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dunedin, new zealand guide

by Stephanie

Today’s city guide comes from Dunedin, New Zealand, local Adrienne Buckingham. Adrienne is a reader, teacher and traveler who, since accidentally finding herself in Dunedin, has been blogging about the everyday wonders of her home at Dunedin is for Lovers. While many may be unfamiliar with this southern New Zealand locale, Adrienne shares a thorough guide of all the marvelous food, drink, shopping, arts and culture that can be found there. Thanks, Adrienne, for enlightening us on this southern Kiwi destination! — Stephanie

CLICK HERE for the full guide after the jump!

I first came to Dunedin in 2003, and I would never have guessed then that it would become one of my favourite cities ever and, more surprisingly, home. Sure, it was sweet and charming, but the good places were only known by word of mouth, and I had to learn to be a very good listener to grab the hints about where to go in this town.

Dunedin is a little off the beaten path, even for New Zealand. It’s a little too far south, a little too close to icebergs escaping Antarctica and has an earned an unjust reputation for poor weather. This is what makes Dunedin such a hotbed of idiosyncratic style. By international standards, a population of 120,000 suggests that Dunedin is merely a town masquerading as a city, but as South Island’s second-largest city, Dunedin has the food, drink, shopping, arts and culture to be a destination for South Islanders and international travelers alike.

Kiwi cafes serve strong coffee, yummy salads and classic sandwiches. Belgium slice, afghan biscuits and lamingtons are just a few iconic sweet treats to try. Lattes are served in glasses — a flat white is just coffee with hot milk, and a long black is a black coffee, but it’s not a filter coffee. Everything down here is served with a double shot, so be specific if you don’t want the double hit of caffeine.

Rhubarb — 299 Highgate, Roslyn
This cafe is definitely worth the walk up the Stuart Street Hill. A friand with yoghurt is the most gorgeous thing one can be served on a plate. Appropriate for breakfast, morning tea, lunch or afternoon tea (if there’s any left). Rhubarb’s friands were the only food thing I really missed while I was overseas. The cheese muffins are a delightful savoury option to accompany any of the yummy set salads or daily soups and quiches. This cafe straddles an old butchery — tiled walls and all — and a wine cellar. Take a table in the wine cellar, if you can; there’s less echo and better surroundings.

Kiki Beware — 302 Highgate, Roslyn
Kiki Beware is across the road from the ever-popular Rhubarb and offers the best smoked salmon bagel deal in the city. The Omega Bagel is packed with cream cheese, salmon and rocket and is sprinkled with capers for a bargain $9 NZD. Clean white interior with a great display of antlers and outdoor seating, but they are only open weekdays.

Governors — 438 George Street
Governors is a Dunedin institution populated by Uni students (affectionately known as Scarfies) and former Scarfies revisiting their youth. Governors is one of the only places that will be open for a sweet treat at 8pm on a Tuesday. Great cake, great cheese rolls and good filter coffee.

Starfish Cafe — 7/240 Forbury Road, St. Clair Beach
Just how brunch on a sunny Sunday morning should feel — light, airy and enough yummy choices that I was bound to suffer a little menu envy. If you’re feeling keen, you can walk off the calories with a brisk beach walk. And Moi is just around the corner for a little shopping after!

Capers — 412 George Street
This is the place for breakfast in town. It used to be known for its surly service, but since a change in management (and interior design), Capers offers serious pancake stacks! The walls are pohutukawa red and covered in local photos.

The Good Oil — 314 George Street
Narrow and bricked, this cafe offers a central caffeine hit, salads of substance and sour cream-lemon cake.

Being a student town, there is a good range of cheap n’ cheerful noodle houses, ethnic restaurants and quick, independent burger places in Dunedin. However, if you want to try something a little special, check out the following:

Plato — 2 Birch Street
A relaxed, retro-themed eatery, Plato is absolutely the coolest, most relaxed fine dining and fabulous wine establishment in town. South Island-sourced foods, fresh fish, simple but interesting sauces, local meats, vegetables and herbs. In Heaven. Every time. Yum. The staff are incredibly knowledgeable about the food and wine but never intimidating. Surrounded by Kiwiana and old sailors’ knick-knacks, I always wonder, “Who has to clean these?”

