Best things to do with kids in Dunedin
Dunedin is New Zealand’s fifth largest city with approximately 110,000 people and is relatively easy to get around.
Dunedin is a city of New Zealand “firsts”, it has the first university, first newspaper, first medical and dental schools, first female lawyer and first public art gallery. The name “Dunedin” is the Celtic form of Edinburgh, and original town plans were based on that Scottish city.
Dunedin was planned in the early 1840s and settlers arrived soon after. With the discovery of gold in the 1860s, the town grew into an important commercial centre. Many Dunedin buildings date back to the goldrush. First Church, the University of Otago’s clock tower, Larnach Castle and Otago Boys High School were built in the late 1800s, and the impressive Dunedin Railway Station was completed in 1906. While Victorian and Edwardian architecture dominate the cityscape, many historic buildings, such as Dunedin Railway Station and the historic Speight’s Brewery, have been reinvented for modern times.
Here is our pick of 25 of the BEST things to do in Dunedin with kids on a family holiday.
1. Penguin Place
Take the family for a guided tour at Penguin Place, a private conservation reserve dedicated to helping the endangered yellow-eyed penguin survive.
Tours explain the issues that Yellow Eyed Penguins are facing and how the Penguin Place’s conservation work is carried out and if their are birds in care when you visit you get to see the rehabilitation factility. This is followed by a short bus ride to the reserve where you will go for a 2km guided walk to hopefully see the wild Yellow-Eyed Penguins, or Hoiho, fur seals, nesting or moulting blue penguins, other native wildlife and interesting flora along the way.
2. Otago Museum
Kids will love Otago Museum‘s science discovery centre Tuhura which offers a bicultural approach to explain the natural world and it’s forces. As well as the museum collections the museum has a tropical butterfly house which is heated to 28 degrees+ for the colourful butterflies. Plus they have a planetarium so your family can check out one of the planetarium shows on your visit.
3. The Royal Albatross Centre
Taiaroa Head, the southern hemisphere’s only mainland albatross colony, is home to about 140 royal albatross. These majestic seabirds have wingspans of three metres (almost 10 feet) and can fly at speeds up to 115 kilometres (70 miles) an hour.
Visit the Royal Albatross Centre which is the only mainland breeding colony of Royal Albatross in the world. Kids (and adults) can learn fascinating insights into these majestic monarchs of the sea from their expert guides. Visit the observatory and have the chance to view these charismatic birds raising their young. On a breezy day, you may even see them fly by with their huge wingspan.
4. See the wildlife at Sandfly Bay on the Otago Peninsula
Take the kids to spot the local sea life, wild life and dunes at Sandfly Bay on the Otago Peninsula which is 15km east of Dunedin. The bay is named after the sand which flies from the dunes surrounding the bay in the wind. Kids will have fun spotting the fur seals and sea lions wallowing in the sand. At the northern end of the beach you may be luck to spot the rare yellow-eyed penguins.
5. Larnach Castle and Gardens
For families that like history and heritage don’t miss visiting Larnach Castle located on the picturesque Otago Peninsula in Dunedin, New Zealand. There are fun activity sheets to keep the kids entertained and learning whilst visiting the rooms in the castle and the gardens outside. Don’t miss going to the top of the turret to take in the stunning views.
You can also stay a night at the castle
6. Toitū Otago Settlers Museum
Take the family to visit this FREE Toitū Otago Settlers Museum which highlights the early settler heritage in Dunedin. The museum overlooks Dunedin’s Heritage District and is within walking distance of the Octogan. The gallery has over 100,000 objects for the kids to enjoy learning about the people whose character, culture, technology, art, fashion and transport shaped Dunedin.
The museum’s Toitū café in the entrance foyer is next to the locomotive Josephine, is a good spot to have a break and get something to eat or a just have a coffee. Pushchairs and strollers are allowed and there are parenting rooms in the museum.
The museum is open from 10am to 4pm every day except for Christmas.
7. Street Art Trail
Take the kids on a street art trail from the harbour to Queens Gardens to see the vibrant artworks on walls around the warehouse precinct. The photo below is of Hugh Van Dorsser’s street art mural on Vogel Street in Dunedin.
8. Dunedin Botanic Garden
The Dunedin Botanic Garden was New Zealand’s first public garden and has over 6,800 plant species over 30 hectares. Don’t miss visiting the Winter Garden Glasshouse The kids can have fun feeding the ducks and playing at the playground too or doing the Children’s Play Trail. Admission to the garden is free and it is open daily from dawn to dusk.
9. St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool and St Clair Beach
The stunning outdoor St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool (shown in the lead image) is on the beachfront of St Clair beach and directly overlooks the Pacific Ocean.The main pool is heated to 28 degrees Celcius and has 6 lanes. There is also a toddlers pool for the little ones. The hot pool is open from 9am to 5pm daily. The pool is open for the summer season each year from October to March.
St Kilda and St Clair beaches are actually one long stretch of sand and are only a 15 minute bus ride from the centre of Dunedin. The beach is the most popular swimming beach in Dunedin and has surf patrols on in the summer.
