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 Castle, Speight’s Brewery, Royal 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.
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.
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).
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.
“Hundreds of butterflies flitted in and out of sight like short-lived punctuation marks in a stream of consciousness without beginning or end.”
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
Location: Otago Museum (419 Great King Street, Dunedin, New Zealand)
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.
I’m not one for spontaneity – and that’s not exactly a good thing. But when my lovely friend Becky (who you might remember from this stellar interview) suggested we go climb a mountain, who was I to say no?
Let me set the scene for you. During the university break, I escaped the mundanity of urban routine to the wine-soaked town of Cromwell. It just so happened that Becky had traveled to the town over. Naturally, we decided to meet up and go on some good old fashioned adventuring. And so it was that one balmy Saturday morning, Becky and I jumped into my car and set off towards the shadow of the Remarkables, a flask of mulled wine in one hand and a drink bottle in the other (because, y’know, we’re responsible drinkers).
For those of you who aren’t familiar with the New Zealand landscape, the 7000ft Remarkables are an aptly-named mountain range located on the southeastern shore of Lake Wakatipu and a ten minute drive from the adrenaline capital of Queenstown. During the winter months, the Remarkables are blanketed in a powdery layer of snow and transform into a gem of a ski-field. But at this time of the year, travellers are treated to a rustic canvas of alpine undergrowth and jaw-dropping views.
One of the features that lured us to the Remarkables was Lake Alta, a small glacial lake nestled amongst the peaks. Symbolic of new beginnings in the coming months (stay tuned!), Becky had joked that we might baptise ourselves in the water when we reached it. I liked the idea but nevertheless snorted in response. Me, swimming in a glacial lake? Please.
Famous last words.
Under a crisp blue sky, we parked at the base of the deserted ski resort and began our ascent. After the initial revelation that I am embarrassingly unfit, we settled into a comfortable yet spritely pace. I have never really been heavily involved (or even lightly involved, to tell the truth) in any sort of hiking, but could certainly understand the appeal to it. A highlight for me included navigating our way up an almost vertical rockscape and questioning every step of the way why I had made the conscious decision to impose this upon myself.
I don’t think I am likely to forget the sensation of busting my gut to reach the summit – practically crawling on hands and knees – for the stupendous Central Otago landscape to fall into view. Having actually earned the view was unbelievably rewarding, and I had to take a moment at the top just to breathe and take in the sight.
With clothing clinging to our clammy skin (how’s that for an alliteration?) we climbed down from the peak and descended upon Lake Atlas. I don’t think I’d ever laid eyes on water so clear. Sheltered from the wind by the surrounding crags, the surface of the lake was undisturbed and inviting, the water a tremendous tinge of turquoise (blimey, I’m on a roll).
Without further ado – or warning – Becky began stripping off. When she were naked and her clothes crumpled at her feet, she began wading shamelessly into the lake. Apparently this whole re-awakening/baptism business was more than an entertained thought.
“Take the damn photo!” she demanded while I gawked, my camera buried in my pocket. Her voice betrayed the cold. Laughing, I got my act together and began snapping away madly. Unencumbered by expectations, Becky extended her arms and embraced the invigorating mountain air.
I was next. Once Becky had clambered back out of the lake and dressed herself, there was really no excuse I could avail. Surprising even myself, I climbed out of my deliciously cosy clothes and waded tentatively into the depths. The biting, mind-numbing water sucked hungrily at my legs, and the possibility crossed my mind that I might not actually be able to convince my limbs to walk out again. It wasn’t just cold, it was painful. But still, I made myself stay put, and the endorphins that skyrocket afterwards were second to none.
Becky and I rewarded our efforts by opening the flask of mulled wine we had brought. Basking in the sun on a slab of stone lakeside, we sipped away, soaked in the landscape and discussed new beginnings. If hiking up a 7000ft mountain and taking a glacial plunge was what it took to experience such satisfaction… well, maybe I could get used to this.
“One should always be drunk. That’s all that matters… but with what? With wine, with poetry, or with virtue, as you choose. But get drunk.” – Charles Baudelaire
I like to think of Cromwell as the Barossa Valley of New Zealand. It may not be as vast nor as renowned, but does that really matter as far as excellent wine is concerned?
