Who needs an overseas trip… if it’s historic buildings, fabulous food and a cosmopolitan vibe you’re after, our very own Dunedin ticks all the boxes.
Having not been to the ‘Edinburgh of the south’ for many (many) years I was excited to jump on a plane recently and head down-country to see if Dunners had changed since my last visit.
Given it had been so long, not surprisingly I was blown away at how exciting Dunedin (Ōtepoti), a city of just 130,000, has become.
And yet it retains that essence of tradition instilled by parsimonious Scottish settlers in the 1800s. These days, the city sporting New Zealand’s oldest university still draws thousands of students every year, seeking an iconic ‘scarfie’ experience, but there is so much more to enjoy – starting with incredibly high-end, cosmopolitan accommodation.
Where to stay:
Just a seven-minute walk from the buzzy central-city hub of the Octagon, the stunning 157-year-old Wains Hotel is undergoing refurbishment – but if fluffy white robes, exemplary service and sensational whisky are on your list of must-haves, look no further.
I stayed in one of the already fully updated rooms, stylish and well-appointed, with a deliciously comfortable king-size bed and all the amenities you’d expect of a five-star hotel. The ground floor houses the hotel’s superbly elegant bar and restaurant, The Press Club. Here head chef Darren Smith cleverly showcases local produce, alongside an excellent drinks list, where whisky is the hero.
Fancy waking up to a stroll along a white-sand beach, coffee in hand? Then the heritage-listed Majestic Mansions, in the seaside suburb of St Clair, is the place for you. The studios and apartments are so well set-up that you can easily throw together a meal and stay in if you’re not in the mood to pop down to one of the many bars and restaurants on the promenade. In both summer and winter, surfers take advantage of the waves, while the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool is a magnet for young and old. Just a 10-minute drive from the city centre, this is the perfect spot for anything from a romantic getaway to a family holiday.
Where to eat:
Tucked away down a side street in the heart of Dunedin’s Octagon this recently opened café and bar serves up delicious meals alongside late-night live entertainment. Open Monday-Saturday (Fridays and Saturdays until late), the menu takes you from breakfast (Bubble and Squeak), to lunch (Lentil and Herb Rosti with Basil and Cashew Pesto), to dinner (Lamb, Harissa, Tzatziki, Jalapeño, Haloumi Burger!). It’s great seasonal food, whether for a business lunch or afternoon tea.
Impeccably stylish, The Press Club at Wains Hotel has an equally desirable bar with an impressive range of whiskies. Staff are attentive and poised – whether whipping up a classic cocktail or making food or wine recommendations to suit. The vibe is seriously sophisticated; described as paying homage to Dunedin’s original haunt for editors and publishers in the 1870s, it is sleek but not stuffy. The menu features the likes of Scallop and Pulled Beef Risotto; Otago Wild Fallow with Carrot, Venison Boudin Noir and Chocolate Sauce; and Espresso Chocolate Mousse with Bay Leaf Ice Cream.
Previously at Glenfalloch Restaurant and Gardens, chef Hannes Bareiter and partner Melanie Hartmann chose to call new beachfront restaurant tītī – another name for muttonbird – because the seabirds nest in the hills nearby. It’s also a reference to associated Māori legends. Their philosophy is to work with local farmers and fishermen to provide only the most seasonal produce – so much so that the small menu changes daily. Patrons have such faith in Hannes that they happily select the ‘trust the chef’ five-course option. Once dietary requirements have been established, the entire meal is a surprise until it arrives at the table! This system allows them to keep waste to a minimum, which matches perfectly their ethos of sustainability. Beautiful, innovative food in a picturesque location.
If you’re looking for an excellent early morning coffee and something scrumptious to eat with it, The Tart Tin boutique bakehouse opposite Queens Gardens in central Dunedin is a fabulous choice. Open only Wednesdays and Fridays from ‘7am until sold out’, it is advisable to get in early; the magnificent lemon meringue pie disappeared while I wasted time deliberating. Founded by Matt Cross, this hole-in-the-wall bakery also supplies catering and individual orders – and their cakes, pastries, tarts and macarons look utterly incredible. Plan your trip for when they’re open.
The Good Food Co.
Small but perfectly formed, The Good Food Co. in Mornington stocks pastas, freshly baked bread, cookbooks, gourmet treats, homewares, cheeses, and some pretty sensational looking croissants. Tucked inside an alcove at the Grid Coffee Roasters, you can grab a coffee then have a poke among the wares before possibly popping next door for your ice cream fix. thegoodfoodco.org
Patti’s & Cream
Not quite ready to open during my visit, Patti’s & Cream Scoop Shop should now be drawing the same kind of enthusiastic crowd to its permanent counter in Mornington as it does to ‘Betty’, its much-loved truck selling ice cream and burgers. Owner Olive Tabor is a natural entrepreneur who fell in love with the idea of small-batch ice cream ‘scoop shops’ while travelling in Portland. And now Betty and her incredibly successful ice cream delivery service are well-established, she is opening a scoop shop of her own. With flavours such as Honey and Lavender, Pumpkin Dulce de Leche, Pear and Blue Cheese, Beer and Nuts… there is something for everyone. pattisandcream.co
An institution on the Dunedin hospitality scene, No.7 is popular (for good reason) with locals and visitors alike. Having contended with a seriously damaging fire in 2018, No.7 has undergone a full transformation, yet still has the feeling that owner Katrina Toovey originally envisioned for it – as an extension of your own dining room. The day I lunched there the place was buzzing, the vibe warm and friendly and the food delicious. I’m a sucker for a double-baked soufflé and mine was perfect, the magic combination of light yet decadent. I could have happily gone back for dinner to try the Confit Duck Leg, salted and slow-cooked with wood-roasted eggplant, walnut tarator, coriander and spiced pear from their garden! no7balmac.co.nz
Located in the Warehouse Precinct, with an open kitchen and casually sleek interior, Moeity would be right at home in any major city in the world. It’s the kind of place you might stumble upon then tell all your friends about your good fortune. Owners Kim Underwood (front-of-house) and Sam Gasson (head chef) aim “to give you a full dining experience rather than simply feeding you”, which is successfully achieved. Sam draws on his experience in New Zealand, Europe and Australia to create stunning dishes that highlight local produce. The five-course menu changes often and features the likes of Ikejime Fish, Turnip, Parsley, Yolk and Shichimi; and Lamb, Celeriac, Black Garlic and Celery. I found the flavour and texture combinations to be clever and consistently delicious.
