Port Chalmers (Dunedin),
European whaling ships first called at Otago Province during the early decades of the 1800s, yielding a mixed response from the native Māori. In 1848 Dunedin was settled, and by the mid-1860s the city was the economic hub of the Otago gold rush. Dunedin's historical wealth endures in such institutions as the University of Otago, the oldest in the country. But if any region can bring out the bird-watcher in you, this is it; the area is home to the Royal Albatross and yellow-eyed penguins.
Cruise tenders put in at Port Chalmers, about a 15-minute ride from Dunedin. Dunedin is pedestrian-friendly and has a bus system, but driving the city's confusing, one-way roads can be a challenge. Street parking is limited.
Dunedin. Dunedin has the austere seriousness that old stone academic buildings lend a city, but the backdrop is just as interesting: the port clangs and squeals with the busy work of massive international freighters, while across the harbor, albatross chicks learn to fly, and penguins waddle anxiously past snoozing elephant seals.
Relax and enjoy the birdsong at the Botanic Gardens, amid 70 acres of international and native flora. In addition to the seasonal gardens are the year-round attractions: an aviary, a winter garden hothouse, a native plant collection, and a rhododendron garden. Great King St. at Opoho Rd.
Which came first, the Cadbury factory or the Cadbury Creme Egg? At Cadbury World you can watch chocolate candy in the making; keep an eye out for the chocolate waterfall. It's best to prebook a tour. 280 Cumberland St.
Collections at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery include European masters as well as New Zealand and Otago artists. A special gallery highlights Dunedin native Frances Hodgkins, whose work won acclaim in the 1930s and '40s. 30 The Octagon.
Located on the south side of Moray Place, the First Presbyterian Church is not vast, but it's still impressive, with a base of Oamaru stone topped by a delicate 200-foot spire. Check out the leaf patterns, dragon, and other carved details around the windows. 415 Moray Pl.
The city's hub is the Octagon, an eight-sided town square lined with several imposing buildings and a smattering of market stalls, cafés, and bars. A statue of Robert Burns sits in front of St. Paul's Cathedral, with an imposing marble staircase leading up to a towering facade of Oamaru stone. On Stuart Street at the corner of Dunbar, check out the late-Victorian Law Courts.
Olveston House. Built in the early years of the 20th century for businessman David Theomin and his family, this 35-room manse is a testament to not only the man's exquisite taste, but also his success in the piano business. 42 Royal Terr. Admission charged.
The Otago Museum demonstrates what galleries and museums were like in Victorian times. The museum's first curator was a zoologist, and many of the original animals collected from 1868 are still on display. "Southern Land, Southern People" explores the cultural heritage of this region, and other galleries focus on Māori and Pacific Island artifacts, animal and insect specimens, and nautical items. 419 Great King St.
The Otago Settlers Museum tells the stories of all Otago settlers, from Māori and early European and Chinese to later Pacific Islanders and Asians. 31 Queens Gardens. Admission charged.
A cathedral to the power of steam, the 1906 Dunedin Railway Station is a massive bluestone structure in Flemish Renaissance style, lavishly decorated with heraldic beasts, nymphs, scrolls, a mosaic floor, and even stained-glass windows of steaming locomotives.
The Taieri Gorge Railway tourist train runs from Dunedin through the now closed Otago Central Railway to Pukerangi and Middlemarch (home of the annual Middlemarch Singles' Ball; each year this very train imports young city gals up to a dance with lonely Otago sheep shearers). Also available is a seasonal Seasider route from Dunedin up the coast to Palmerston.
The station is also home to the Sports Hall of Fame, the country's only sports museum. Anzac Ave. at Stuart St. Admission charged.
Head to the Speight's Brewery Heritage Centre for a tour of the South's top brewery, which dates from 1876. Here you can see the various stages of gravity-driven brewing, learn the trade's lingo, and taste the results. 200 Rattray St. Admission charged.
Otago Peninsula. Along the road of this claw-shape peninsula are a handful of settlements; these get progressively more rustic as you near the peninsula's tip. On the east side of the peninsula is a string of rugged beaches; some are accessible via walking paths.
High on a hilltop, Larnach Castle is the grand baronial fantasy of William Larnach, an Australian-born businessman and politician. The castle, built in the mid-1870s, was a vast extravagance even in the free-spending days of the gold rush. Larnach rose to a prominent position in the New Zealand government of the late 1800s, but in 1898, beset by a series of financial disasters and possible marital problems, he committed suicide in Parliament House. The castle is surrounded by 35 acres of grounds. Camp Rd. Admission charged.
The wild and exposed eastern tip of the Otago Peninsula, Taiaroa Head is the site of a breeding colony of Royal Albatross. Among the largest birds in the world, with a wingspan of up to 10 feet, they can take off only from steep slopes with the help of a strong breeze. Under the auspices of the Royal Albatross Centre, the colony is open for viewing all year, except during a two-month break between mid-September and mid-November when the birds lay their eggs; the visitor center is open year-round. The greatest number of birds is present shortly after the young albatrosses hatch near the end of January. Taiaroa Head. Admission charged.
If you'd like to observe the world's most endangered penguin in its natural habitat, visit the Yellow-Eyed Penguin Reserve, also called the Penguin Place. The penguins, also known as hoiho, are characterized by their yellow irises and headbands. Harrington Point. Admission charged.
Koru (Lower Stuart St., opposite Dunedin Railway Station) is a local artists' co-op gallery and interactive studio that sells crafts made of pounamu (New Zealand greenstone), paua (abalone shell), and wood, as well as weaving and pottery. Bargain hunting bibliophiles will be in heaven on the second floor of the University Bookshop (378 Great King St.), where there is a constant sale. More Kiwi spirit can be found at Outré (380 Great King St., opposite University Bookshop), where New Zealand-made crafts are mixed in with clothing, trinkets, and ecofriendly goods. Plume (310 George St.) carries major international and New Zealand designer clothes. Girls: if you're looking for fun, funky sundresses, Slick Willy's (323 George St., upstairs) has a great selection. For sweets, drop by Guilty by Confection (44-46 Stuart St.) for a hot chocolate or some homemade fudge.
Beaches. The sea at Dunedin can be a little wild; in summer an area between flags is patrolled by lifeguards. St. Clair beach, south of the city, has some good surfing; it hosts some prestigious competitions. Don't be too spooked by the shark bell on the Esplanade: a fatal attack hasn't occurred for 30 years, just the occasional nibble. Signal Hill, to the northeast, with good views of the city below and the hills surrounding it, is a popular walking destination and an excellent mountain-biking venue. Also south of town is the Tunnel Beach walk, which heads through a sandstone tunnel to a secluded beach (this walk is closed from August through October for lambing).
Rugby. Rugby is followed with cultish devotion in Dunedin, and Carisbrook Stadium (Burns St.), also known as the "House of Pain," is where fans go to worship. Games are played on weekends.