The Otago Region is one of New Zealand’s original six provinces. With hills and sheltered valleys, Otago has different climates and some of the country’s most beautiful scenery. The City of Dunedin is called the “Edinburgh of the South,” and it takes pride in that title. Honoring Robert Burns with a statue, many streets are named after streets in Edinburgh. The city was built on a natural harbor surrounded by steep hills, so some of its streets are very steep. The winters can be cold, and some streets ice over. Visitors to Port Otago’s Dunedin and Port Chalmers will not run out of things to see and do.
The Guinness Book of Records recognizes Baldwin Street as the steepest street in the world. Even the best cyclers have not made it to the top of the street where a drinking water fountain awaits those who brave making the 10-minute walk.
Chocolate lovers will want to take a tour of Cadbury World, the famous Cadbury chocolate factory that makes three quarters of New Zealand’s chocolate. Located in the center of Dunedin, the Cadbury Visitors Center tells the story of the company and of chocolate through history. Visitors get to sample products as they visit a chocolate-fall in a decommissioned five-story crumb silo, among many other memory-making treats. Bookings are required if you want a guaranteed place on the tour.
Taiaroa Head, at the tip of Otago Peninsula and about an hour’s drive from Dunedin, is home to the world’s only mainland albatross nesting site. The albatross has a wingspan of up to three meters and can fly at over 115 kilometers per hour. The Royal Albatross Center at Taiaroa Head presents interpretative displays that tell everything about the albatross and the area that includes Fort Taiaroa. Visitors can tour Fort Taiaroa to get a sense of what colonial New Zealand was like. The albatross colony is above Fort Taiaroa, underground fortifications/tunnels that were constructed in the 1880s when Tsarist Russia threatened to invade. From September to November, an alternate tour is available to avoid disturbing the nesting albatross. Tours of the albatross colony are not available at this time. Instead, visitors can learn about the albatross as well as Maori and European history and then visit the Fort Taiaroa underground tunnels.
Although Larnach Castle is advertised as the only castle in New Zealand, it is really a manor house (and there is a ruined castle south of Dunedin). Larnach has a very interesting history, though. The family who lives there today, the Barkers, have been restoring the house and 14-hectares of gardens for the past forty years. Native Australian William James Mudie Larnach was manager of the Bank of Otago in Dunedin during the gold rush days. In building Larnach Castle, materials from around the world were gathered and native New Zealand woods were used to make beautifully carved panels. The house even includes a 3000 square foot ballroom. Married three times, Larnach was widowed twice, and he committed suicide in the New Zealand parliament building in 1898. After his death, the surviving family squabbled over the inheritance, and the building and grounds fell into disrepair. From 1899 until 1967, it had many owners and many uses. It was a lunatic asylum, a hospital that treated shell-shocked soldiers, and a retreat for nuns. At one time, the ballroom was even used to hold sheep. When the Barkers bought the property in 1967, they began the lifetime work of restoration. They researched the house to keep it as close to the original as possible.