The Flying Squid — 118 Albany Street
Order the Blue Cod and Fattie Chips with lemon pepper. Delicious. So good, you don’t even hate yourself after eating! Squid rings, chicken nuggets, lasagne toppers, burgers, banana fritters, kumara chips, and an array of Chinese food. Seriously, if you’re not from New Zealand, they actually have this range of options at most Chip shops, but this one is a cut above! The food is fresh, the grease is clean and you’re always waiting with a bunch of Uni students who are lining their stomachs for a big night out. Well worth the wait for a cheap and cheerful Kiwi treat.

The Otago Farmers’ Market — The Train Station, Anzac Ave
Saturday mornings! Yea! Anything your heart desires: cupcakes, manuka smoked eggs, crepes, sausages, baking, falafel, dolma, fish, fresh flowers, mixed bags of lettuce, rustic baguettes, pickled marrow, jams, tarts, savoury pies and the best bacon butties this side of the equator.

Scotia Bar and Bistro — 199 Upper Stuart Street
Fancy dining at not-too-fancy a price. Seared tuna, haggis lasagne and an amazing Marlborough Region Sauvignon Blanc selection are only a few of the reasons to order something after the “Whiskey of the Moment.”

The Asian — 43 Moray Place
This is a popular Dunedin restaurant. Cheap food is served to big round tables with Lazy Susans. The wallpaper is textured and it’s BYO. What’s not to love?

There are heaps of good watering holes in the Octagon — wander in and out to find one that suits you. A couple of groovy places are clandestine but worth hunting out.

Pequeno — an alley down Moray Place between the Thai restaurant and Bennu
If you have to choose one place, this bar is it. Built into old stables at the end of an alleyway, Pequeno offers a comprehensive cocktail and wine list and a great cheese platter. The fire is roaring, and the music will suit any lounge mood.

Bath Street — 1 Bath Street
Tucked just behind the Octagon, this is where you head at the end of the night for more music and more dancing. Bath Street is often hosting local and international DJs spinning tunes on a good sound system.

Albar — 105 Lower Stuart Street
A favourite pub, just off the Octagon. Emmerson’s is on tap. Try the Bookbinder or the Pilsner. Come with friends and order tapas. Or come alone and sit by the bookshelf!

The Craic — 24 The Octagon
A solid pub with a warm fire and good live music on a Saturday night. Watch the crowd magically change from trendy demi-adults to Uni students at about midnight!

Luna — 314 Highgate
On a clear day, this bar and eatery has the best view of the city, the harbour, the Otago Peninsula and the Pacific. If the weather looks like it might compromise the visibility, it’s a long, unrewarding walk up the Stuart Street Hill (unless you’re into endorphins).

Harbour Mouth Molars — Portsmouth Drive
Regan Gentry’s Harbour Mouth Molars are a nifty piece of art and a life-sized pun! Yeah, it was expensive, and no, the molars might not be conventionally attractive but come on — better to do something interesting than fade into boredom! Portsmouth Drive has never been so avant-garde, and it makes me happy.

Temple Gallery — 29 Moray Place
A very cool private art gallery. The building was originally a Jewish synagogue and was later a Masonic Lodge. Now the gates and the steps are concealed to suggest the intimacy of the space and the works selected.

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Smack in the middle of the Octagon, this is a great place to spend an afternoon sponging up all that inspiration. Nova Cafe next door is one of Dunedin’s most popular meeting places.

If you can’t be here for ID Dunedin Fashion Week, there are many boutiques that will give you a taste. The darlings of Dunedin’s designers are Charmaine Reveley, Tanya Carlson, Nom*D and Mild Red and they can be found at a few places around town, but don’t forget to check out the lesser-known local labels, too.

Plume is beautiful and has a wicked men’s section upstairs.

