Campervan heaven in Dunedin
Begin your Kiwi adventure in New Zealand’s oldest city, Dunedin. Known for its Scottish heritage, avid rugby fans, and natural scenic harbour, it’s the perfect getaway for NZ campervan travellers and has easy access to the coast and picturesque Central Otago.
Modelled on Edinburgh in Scotland, Dunedin enjoys a thriving arts and fashion scene, and is renowned for being one of the world’s great small cities.
Pride of the South
Dunedin is in the south-east of New Zealand’s South Island, and is a mix of dramatic hills, and roaring beaches. Central Otago, right on the doorstep of Dunedin, is home to some of the world’s best stone fruit and Pinot Noir. It’s a three-and-a-half-hour drive across the Island to get to Queenstown and Wanaka, but the journey is as stunning as the destination. Autumn paints in reds and golds, and summer feels like you’re driving through Eden. For those that prefer the coastline, it's a 4.5 hour drive in your campervan hire to Christchurch.
Heed the Catlin’s call and drive south to this untouched part of the world. They stretch along the coastline south of Dunedin and into Southland. People are few and far between, but you’ll meet the local seals and get up close to little blue penguins near the coast. If you’ve strapped your board to the roof, the surf around this area is not to be missed. It may be glacial, but you’ll likely share the water with some friendly marine life.
While you are on the South Island, you should also head to the West Coast, Abel Tasman National Park and the Marlborough wine region.
"The beer tour is a must for any beer lover, while the Cadbury Chocolate Factory offers tours and delicious samples"
The ultimate freedom
The South Island of New Zealand is an ideal place to freedom camp. With stunning vistas on every bend of the road, there’s always a gorgeous view to wake up to. Around Dunedin a self-contained vehicle can freedom camp for up to two nights in any legal parking spot. For non-self-contained vehicles, MacAndrew Bay, Ocean View, and Warrington Reserve offer spots to park up for free.
If you’re looking for camping grounds with powered sites within the city boundaries,Dunedin Holiday Park & Motels is near the beach in St Kilda and has had great reviews. Leith Valley Camping ground is at the other end of town next to the Leith Stream and has more of a quiet country feel.
Meet the locals
Drive up to Taiaroa Heads on the Otago Peninsula, home to the Royal Albatross – a seabird with a three-metre wingspan. Here, you will find the world’s only mainland breeding colony of these massive seabirds. The Royal Albatross Centre is situated at the bottom of the heads and offers an unforgettable encounter with the chicks and their parents. New Zealand sea lions live and breed on the rocks just a short walk away. Feel free to stop and take photos, but be warned that they are wild animals and can be unpredictable. If you are lucky, you may also spot the Yellow Eyed Penguin.
Chocolate and Castles
Dunedin boasts fine, unspoiled Edwardian and Victorian architecture, built from the wealth of the Gold Rushes. Larnach’s Castle was built in the 1870s and has a mixed history. It has been a lunatic asylum, a hospital, a nun’s retreat, and once held sheep in the ballroom. Now it is open to the public as a heritage site and has striking views from the gardens. Ovleston House is another old-worldly home. Little has changed in the house in over a century, so it serves as a time capsule to old Dunedin.
Speight’s is an institution like no other in the south. The beer tour is a must for any beer lover, while the Cadbury Chocolate Factory offers tours and delicious samples of its Dairy Milk chocolate.
Dunedin is a vibrant city of funky bars and hearty Southern cuisine. You’ll find local produce on the menus – venison, paua, mussels, plenty of shellfish and lamb.The hospitality is also second to none. Bacchus on the Octagon offers great ambience and people watching, and the wine list is impressive. Gaslight is a little less expensive with a lot of character and good food. For a hearty, meaty option, go no further than Velvet Burger on George Street. With interesting combinations and a menu with more than one venison option, you’ll be spoilt for choice. At the Dunedin Markets $5 will buy you a bacon buttie – a white-bread sandwich stuffed with crispy bacon.
If you’re venturing away from the city, Fleur’s Place near the Moraki Boulders is set in a little fishing village and offers some of the best fresh fish in New Zealand.
It’s party time
The University of Otago is one of the oldest in New Zealand. The students (“Scarfies”) run the central city during semesters and their keg parties are infamous across the country. Most of this generation clear-out over the summer months, heading back north for Christmas. Dunedin is home to many of New Zealand’s well-known artists, poets, writers, musicians, sports stars and leaders.
The Deep South
At a latitude of 45 degrees and settled in the valley of the surrounding hills, Dunedin can frequently descend to temperatures below zero. Significant snowfalls happen once every couple of years, although frost is a frequent bother in winter. Ensure you have plenty of clothing and bedding to hand. January and February are the best months to travel in Dunedin, with December on average the wettest month and February the warmest.
Which campervan is right for me?
When road-tripping anywhere in the south, you’ll see plenty of campervans on the road. There are lots of companies to choose from – Jucy Rentals, Spaceships and Wicked are among the cheaper options with vehicles that are economical, easy to drive and clearly recognised. Maui, Britz and Apollo are also major campervan outlets in New Zealand, and have larger rentals, complete with shower facilities and toilet.
If you’re looking to travel one way to another city in the South Island, or even further afar, Transfercar.co.nz have free relocation deals. This can be a very economical option.
Here are a few handy pointers for your journey:
With winter comes snow. Make sure your rental is equipped with chains, just in case.
The hills to the north of Dunedin make for slow driving in a camper. Remember to keep left, take your time and drive to the conditions.
Petrol prices can vary from town to town. For the cheapest option, fill your tank in Dunedin city before taking any day trips.
Stay at least 10 metres away from seals/sea lions and don’t come between them and the water. They aren’t afraid of you and can move quickly over short distances.
The one-way system in Dunedin city can be confusing at first, but it is very simple once you get used to it. Rather than reversing blindly in your camper, just circle the block again.