The first settlers in what is now Dunedin were the Māori who called this place Ōtepoti. The wider region became known to Europeans as Otago, from Ōtākou, the name of a Māori settlement near the entrance to the harbour. When he visited Dunedin, Mark Twain said of its Scots settlers “they stopped here on their way from home to heaven—thinking they had arrived.” Despite its isolation, since its establishment Dunedin has always been connected to wider world. A gold rush of the 1860s brought people from all over the world, including Chinese migrants who were to play a significant role in the city’s history. Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, and the nearby Chinese gardens, reflect these waves of migration and settlement, as well as the much earlier Māori inhabitants.
Dunedin today is a thriving small city, known for its leading role in the cultural and intellectual life of New Zealand. It was designated a UNESCO City of Literature in 2014, ten years after the first such city, Edinburgh (or the “Dunedin of the North,” as we like to call it). The “Dunedin Sound” of the late twentieth-century continues to reverberate in a vibrant and creative musical community. In recent years Dunedin has also become known for the street art which has transformed the look of many of its older buildings. As some industries have declined, Dunedin has taken advantage of the new global connectivity to establish world-leading companies in new fields such as animation and scientific instruments. The city remains closely connected to the land, with the weekly Otago Farmers’ Market offering the best of local produce. Emerson’s, one of New Zealand’s first, and now biggest, craft breweries was established in Dunedin in 1992. Inland, the Central Otago wine region is home to some of New Zealand’s finest wines.
Dunedin is set on the shores of the beautiful Otago harbour, which is separated from the Pacific by the Otago Peninsula, home to the world’s only mainland colony of albatross. On a series of stunning beaches strung along the coastline, you can surf, ride horses, visit the site of a pā (a Māori stronghold) or simply find yourself with only sealions and penguins for company. Landward, Dunedin is surrounded by a chain of hills with superb opportunities for walking and mountain biking with views over the harbour. Further inland the country rises rapidly toward the southern alps where you can hurl yourself off down a mountain on skis, or off the mountain altogether on a bungee or a paraglider. The less adventurous can take a steamship cruise on Lake Wakatipu, or a tour of Middle Earth locations. Beyond the alps lies Te Wāhipounamu, a World Heritage Area consisting of a tenth of New Zealand’s land area which encompasses the largest of New Zealand’s national parks and wilderness areas, its highest mountains and most spectacular lakes and fiords. The night skies are stunning anywhere in New Zealand, but particularly from the Mackenzie International Dark Sky Reserve. Dunedin itself is a wonderful place to see the southern lights (aurora australis).