Moi — 1 Bedford Street, St. Clair Beach
This is a nifty little shop up a flight of stairs in St. Clair. Moi is French for “me,” but it’s also Māori for “nap.” Everything on your trendy little checklist can be found here:

  • Handcrafted jewellery? Check.
  • Artsy tea towels? Check.
  • Adorably impractical baby gifts? Check.
  • Scarves for style, not for warmth? Check.
  • Driftwood Lighting Fixture? Check.
  • Pillows so sweet you could eat them? Check.
  • Gift wrapping? Check. And complimentary.

Bellebird — 387 George Street
This hot boutique shop up the north end of town showcases the fashion-y work of local designers, including clothing, belts, knitted accessories and pretty shiny things.

Fern NZ Designers and Jewellery — 67 Princes Street
Another celebration of Kiwi style and talent. This shop offers very wearable designs — everyday, colourful and warm skirts, dresses, hoodies and accessories. A great selection of stationery, as well.

Halo — 63 St. Andrew Street
Nifty clothing, locally designed and sewn. They also stock Odi Design Limited jewellery, which is crafty cool.

Here It Is — 10 Bank Street
A great gift shop stocked with original Kiwiana arts, pottery and stationery. Everything is NZ made, and much of it is small enough to fit in your carry-on luggage. You do have to walk up to the proper north end of the city, but stop for a drink at the Inch Bar and wander the Botanic Gardens and the Aviary for inspiration while you’re there. They also offer DIY craft workshops.

Roadside Attraction — HWY 1 Waikouaiti
Wild prints, subversive cuts, bright colours. The designers are a bit out there, but it’s all wearable and original. Something special is always available, but this is not a shop for shrinking violets! It’s a bit of a drive north of Dunedin, but there’s a cool secondhand shop next door called Oddity.

858 George Street
In town and walking distance to everywhere! Just behind Otago University and, more importantly, The University Bookshop. It is just a little ways down from lots of cafes.

Euro Hotel — George Street
Hidden in the middle of the main strip. Great location, trendy and new!

Esplanade Motel and Apartments
Breathtaking views of St. Clair Beach, and a great accommodation option if you have a car.

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  • Oh I love this!! And I’m so sad, we just went to NZ a few months ago, and missed out on this great city! Just another excuse to go again, thanks so much for sharing your insights!!

  • What a great photo of NZ! I am home bound due to a severe ice storm and the greens and blues are a site for sore eyes!

  • I was lucky enough to go to Dunedin just a few months ago–it is so beautiful! The beaches and hikes nearby and down on the Catlins coast are particularly breathtaking.

    Thank you for the guide! There are lots of new places to explore when I hopefully return soon!

  • Such a great post. People need to know how fantastic New Zealand is. It’s beautiful beyond belief. I will take your tips and go to Dunedin next time.

  • I googled DIY garlands and came up with a post of yours from 2008. I just wanted to say I love the mousetrap.

    I will probably never go to Dunedin, but it looks amazing.

  • Visited Dunedin over the Christmas holidays – it is one of a few magical places on this planet. I would also strongly suggest visiting Oamaru – the steampunk capital of NZ- as well. Love NZ – such a cool place!

  • I visited Dunedin in 1978 and the whole town smelled like chocolate from the Cadbury factory. Does it still?

  • this is so cool I am from Dunedin and am so glad that someone has a blog advertising such a cool city. t

  • Dunedin is such a cool little spot, I treasure my time there as a student! I left in ’95 and haven’t been back as often as I’d like, must put it on my to-do list! One of the things I loved to do when I was living there, other than hang out at pubs, was head inland into Central Otago and all the old gold-mining towns. Stunning scenery, amazing old buildings, and some wonderful vineyards and wineries!.

  • I love that you guys have now featured three (more?) NZ guides on d*s. I can’t tell you how awesome it’s been exploring Kiwi cities with your guides in hand! I just moved to Auckland two months ago and it makes for such a wonderful change of pace from the traditionally stale guide books.

  • How lovely to see a post on Dunedin! I went to university and can vouch for the fabulous little clothes shops and cafes there and I went every Saturday morning to the farmers market for coffee and muesli slice.
    I’m from Wanaka (about 3 hours away) which is also beautiful and very cool. It’s so nice to see people talking and writing about such a wonderful part of the world!

