The Local’s Guide to Dunedin

For those of you who haven’t the pleasure of experiencing Dunedin, allow me to introduce you to this special place. Dunedin is a southern city in New Zealand characterised by its famous peninsula, Scottish roots and student vibe.

There’s plenty to do in Dunedin. Tripadvisor will tell you to visit Larnach CastleSpeight’s BreweryRoyal Albatross Colony and Baldwin Street – and you know what? Those things are great, and you will certainly enjoy “drinking like a southern man” and hiking up the world’s steepest street. But what you will be missing out on is the authentic local experience. Dunedin has a thriving tourism industry that is celebrated and embraced, but sometimes you’ve just got to detour the queues and venture off the beaten path to actually understand a place.

Lovers Leap

Perhaps the most famous point of interest for Dunedin is the stunning Otago Peninsula, which – fun fact – was named by CNN as one of the ten most romantic places in the world to propose.

Whilst the Otago Peninsula is synonymous with ‘tourist hot spot’, you can still navigate the gloriously wild terrain with a degree of solitude. Tourists tend to flock to places such as Sandfly Bay or the Pyramids, so more remote areas are yours for the taking. My personal favourite is Lovers Leap – and the neighbouring Chasm – that are part of the Sandymount Track Network. Check out the following excerpt from my blog post Postcards from Lovers Leap

“Those who embark on the trek will be treated to the stunningly resplendent views of Sandymount carpark before a short stroll through rolling farmland to reach the Chasm (keep an eye out for the sheep!). After soaking in the monumental (and arguably formidable) abyss, negotiate the sloping and rugged coastline towards the 225m crag of Lovers Leap.”

University of Otago Public Lectures

To say Dunedin is a student city would be an understatement. In my eyes, the defining feature of this place is the University of Otago. The 148-year-old campus boasts beautiful gothic architecture which makes it a joy to walk through the campus and actually attend class (because, y’know, us students need all the help we can get).

One of my favourite things about this university is their regular and free public lectures. Averaging around five a week, the topics are vast and fascinating, and offer an invaluable opportunity to learn something new. From the politics of the Middle East to the latest findings in medical research, from the relationship between academia and Buddhism to the refugee crisis, you’ll discover a passion in something you’d hardly ever thought about.

These lectures are often presented by world-class researchers and take place either on campus or at other venues around the city such as the Public Art Gallery or the Toitu Early Settlers Museum. I find this a rewarding past-time, especially as a student who often feels confined by a narrow degree subject which leaves little room for educational exploration.

Follow this link to find upcoming lecture events.

Starfish Café

I told myself that I would only include one eatery on this list, a task that was not made easier by the fact that Dunedin has a flourishing café culture. However, when it came down to it, there was only one that could ever take out the crown. And so – not for the first time – I present to you Starfish Café.

Starfish overlooks the beach in Saint Clair – fifteen minutes from the city centre – meaning it caters predominantly to the locals. This just makes it feel all the more homely and familiar, and I always smile when the staff recognise me and say hello. Check out the following excerpt from my blog post Starfish Café: Your Sunday Morning Fix.

“It’s hard to define Starfish, but maybe that’s the beauty of it. From the electric swing playing over the speakers to the David Bowie posters pouting down at you from the wall, from the vintage swan wallpaper to the Pacific Ocean right outside the front door… and I haven’t even gotten to the food yet. Think coconut turmeric lattes as you sit outside and enjoy the sun on a lazy Sunday morning. Think a glass of wine as you wind down to an acoustic set on a Friday evening. Think fresh seafood sourced straight from the Otago harbour. Mouth watering yet?”

Signal Hill Lookout

Now this is one city secret that I’m surprised isn’t more popular. Signal Hill is – without a shred of a doubt – the best lookout in Dunedin.

Although you’re unlikely to have it all to yourself (there’s usually small groups of people playing frisbee or eating fish and chips), you’ll be too distracted by the jaw-dropping views to notice. The lookout also hosts the city’s New Zealand Centennial Memorial, and has the ‘Big Easy’ bike trail for those questionable souls who feel like cycling 6.1km uphill.

For the best footage, watch my Dunedin vlog at the bottom of this post!

The photographs below are courtesy of  Amplifier NZ and Wikipedia (respectively).

University Book Shop

Book shops are my guilty pleasure, and none more so than the University Book Shop.

Unfortunately for my wallet, UBS is situated right next to the University of Otago, meaning that it is a daily battle for me not to enter and sacrifice the contents of my bank account. What sets UBS apart from every other book shop is that their titles extend beyond the generic bestsellers. Bibliophiles rejoice! They curate provocative publications that require good old fashioned rummaging through the shelves to find, and you could easily wile away hours inside the labyrinth of literature.