10. Ōrokonui Ecosanctuary
Visit the 307 hectare Ōrokonui Ecosanctuary is a predator free sanctuary for animals and plants. See kiwis, forest birds and reptiles on an independent or guided walk. Kids under 5 can go on guided walks for free.
11. Dunedin Public Art Gallery
The Dunedin Public Art Gallery was established in 1884 and was New Zealand’s first public art gallery. The gallery has a major collection of New Zealand art, European art, Japanese prints, decorative arts and changing exhibitions. There are usually activities for the kids to do at the gallery too.
12. Aramoana Beach
This is a stunning secluded white sand beach split by the Mole, a long breakwater that stretches out into the harbour entrance. Kids can have fun spotting the albatrosses, seals, terns, seals and if they are lucky a penguin too. Take you body boards too as the kids will love sliding down the huge sand dunes at the northern end of the beach.
13. Baldwin Street: The Steepest Street in the World
In an unassuming suburban neighbourhood, Baldwin Street holds the coveted title of the world’s second steepest street according to the Guinness Book of World Records. The street is a mere 350 metres (1,150 ft) long and rises from 30 metres (98 ft) above seal level to 100 metres (330ft) above sea level at the top. At it’s maximum the slope is about 38°.
Dunedin locals are proud of their famous street and each year there are events that showcase the vertiginous icon.
Baldwin Street, used to host an annual Jaffa Race. Jaffas are an iconic New Zealand sweet made of dark chocolate encased in a hard orange shell. On race day, thousands of cheering onlookers lined the street to watch around 75,000 Jaffas roll down the hill competing to be the first in the winner’s slot. Unfortunately the Jaffa Race no longer operates.
14. Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Garden
Lan Yuan Dunedin Chinese Gardens The garden has a Tea House where you can buy traditional Chinese teas and steamed buns and dumplings to enjoy.
The gardens are open daily from 10am to 4pm except for Christmas Day and are next to Toitū Otago Settlers Museum and opposite the Queens Gardens. There is a dress up section for the kids in the gardens too.
15. Signal Hill Lookout
We think Signal Hill in North Dunedin is the best spot to watch the sunset over the city on a fine day.
16. Little Blue Penguin viewing at Pilots Beach
Our family loved seeing the Little Blue Penguins in the evening coming back in from a day out in the sea at dusk on Pilots Beach from the viewing platform. The evening tour is run as a joint venture by The Royal Albatross Centre and Pukekura Trust and has friendly knowledgeable guides that answered our children’s questions and made sure everybody got to see a close up view of penguins. Note the tours are seasonal so please check they are operating before you visit.
You can also see the blue penguins as they return from sea in the evening at Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony in Oamaru which is about a 1.5 hour drive north of Dunedin and the penguin colony is situated just 5 minutes from the town centre.
17. Warrington Beach
This beach is 27km north east of Dunedin and is a favourite with families for a swim or to go rock pooling. The beach is patrolled in summer. There is a fun playground for the kids, picnic areas and public toilets.
18. Otago Farmers Market
The Otago Farmers Market is on every Saturday from 8am to 12:30pm at the Northern Carpark Dunedin Railway Station.
Take the kids and their stakeboard or scooters to one of the skateboard ramps or bowls. You can find them at Brockville Park, Fairfield Park, Memorial Park in Mosgiel, Mornington Park, Thomas Burns Street Skatepark behind the railway stations and Victoria Road in St Kilda.
20. Dunedin Railway Station
Admire the architecture of the Dunedin Railway Station is alongside the Chinese Garden and was built in 1906 in the Flemish renaissance style. Much of the station’s ground floor is now used as a restaurant, and the upper floor is home to both the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame and the Otago Art Society.
The station was once the busiest in New Zealand and it’s platform used to become the catwalk for the South Island’s main fashion show – iD Dunedin Fashion Week.
21. Fishing at Boiler Point
Take the kids fishing at the Boiler Point fishing jetty in Careys Bay by Port Otago.
22. Cycle on the Otago Rail Trail
Travel to Middlemarch which is the start of the Otago Rail Trail. The quickest way to reach Middlemarch is via State Highway 87 from Dunedin. The trail is free to ride and has no vehicles on it which makes it a perfect family cycling holiday to add on to a holiday in Dunedin. The whole trail is 152 km and usually takes 3 to 4 days, however you can just do part of the trail on a half day or one day trip if your kids aren’t up to doing the whole thing.
23. Moana Pool
The kids will enjoy playing on the hydroslides, lazy river and wave pool at Moana Pool. Their is a lap pool too for the serious swimmers in your family.
24. Museum of Natural Mystery
Spread over three rooms of an old central city villa this quirky small gallery and Museum of Natural Mystery contains a collection of skulls, bones, biological curiosities, ethnological art and unusual cultural items which artist Bruce Mahalski has collected over a life-time.
25. Organ Pipes
For families with older kids take a walk on The Organ Pipes Track to see the unique columnar jointed basalt formations on the Otago Peninsula and have a picnic. If you are adventurous you can scramble up small peaks to get a view from the top of the Organ Pipes.