  • Oh fantastic! There was a sad spot where a Dunedin guide was sorely needed
    Thanks Adrienne!
    Also: try Fluid Espresso
    138 Union St
    First thing in the morning for their fresh muffins and delicious coffee.
    Izakaya Yuki
    29 Bath St
    Bring your friend to this cute bar tucked under a building. Serves up great Japanese sumo, sake, beer, and the best agedashi tofu I have had anywhere including Japan!

  • As a Dunedin resident for 4 years now, yes I can confirm that many days the city does smell of chocolate. : D One of the highlights for sure.

    One of the other amazing sites in Dunedin is the botanic garden. Best yet – it’s FREE!

    I’m not one for “high” nz fashion, but there are some very cool vintage shops here as well. Modern Miss (Moray Place) and Shop on Carroll (Carroll street, just up from the Octagon) are a must see for any vintage seekers!

  • How exciting – little ol’ Dunedin in D*S! Reading the post made me all warm inside! Did you know Dunedin city is the largest (or 2nd largest?) city in the Southern Hemisphere by land area? 95% of the “City” is actually farmland. Geeky wee factoid for you :)

  • I love Dunedin… I was there last week on a perfect summers day with no wind & not an iceberg in sight.
    There is secret gem that I think is worth mentioning in this post, even if it is just to convince your man person to make the trip south… That is the Emmerson’s brewery… if you like crafty beer, this place is bliss!

  • Wow cool, i so love it when they do the New Zealand ones..makes me appreciate where i live even more! Oh my little New Zealand, such a treasure!
    Timf: the font in the image is called Lullaby (i think) you can find it on dafont.com :)

  • The bar Bath St has actually just closed down.

    I would also add to the recommendations:
    – The Friday Bakery in Roslyn – Only open on Friday mornings, with THE MOST AMAZING Almond Croissants ever.
    -Yilmaz Turkish Takeaways at the north end of George St – the garlic bread is a must.

    I also have to second someone’s recommendation of Yuki Izakaya – you have to try the plum wine!!

    And The Botanic Gardens – easily one of my most favourite places in the world. There’s so much to explore.

  • The Friday Shop is amazing but you have to be there well before 9 for any sort of selection!

    Also, Pilot’s Beach at the end of the Peninsula is a great place to see little blue penguins!

    Thanks for all the feedback! I love this city- life here is awesome!

  • So good to read positives for Dunedin..Thanks Stephanie….I have lived here most of my life and still marvel at what it has to offer….just got into Sunday walking …and there are so many to choose from…diverse as well…forests, beaches (yes plural..so many), rugged hills/cliffs….views to die for…for those out of Dunedin and would want help look up ‘Walkthisway.co.nz’ a fantastic way to find the diverse range of walks there are.

  • Izakaya Yuki
    29 Bath St

    Thirding that recommendation! So delish! And asahi by the jug!

    Oh man, I <3 Dunedin so much – it'll be a sad day when I eventually in the misty future leave this glorious wee town.

  • Ah, Dunedin!! I brought my family down for a visit this Christmas to a place I once lived and think of almost every day. I miss it terribly.

    As others have reported, the shopping choices are amazing — absolutely beautiful clothes and jewellery made by locals.

    Equally amazing (to me) are the food prices! I lived there under the old social welfare government when milk was 4 cents a pint and other food prices were correspondingly low. Later, in the 80s, it was still very cheap to eat. Not now!

  • Sorry to be a pedant, but “moi” isn’t Maori for nap: “moe” means sleep or dream though. Otherwise lovely to read about Dunedin, being in Wellington I don’t get down there early often enough :)

  • spent a day and a half in Dunedin during my self drive trip to NZ last May. Love the weather, architecture and the stunning blue skies. Wish I have more time to venture more on the Otago Peninsula and visiting St Clair beach. Lovely town!

  • When speaking Te reo Māori, “moi” is what you would bellow to call your dog.
    Like other Polynesian languages (such as ʻŌlelo Hawaiʻi, and Gagana Sāmoa), i is pronounced as a short “ee”, and e as in “air” without the r. A as in “ah”. O as in “or”. U as in “oo”. Wikipedia has excellent pronunciation guides.

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