind and has been rated a Garden of International Significance, and the Castle itself is an architectural beauty to behold.

Once you’ve reached Sandfly Bay, it’s a steep walk down to the beach, so make sure you pack your hiking boots. However, the journey is worth the stunningly scenic destination with towering sand dunes and beautiful bay views. Plus, the beach is home to sea lions, fur seals and yellow-eyed penguins.

  • Portobello Hotel and Bistro
  • Larnach Castle
  • Sandfly Bay Beach

Tunnel Beach to Dunedin

Heading east, discover the hidden caves at Tunnel Beach. To get to the shore, visitors journey through a purpose-built tunnel that was hand-carved in the 1870s by the Cargill family, giving them private access to the beach. Today, tourists and locals enjoy the unique venture through the narrow tunnel down to the water’s edge. Rocky landscapes and dramatic cliffs surround the beach, making this the perfect spot for photos. Plus, it has remnants of age-old invertebrate fossils - see if you can spot them in the tunnel walls. If you’re up for the adventure, the Tunnel Beach Walking Track sets off from the car park and slopes through farmland and overlooks the rugged coastline. From here, it’s only a 10-minute drive in the rental car to the city centre where you can explore local attractions like the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum and the Dunedin Botanic Garden.

  • Man-made tunnel
  • Dramatic cliffs that make the perfect photography spot
  • Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
  • Dunedin Botanic Garden

If you’re still looking for adventure beyond the city, take a short drive down to Brighton for a stroll along the sand and crisp fish and chips by the seaside. While here, stay till dusk to see one of the best sunsets in Dunedin. Or, head to the small town of Aramoana, 30 minutes north of Dunedin. Here, you can dive off the man-made Sea ‘Mole’ rock wall or wander through Aramoana Beach and take a look at the ‘Keyhole’ rock formation.

  • Brighton Beach
  • Aramoana Sea Mole
  • Aramoana Beach
  • The Keyhole

With so much to discover across Dunedin, you’re guaranteed to have an unforgettable trip filled with scenic adventures and historic discoveries. Soak up the coastal charm that Dunedin and the Otago region offers and you’ll be sure to come back for more!

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