If you’re a stationery enthusiast (I mean, who isn’t?), you won’t be disappointed either; UBS sells unique gift stationery along with tea leaves, scented candles and novelty socks. UBS is also proud to be involved in Dunedin’s special UNESCO City of Literature status.

Photography courtesy of Hotel St Clair.

Be sure to also check out…

Dunedin Botanic Gardens: Through My Lens

Flight of the Butterflies: Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest

Brew-tiful: Nectar Espresso Bar & Café

The Beach Review #1: Saint Kilda

As well as my Dunedin Travel Vlog 👇

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Dunedin Botanic Gardens: Through My Lens

The ‘Deats:

Name: Dunedin Botanic Gardens

Website: www.dunedinbotanicgarden.co.nz

Location: 12 Opoho Road, North Dunedin, New Zealand

Open Hours: Dawn to Dusk

Cost: Free! 💵

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Vlog: Dunedin Edition

Dunedin has a special place in my heart.

I’m going to keep this post short and sweet, and let the video do the talking. I actually got quite emotional editing this, and hope that by watching this, you too will see the beauty and identity this southern New Zealand city has to offer.

Featuring…

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Flight of the Butterflies: Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest

“Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.”

Haruki Murakami

I’m one of those people that can wile away hours and hours in a museum. Load me with snacks and a map and I’ll quite happily potter amongst the exhibitions without once consulting the time.

The thing with having lived in the same place your entire life is that eventually you grow blind to the beauty and individuality of it. I spend all my time yearning to escape and counting down the days till I board that plane, when I have a stunning city full of possibility and wonder right on my doorstep. Cheesy, but true.

I recently hosted two lovely couch surfers for a couple of days, which was a fantastic opportunity to accompany them sightseeing and experience the New Zealand town of Dunedin through new eyes. On a miserable and cataclysmic winters day, we trudged through the storm towards the heavenly embrace of Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest.

Otago Museum is the natural, cultural and scientific jewel of Dunedin. Conveniently neighbouring the historic University of Otago, the museum has a rich diversity of yearly and seasonal exhibitions on offer. Perhaps the most unique of these is the Tropical Forest.

As it’s name suggests, the Tropical Forest in a humid oasis within the confines of the museum with its own thriving ecosystem of butterflies. Yes, you heard that right: butterflies.

The aim of this “living, tropical habitat” is to educate people about these exotic, friendly insects. It’s no wonder the attraction is such a success; by entering the enclosure, you are fully immersing yourself in the butterflies’ world. Three stories of crawling vines, blooming flowers and a majestic waterfall – yes, a waterfall – make you temporarily forget you are not in fact on an expedition through the Amazonian rainforest.

Curious butterflies dance around you as you explore the striking environment. Watch your step for birds or turtles, and don’t look too close – you might spot a tarantula. But for those who aren’t a fan of creepy crawlies, don’t fret; a thick pane of glass protects you from these eight-legged creatures (*shivers*).

The Tropical Forest is a wonderful way to spend a lazy Saturday afternoon, embrace your inner scientist or simply to escape the cold (hello 30° thermostat). The nature of the experience means that it’s appropriate and enjoyable for all ages, and I have never once been there and felt inconvenienced by crowds. Actually, the last time I went, we were the only ones there. How neat is that?!

Did you know?

  • Butterfly wings are actually clear; the patterns and colours are constructed by the reflection of microscopic scales
  • During winter, the Monarch butterfly migrates from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico – a whopping2,000 miles – before returning to the north again in the Spring
  • A group of butterflies is called a ‘flutter’

The ‘Deats

Name: The Discovery World Tropical Forest

Location: Otago Museum (419 Great King Street, Dunedin, New Zealand)

Website: http://otagomuseum.nz/whats-on/do/dwtf/

Hours: 10am-5pm

Price: $0-$10 (depending on age)

Tip: If you’re not a self-diagnosed lepidopterophobia (noun: a person who is afraid of butterflies and moths), I encourage you to surreptitiously dip your finger into one of the pottles of nectar and accept the challenge to try land a butterfly. Trust me, it makes for some stellar photograph material 👌

If you are traveling to Dunedin – or are a local searching for new ways to enjoy the southern city – don’t forget to add the unforgettable landscape of Lovers Leap to your list. For more information on this walking track, check out my blog post: Postcards from Lover’s Leap.

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Brew-tiful: Nectar Espresso Bar & Café

“As long as there was coffee in the world, how bad could things be?”

Cassandra Clare

It’s been a while since I reviewed a café. You might remember my blog post on Starfish from way back in January, where I discussed the thriving café culture in the New Zealand city of Dunedin. I was determined to bust the camera out at least once more before buying that one way ticket out of here, and my nose led me to Nectar.