And to drink:
It was love at first sight at one of Dunedin’s latest quirky, laid-back bars. With a framed picture of Laura Palmer taking pride of place above the bar and a fondness for Twin Peaks as a talking point, I could have stayed chatting for hours to director Josh Thomas. Scottish author and cocktail writer Damian Barr has had a hand in designing the drinks menu, while musician and culinary genius Stef Animal heads up the kitchen team. Both food and drinks are enhanced by the fabulously eclectic interior, a riot of colour and comfortable 70s-style wing chairs and banquette seating, pot plants and poster-papered walls.
Show me a bar that has Japanese whisky on the menu (especially in the deep south), and I’m a happy camper. But there’s so much more to love about Mr Fox, Dunedin’s new subterranean lounge and tapas bar. With signature ‘foxtails’ such as Basil Bush Bramble and the Lost Giraffe, the vibe is urban and sophisticated yet fun at the same time. On a fine evening the place to hang out is the hidden courtyard, slurping back fresh Bluff oysters or snacking on yellowfin tuna tataki.
If you’re after a more educational tipple and a pinot noir takes your fancy, then book a tasting or tour with Urbn Vino. You’d be forgiven for walking straight past the humble entrance, but once inside it is clear this enterprise from winemaker Brendan Seal was meant to be. The wine barrels and vats fit as if they were made for the limited space in this inner-city winery. Brendan freights in grapes from Central Otago, and they are stemmed, fermented, pressed and barrelled on site – becoming Dunedin-made wines. Brendan obviously has a strong entrepreneurial bent, too, playing with standard bottle sizes (loving the 500ml option) and recyclable bottles.
Open every Saturday from 8am-12.30pm, the Otago Farmers Market can be found at the northern carpark end of the Dunedin Railway Station. If you’re up early and fancy a wander, some seriously good coffee and a fossick through fresh fruit and veges, cheese, nuts, honey, meat products (and some pretty spectacular-looking pies), this is the place
That holiday to France off the table thanks to Covid? How about Dunedin instead? Yes, we can see it wouldn’t immediately spring to mind, but Sandrine and Yoann Feillet have been hosting French-speaking tours around the area since 2004. With international tourism not an option for now, they have changed course with their business model. Instead of hosting French-speaking clients, they now provide an opportunity for Kiwis to immerse themselves in the language during a hosted three-day tour where you can ‘parle en français’, eat and drink French food and wine, all while exploring the local area.
For a step back in time à la Downton Abbey – on a far smaller (but still gorgeous) scale – check out the Olveston Historic Home Tour. Opened as an historic house museum in 1967, Olveston has been maintained in magnificent condition. The 35-room house, built between 1904 and 1906, contains an extraordinary amount of uber-modern features for the time: central heating, a gas generator for electricity – even a shower in each bathroom! As you wander from scullery to kitchen to dining room it is easy to imagine the lives of one-time residents the Theomin family and their staff. From the light shades on the candles to the copper-lined sinks for the ‘good’ cutlery and crockery (providing a softer surface), it was all fascinating.
If you’re keen for a hands-on choccie experience, head to the Ocho factory in the Warehouse Precinct. Here you’ll find beautifully hand-packaged craft chocolate from cacao beans only sourced in the Pacific Islands, all created on-site. You can watch the delicious stuff being made, and you’re also invited to taste (and mouth-feel) the difference between several types of beans and different percentages of cocoa solids.
I’m not sure you can say you’ve been to Dunedin if you haven’t visited Larnach Castle, one of the city’s most iconic landmarks sitting on top of the Otago Peninsula. A half-hour drive from central Dunedin and you’ll be roaming the rooms and hallways of New Zealand’s only castle, built by William Larnach in 1871. Its colourful past includes financial ruin and illicit affairs that wouldn’t go astray in a romantic novel – plus several incarnations as a mental health institution, a nun’s retreat and a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers. It was bought by the Barker family in 1967 and was restored and opened to the public. These days you can admire the rooms, stroll around the extensive gardens then enjoy a lavish high tea in the ballroom. The castle is also available to hire for weddings and special occasions, and hosts events such as their shortest day, longest night Victorian ghost story event last year. Perfectly apt for a castle with such a rich, yet fraught history.