Cromwell is celebrated for it’s orchards and it’s not hard to see why; a patchwork of vineyards cloak the bountiful landscape, and the view is almost as sweet as the taste. My winery loyalties are divided between Mt Difficulty and Scott Base. You’ll find the former perched above Bannockburn whilst the latter is a short walk from ‘the fruit’ (as seen in Step 5).
Step Three: Fall for Cromwell
Hehe – geddit? Fall? Well, you Americans may have caught my embarrassing pun, but us Kiwis might need a ‘lil helping hand.
The best time to visit Cromwell is in autumn. Between the months of March – May, you may miss cooking like a baked potato in the summer heat, but you will be treated to a rustic palette of nutmeg leaves and amber dusks. My favourite time of the day is late afternoon when the sky blushes, the sun sinks low upon the horizon and you would be forgiven for mistaking the mountains to have caught fire.
Step Four: 5 a Day Keeps the Doctor Away
(Okay, so there’s only 4 here, but you catch the gist.)
There is perhaps nothing more iconic about Cromwell than the enormous painted fruit sculpture on the main road. The gigantic pear, apple, orange and – I think nectarine? – welcome you into the town that is famed for it’s abundance of orchards. You haven’t had the full Central Otago experience until you’ve gone cherry picking at Cheeki Cherries, or demolished a blueberry real-fruit ice cream from Freeway Orchard.
Step Five: Say Cheese!
Cheese is one of the best goddamn things on earth and you cannot convince me otherwise.
Nothing goes better with a good old glass of pinot noir than a slab of gorgonzola, and what better place to enjoy a succulent cheese platter than Cromwell? The beauty featured below is from Scott Base Vineyards, which I enjoyed one balmy evening preceding my reluctant journey home.
If you’re keen to see some more of what Cromwell has to offer in action, then check out my Central Otago Travel Vlog – and don’t forget to show the love and subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel!
If I had to name the one place in New Zealand that I think everytraveler (and Kiwi!) should visit, I wouldn’t have to think twice. To me, that place is Central Otago.
I spent the last week and a half exploring this stunning, sun-drenched region for what may very well be the last time for a very long while in light of my upcoming relocation to England (😥). Some of the highlights – as featured in this vlog – include enjoying the prismatic palette of Cromwell, taking in the awe-inspiring views of Lake Dunstan, hiking up the 7000ft Remarkables to swim in a secluded mountain lake and enjoying the delicious offerings of Scott Base Vineyard.
I’ll keep the details to a minimum – I’m saving that for my upcoming blog posts on the experience. But if you’re getting restless in the mean time, check out the interview I held with Becky Finley i.e. the star of this vlog.
Don’t forget to subscribe to the Ginger Passport’s YouTube Channel to keep updated with the latest travel videos!
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.
Perhaps the most adventurous New Years Eve I ever spent was celebrated in the island of Rarotonga. Rarotonga – or Raro, for short – completely smashes the stakes when it comes to competing for the most beautiful tropical destination. I don’t think I could express it better than the following description from Lonely Planet below.
“The most populous of the Cook Islands is stunning in its natural beauty and physical drama. A halo of flame-orange coral reef encircles the island, and Rarotonga’s sapphire-blue lagoon is trimmed by sparkling white beaches. Beyond the reef, breakers foam and crash like distant thunder. Rarotonga’s settlements are nestled on the coastal flatlands, with the island rising spectacularly through lush fields and rural farmland to the mountainous and thickly forested interior. These silent, brooding peaks dominate the landscape from every angle. Rarotonga has plenty of history, too, with ancient marae (traditional meeting places) and monuments to explore, and some of the best-preserved coral churches in the South Pacific.”
I traveled to Rarotonga at the very beginning of 2016. At the time, I hadn’t yet gotten my shit together and created the Ginger Passports, and any footage I captured on film was eclectic and poorly executed. Because of that, I did not have enough clips to put together a full-length vlog, but the ones I did were just too gorgeous to go to waste. And so the idea dawned on me that I could create a 30 second ‘trailer’ of sorts to try and showcase the lush resplendence of Raro in half a minute (also check out my favourite song as the soundtrack).