I don’t consider myself a coffee maestro, but in saying that, I know a good cup of joe when I see (…drink?) one. Nectar Espresso Bar and Café specialises in brewing high quality coffee roasted right here in Middle Earth. The barista also scores brownie points for going out of their way to concoct an iced coffee for me that didn’t pre-exist on their menu – and they served it in a mason jar. It made all my hipster dreams come true.

The Nectar philosophy towards food is free-range, gourmet and delicious. They also cater to vegetarians, gluten free-ers… you name it. They’re also open to special requests and will go out of their way to accommodate your wants and needs. Oh, and did I mention the presentation of the food is insane?! Honestly, I feel like I’m dining in some five star Parisian restaurant. It’s pretty awesome considering the menu here won’t break your budget.

Nectar offers a warm and inviting environment that embraces you like a warm hug – especially during the depths of winter. A make or break feature for me when it comes to cafés are their design. It doesn’t matter how divine the food is; if the aesthetic doesn’t tell a story, I’m not convinced. Fortunately, Nectar passes this test with flying colours. A palette of white, yellow and green sweeps through the interior, and the rich motif of plants keep things fresh and natural.

This is a sublime place to celebrate special occasions. For a more industrial Tuscan atmosphere, venture out onto the landing at the top of the steps. There is also a sun-drenched bench at the front of the café decked out with the latest newspapers and magazines. As Nectar is located in the business district, I always see workers pop in for a morning caffeine hit or lunch break and enjoy their takeaway coffee upon the stools, taking in the sights of the bustling street outside.

My Nectar Brunch Order

  • Iced Coffee
  • Poached Free Range Eggs w/ Mushrooms, Grilled Vine Tomato and House-Made Hash-Browns
  • Birdseed Slice

Tip: Ask for your iced coffee with ice cubes sans cream. I’ve found that different countries take very different approaches to this cold beverage, and – if your taste buds are anything like mine – that is either a very good thing or a very, very bad thing. In New Zealand, an iced coffee is more like a Starbucks-esque frappuccino than, y’know, a coffee with ice. It always pays to take the time to clarify what you are actually ordering with your barista to avoid disappointment.

The ‘Deats

Name: Nectar Espresso Bar and Café

Websitewww.nectarespresso.co.nz

Facebook: @nectarespresso

Location: 286 Princes Street, Dunedin, New Zealand

Phone: 03 477 8976

Hours: 8am – 3pm

If you are a coffee enthusiast like me, then be sure to check out my blog post: You Can’t Buy Happiness… But You Can Buy Vietnamese Coffee ☕

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Postcards from Lover’s Leap

Nineteen years later and I’m still discovering places in my home town that I never knew existed.

Lover’s Leap is one of the forgotten gems of the Otago Peninsula, located a mere 25 minute cruise from the hub of Dunedin, New Zealand.

Those who embark on the trek will be treated to the stunningly resplendent views of Sandymount carpark before a short stroll through rolling farmland to reach the Chasm (keep an eye out for the sheep!). After soaking in the monumental (and arguably formidable) abyss, negotiate the sloping and rugged coastline towards the 225m crag of Lovers Leap.

Stay tuned in the coming weeks for my Dunedin vlog! As I prepare to farewell my home of nineteen years, I have been collecting footage over the past handful of months to celebrate the delightful city Dunedin is. There will be some clips of Lovers Leap thrown into the mix, so if you find yourself drawn to the jaw-dropping landscape of the Otago Peninsula, be sure to treat yourself to this upcoming montage.

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The Beach Review #1: Saint Kilda

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Something you may not know about me is that I have a bizarre obsession with rating things. Books, films, you name it. So when I was trying to devise an innovative way to blog about beaches I visit, the logical answer was to start a segment where I would review different ones around the world and see how they stack up against one another.

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After much deliberation, I formulated a system for rating them. Each beach has the potential for 10 stars (★) and is assessed on many different aspects.

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#1

Beach: Saint Kilda

Location: Dunedin, Otago, New Zealand

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Water

Whilst the water is not crystal clear, the sandy bottom does compensate. There’s nothing worse than when you’re in the water and scared to put your feet down for fear of cutting yourself on jagged rocks or coral.

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Due to the Otago coastline’s dangerous rips, there are often lifeguards on patrol who indicate the safest areas. So as long as you use your head, this isn’t something you need to worry about.

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Sand

The sand is a gorgeous palette of white and gold. It’s velvety and fine with a delicate sprinkling of shells down the northern end. You won’t find any complaints from me here.

