From its idyllic vantage point at the head of the Otago Harbour, Ōtepoti Dunedin embraces its synonyms: southern, Scottish, student town. Clichés aside, the city’s privileged geography has long made it a jumping-off point for travellers exploring Central Otago’s stunning landscape. In recent years, a smattering of design-led openings has shed new light on the nuances of Dunedin’s identity, establishing it as a destination in its own right. Thanks to well-known Dunedin-born names such as Flying Nun Records and fashion label Nom D, the city’s had cultural cachet since the early ’80s – today, this is being shaped by a crowd of tastemakers including hoteliers, artists and restaurateurs.
“Stays with substance” promises boutique hotel Ebb, established in 2021 as an emblem of easygoing luxury. Come for the unique architecture – there’s a striking Simon Kaan artwork on its glass facade and the hotel’s three storeys, each furnished with work by a local artist, are stacked around a covered atrium – and stay for the sharp attention to detail. Generous rooms feature dried floral arrangements and tasteful minibars, including a nifty set-up for brewing a Kōkako coffee pourover to enjoy in bed. Breakfast is served at the downstairs cafe, which offers an organic, locally sourced menu by local chef and writer Alison Lambert.
In the city centre, find five-star hotel Fable in a landmark Victorian-era building. Rooms are fitted out in plush fabrics, accented with nods to the city’s Scottish heritage. Reverence for the past continues through the hotel’s restaurant and bar, named The Press Club as a reference to its previous life as a literary haunt in the 1870s.
Soak up early morning sunshine after you choose an oven-fresh pastry from Side On’s cabinet, piled high with juicy cardamon buns, buttery croissants, custard tarts and stuffed focaccia sandwiches. On the other side of town, Dunedin’s climatic kinship with Copenhagen comes into focus at eclectic Scandinavian cafe and wine bar Adjo. Inside walls displaying local art, it serves open-faced sandwiches alongside coffee or house-made schnapps – fuel for a meander through the flourishing Dunedin Botanic Garden just across the road.
As the day ticks over to evening, a brisk stroll along the wind-swept St Clair promenade is ideal before dinner at Esplanade. Italian accents waft from the kitchen – as does the scent of rosemary and garlic. Start with an antipasti platter and a spritz, followed by spinach, ricotta and sage butter ravioli or a couple of Neapolitan-style pizzas to share. The seashore spot’s team has been in the hospitality game since 2009 and also owns Māori Hill neighbourhood bistro No.7 Balmac. There, the menu leans heavily on produce from its own garden, which emerges perfectly smoky from the woodfired oven – think Otago venison saltimbocca with balsamic roasted potatoes, whipped chevre and crispy prosciutto, or stuffed fried eggplant and mozzarella with rosemary pickled peppers, crushed green olives, capers and pecorino.
With its thriving independent cafe culture and high concentration of local roasteries, Dunedin is a haven for the caffeine obsessed. Community-spirited, small-batch roastery Common Ground leads the local roasting charge, supplying cafes throughout the city and Central Otago with its balanced “House” and darker “Grunt” blends. Savour a cup at its charming Strathallan Street roastery, which offers a glimpse behind the scenes of the well-oiled operation. You can compare tasting notes nearby at Vanguard Specialty Coffee, which sources directly from growers on the basis of fair trade principles and highlights the region, altitude, farmer’s name, varietals and processing method on its labels.
Brewery and taproom New New New Corporation treats another kind of brewing with equal passion: savour crisp lagers and citrus-laced hazy IPAs on-site or take them home in eye-catching cans. For a nightcap with character, head over to the charmingly retro Woof!. Since 2019, it has not only mixed refined cocktails and hosted club nights but has also proudly served as a safe haven for Ōtepoti’s queer community.
Feel like a local with a Saturday morning stroll through the iconic Otago Farmers Market, a microcosm of fresh regional products. Find blushing apples and fresh juices, plenty of cheeses, breakfast sandwiches and boutique products like Bay Rd Peanut Butter. Compile your own picnic for lunch with a view, or enjoy an open-air breakfast before setting out on an art tour.
Dunedin Public Art Gallery houses significant local and international works, from the paintings of Frances Hodgkins to the only Monet held in a New Zealand collection. For a more contemporary vibe, the experimental Blue Oyster Art Project Space features a dynamic program and event calendar, while the 2019-opened Olga exhibits a roster of emerging and established artists.
For a wearable souvenir, boutiques Plume and Company of Strangers stock the best Dunedin designers alongside international fashion by Dries Van Noten and Rick Owens. Head to music store Relics for a serious offering of new and second-hand vinyl, while retro Crown Lynn ceramics and Temuka pottery stand out in a selection of thrifty Kiwi collectables at Taste Merchants.
A short drive up the coast, the quaint port town and artist’s enclave of Port Chalmers honours its most famous resident, the late artist Ralph Hōtere, with a modest sculpture garden he assembled. A short walk away a snug historic pub, the Carey’s Bay Hotel, offers a seafood-focused menu served by the fire or on a veranda overlooking a picturesque inlet. For a more rugged coastal experience, trek down to the secluded Tunnel Beach Walkway through a hand-carved passageway, where you’ll emerge in awe of this sand-whipped precipice at the earth’s southern edge.