The southeastern corner of the South Island contains some of the least-visited parts of New Zealand, yet packs in the gems. The darkly Gothic harbourside city of Dunedin is a seat of learning and culture, influenced by the country’s oldest university and thriving Scottish immigrant traditions. Elsewhere it is all about wild nature. On Dunedin’s doorstep, the windswept Otago Peninsula is a phenomenal wildlife haven, mostly farmland but fringed with opportunities to see yellow-eyed and blue penguins, fur seals and albatrosses within 5km of each other. South of Dunedin there are yet more exemplary opportunities to see wildlife at its primal best along the dramatic Catlins Coast. Provincial Invercargill is the gateway to Stewart Island, New Zealand’s third island and superb territory for stepping back a few years and spotting kiwi.
The “Edinburgh of the South”, DUNEDIN takes its name from the Gaelic translation of its Scottish counterpart, with which it shares street and suburb names. Founded by Scottish settlers, its heyday was in the 1860s and 1870s as the commercial centre for the gold-rush towns of inland Central Otago. This left an enduring legacy of imposing Gothic Revival architecture fashioned from volcanic bluestone and creamy limestone.
On Dunedin’s outskirts, Port Chalmers hangs onto a slightly bohemian, rough-around-the-edges feel, repaying a quick visit by combining it with the nearby Orokonui Ecosanctuary. Across the harbour, the Otago Peninsula packs in the wildlife highlights with penguins, albatrosses and seals all competing for attention with Larnach Castle and its fine grounds.
To the south, the pace slows along the untamed Catlins Coast, with yet more wonderful opportunities for spotting marine wildlife, but in an altogether wilder setting. Hills cloaked in native forest come right down to a shoreline indented with rocky bays, long sweeps of sand and spectacular geological formations.
New Zealand’s southernmost city is Invercargill, bordered by the rich pastureland of Southland’s farming communities. The city is the springboard for Bluff, the country’s oldest European town, and magical Stewart Island. Relatively few visit New Zealand’s third island, but those who do are rewarded by the extraordinary birdlife, particularly in Mason Bay and on Ulva Island.
Kiwis from more northern parts delight in condemning the climate of the southern South Island, and it’s true that the further south you go the wetter and more changeable it gets. Come between November and April and you’ll experience daytime highs approaching 20°C and catch the best of the wildlife during the breeding season.