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Temperature

I’m not going to sugarcoat it; the water is freezing. This is the biggest drawback to the beach. While (arguably crazy) people do break out the bikinis, you won’t see me in anything less than a double-layered winter wetsuit.

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Regarding the weather, Dunedin isn’t exactly a go-to summer destination. The average temperature in the warmer months is 20°C, and even that’s generous. You’re more likely to encounter 15°C with wretched winds. Nevertheless, slap that sunscreen on; a Kiwi sunburn is no laughing matter.

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Wildlife

One of the attractions of Otago is its vast array of wildlife. Our coastline hosts little blue penguins, fur seals, and just up the peninsula, you’ll find one of the world’s largest albatross colonies on Taiaroa Head.

Saint Kilda is but a playground for these incredible animals. Whilst it’s not as popular as the surrounding shores, it’s not unheard of to spot dolphins and whales frolicking in the waves. It also has history with a certain sea lion.

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Facilities

This is a tricky one to comment on. Saint Kilda is the northern end of the beach, whilst the southern morphs into Saint Clair. Whilst Saint Clair has a lavish scope of restaurants, shops and salt water pool, Saint Kilda is somewhat more remote. In saying that, it’s a mere fifteen minute drive from the hub of Dunedin.

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Recreation

As an avid surfer myself, I would recommend Saint Kilda without a beat. New Zealand beaches are famous for it’s surf breaks, and Saint Kilda is no exception. The waves are great for beginners and experts alike, with a fluctuating tide and long stretches to avoid swimmers.

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Saint Kilda is also popular for swimmers. The choppy breakers make for superb body surfing, although make sure you keep within the flags. As I mentioned above, the rips are not a matter to be taken lightly.

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Congestion

As Saint Kilda spans approximately three kilometres, it’s quite easy to find an isolated stretch of beach without any company.

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What with Dunedin’s measly population, this isn’t the sort of place where you have to weave through throngs of people to find a square meter of sand. If that’s not a plus, then I don’t know what is.

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The Verdict

6.5/10

★★★★★★

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Starfish Café: Your Sunday Morning Fix

Could this possibly be the best café in Dunedin?

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Having lived in this city in southern New Zealand my whole life, I think it is fair to say that I have done the café rounds. Coming from a family with a passion for food (and being a high-functioning teaholic), it is hard pressed for me to find a café here that I have not dined at.

And so we arrive at the Starfish, the eclectic seaside café on the St. Clair esplanade.

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It’s hard to define Starfish, but maybe that’s the beauty of it. From the electric swing playing over the speakers to the David Bowie posters pouting down at you from the wall, from the vintage swan wallpaper to the Pacific Ocean right outside the front door… and I haven’t even gotten to the food yet. Think coconut turmeric lattes as you sit outside and enjoy the sun on a lazy Sunday morning. Think a glass of wine as you wind down to an acoustic set on a Friday evening. Think fresh seafood sourced straight from the Otago harbour. Mouth watering yet?

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I think the best thing about Starfish is that every time I go there (and believe me, it’s an embarrassing amount), it’s a whole new experience. I never tire of the ever-changing menu, and there is such a huge array of options to choose from and I don’t think I could ever sample everything. For all you social media enthusiasts (*raises a guilty hand*), do not fret; everything at Starfish is Insta-worthy. And for all you difficult dietary chums (*raises another guilty hand*), they’ve got you covered. Dairy free? Gluten free? Vegetarian? Look no further.

If there is one place you should go to experience the essence of Dunedin’s café culture on your travels, Starfish is the one. Perhaps one of the only stale points is that it is not within walking distance of the town centre, limiting it to those with access. However, if an outing to St. Clair is not already on your to do list, then I honestly don’t know what you’re doing here. Nestled in a plethora of boutique shops and restaurants – not to mention the most photogenic beach in New Zealand (am I biased? …probably), just one visit will be enough to convince you to ditch your return ticket home. Just make sure you’ve packet a scarf and gloves in your suitcase. Brr.

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My Starfish Breakfast Order

  • Pics Poles Smoothie
  • Blueberry, Coconut & Lemon Hotcakes
  • Citrus Slice

(note to self: don’t complain when you no longer fit your jeans)

Also, a handy tip; if you’re eyeing up one of their famous smoothies (I recommend the Pics Poles; possibly the best peanut butter creation to ever grace the earth), make sure you get in there before 3pm or else the blender gets put away for the day. Believe me, I’ve made this mistake many times; tears were shed.

The ‘Deats

Starfish Café, Restaurant & Bar

240 Forbury Road, St. Clair, Dunedin, New Zealand

Sunday-Tuesday 7am-5pm

Wednesday-Saturday 7am til late

03 455 5940

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