“Behind a bend… the entire town of Bangkok appeared in sight. I do not believe that there is a sight in the world more magnificent or more striking; this Asiatic Venice…”
Ludovic Marquis de Beauvoir
As the capital city of Thailand, Bangkok is one swarming, electrified, confused hub. No matter where you are, there’s always somethinggoing on, and it can be difficult to know what to do if you only have 24 hours in this introduction to Southeast Asia that has been described as an “attack on the senses”.
Bangkok isn’t a city that has an iconic skyline like Paris or New York, but that’s not to say it’s not worth the climb. If you’re especially motivated (unlike me), then I would recommend setting your alarm for 6am to catch a breathtaking Thai sunrise. Or, alternatively, if you’re like me and jet-lagged out of your mind, sunset does the trick as well 👌
Practice Your Bartering Skills
Make like the tourists and catch a tuk-tuk to weave through the zig-zagging streets of Bangkok. Although the tuk-tuks here aren’t as crazy as they are in Cambodia, it’s nevertheless an experience you won’t forget in a hurry.
There isn’t a set price for a tuk-tuk ride, and you will be expected to barter with the operator to determine a price. As someone who hates being assertive with a passion, I had been dreading this ever since I set foot off the plane. For the most part it went without a hitch, but I’m not going to lie; being a young and unaccompanied white woman in the middle of Bangkok definitely draws attention to yourself, and there were many times tuk-tuk operators tried to take advantage of me. When I rejected the exceedingly high price one requested, he gestured towards my wallet and made a rude comment about me being a rich white tourist. I tried to explain to him that I don’t just carry around wads of cash in my pocket, but it was no use. In times like those, you just have to walk away and trust in the fact that there is always going to be someone else just down the road who will take you where you want to go without trying to scam you of all your money.
Recline with the Buddha
There’s countless places you can wile away hours of your time in Bangkok, but if you’re looking for somewhere cultural, I would highly recommend paying a visit to Wat Pho. Located by the river in the Old City, Wat Pho – or Temple of the Reclining Buddha – used to be the first public university in Thailand with specialities in religion, science and literature.
As it’s name suggests, Wat Pho features the gold-plated reclining Buddha that measures a whopping 15 metres tall and 46 metres long. 46 metres! I’ll just let that sink in for a moment. Also be sure to wear clothes that cover your shoulders and knees; it is a sign of respect in Thailand not to expose skin in these areas whilst in sacred places.
Explore the Asiatique
Just a nifty ten-minute (and free!) boat ride down the river from Saphan Taksin BTS station lies the Asiatique. This riverfront bazaar is the ultimate night fusion market. There are more restaurants and shops than you can count, with different live performances on offer to entertain you every night. If you’re looking for some retail therapy, then you’ve come to the right place; with over 1,500 boutiques selling everything you can imagine – and for prices that seem too good to be true – you’ll be shopped out before long. Even if you’re not the biggest spender, it’s certainly an experience to simply meander through the warehouse and take in all the sights.
Don’t forget to buy a ticket for the ferris wheel to see some stunning views of Bangkok lit up at night, and if you’re looking for something a little bit quirky, why not book in a session at the fish spa? Wallow in a small tank whilst flesh-eating fish nibble at your toes for an eccentric Thai experience. If your excuse not to do this is that you’re too ticklish, then don’t worry – if I can stick it out for 15 minutes, then so can you!
Expand Your Palate
If an evening at the Asiatique hasn’t exhausted you, then finish off your day by dropping by some street food stalls on the way home. After all, who doesn’t a love a sneaky midnight snack? Thai street food is dotted all over Bangkok, and vendors operate well into the night. I’ve had some of the most succulent fresh fruit I’ve ever from these stalls, including fruit with names I can’t even pronounce.
If you’re feeling adventurous (or still adrenalised from the fish spa), then this is the best place to expand your palate and try some bugs. Yes, you heard me right: bugs. Grasshoppers, beetles, worms, crickets… you name it. Oh, and don’t worry – they’re seasoned.