eals, albatross, penguins – an abundance of marine life, birds and insects, and so close to the metropolitan city of Dunedin, but able to be watched and admired – a natural feast amidst a landscape so diverse it encompasses green valleys, wide green plains, fast flowing rivers, surf beaches, bush-covered hills, sheltered bays and mountain ranges.
Through having at hand such rare and special wildlife as Royal albatrosses, Yellow-eyed penguins and Hooker’s sealions, Dunedin proclaims itself the wildlife capital of New Zealand. The boast is not without supporting evidence.
The astonishing thing about the nature of Dunedin is its diversity. What’s more, it’s all within city limits. The Otago Peninsula where many of the rarest species of wildlife live, stretches like a benevolent giant to the east of Dunedin, literally 10 minutes drive from the Octagon.
To explore further afield, the Southern Scenic Route takes you between Dunedin’s Victorian elegance, South Otago and Southland’s rolling pastures and wild bush coastline and the majestic beauty of Fiordland all within a day’s drive… but you will be compelled to stop along the way to take in the ever-changing landscapes.
Travel north to Oamaru, only 1½ hours drive from Dunedin, past the fishing villages and bays via Waitati, Karitane and Waikouaiti. Oamaru prospered from the gold discovered in Central Otago. The restored whitestone historic precinct with its Victorian shops and eateries are a delight, and the Oamaru Blue Penguin colony will also be of interest.
Queenstown is only 3½ hours drive inland from Dunedin through schist torn landscapes. During the journey make sure you call in a Middlemarch where the Otago Central Rail Trail begins, and where the Taieri Gorge Railway meets a coach to continue a scheduled trip on to Queenstown. Nearby, Naseby and St Bathans are steeped in gold-mining history.
Dunedin’s concentration of natural highlights is no accident. It comes courtesy of habitats created by a bountiful ocean, temperate climate and a favourable lie of the land, halfway between the Equator and the South Pole – habitats ranging from snow tussock to sandy beaches.
Dunedin is built around a long-dormant and deeply eroded volcano. Otago Harbour fills a natural trench between a line of peaks of black volcanic rock (rising to 680 metres at Mount Cargill) and the volcanic hills of Otago Peninsula. The old lava flows form steep headlands on the Peninsula’s ocean side, the focus of much marine life. Mementoes of the landscape’s fiery history include intriguing columns of angular basalt at the Organ Pipes, a one hour return walk from Mt Cargill Road (10 minutes drive from the Octagon) or three hour return from Bethunes Gully, North East Valley (10 minutes drive from the Octagon) and Black Head (a 15 minute from the Octagon).
Because the shores of Otago Peninsula jut close to the edge of the continental shelf, seabirds and seals have a choice of breeding and resting sites handy to food.
This, then, is the setting for Dunedin’s wildlife – high volcanic hills and headland, a sinuous harbour and surf swept beaches of creamy sand. It’s scenic. It’s dramatic. It’s an attraction in itself.