Dunedin was mostly founded by Scottish Presbyterian settlers and the flavour of Scotland is still very evident in the city. A statue of Robert Burns presides over the main area known as The Octagon which is surrounded by some great old buildings and impressive churches. All the services you require are close by; hostels, campground, supermarkets, tourist information, pubs, cafés and restaurants. There are several hostels close to the city centre, but I suggest you check them out carefully before you pay for your room. One Dunedin hostel I stayed at was run by students for an absentee owner. The place lacked basic hygiene and the rooms smelled of flea powder and disinfectant. I should add that I have only had two experiences with badly run hostels in New Zealand.
If in doubt, use the YHA (The Gables) at 71 Stafford Street. A lovely old building with all the facilities you need www.yha.co.nz. YHA's in New Zealand are consistently clean and well organised, if lacking the occasional personal touch (like free breakfast or evening soup and bread) that makes some of the private hostels memorable, hospitable and very good value.
There is a camp ground in the Leith Valley about 3 kilometres from the city centre. It has good, clean facilities including a pleasant eating and cooking area, T.V. room and laundry etc. www.leithvalleytouringpark.co.nz.
Getting into Dunedin is tricky. Coming from the north, cyclists are not allowed to use the main highway into the city and are diverted over the Mount Cargill road; a long and arduous 400m climb at the end of the day. Coming in from the south you will encounter a motorway with few signs showing alternate routes or cycle-paths. Once you have arrived however, the city has a great deal to offer. A day trip out to Taiaroa Heads and back is worthwhile, mostly for the albatross colony, but also for the great scenery of the Otago Peninsula and little towns like Portobello. The peninsula also sports Larnach's Castle, not a real castle relative to its Medieval European counterparts, but a pleasant grand manor with extensive gardens.
While in Dunedin, you may also wish to tackle the reputedly steepest street in New Zealand. Baldwin Street has a gradient of 35% which means that every metre you travel horizontally, you travel 2.86 metres up. A local man bet me a dollar I couldn't cycle to the top. When I got home, I drilled a hole in that dollar and hung it over my bed. In truth, it may not be possible to cycle directly up this road, but you can zigzag up it providing you take a break now and then...
If you come into Dunedin from the north, then heading out again provides three options:
- The beautiful Caitlins to the south and then on to Invercargill.
- The Otago Rail Trail to the west.
- The main road to Alexandra through Milton and Lawrence.
I cover these in the next few pages...