Queenstown is so small…
<cuts to a crowd somewhere in the distance>
“How small is it?”….
<cuts back to Kelsey>
It’s so small that sometimes you just have to get the hell out.
Okay that was a rather lame punchline, but at least I tried. Queenstown is so small that the weekly newsletter – because I refuse to call it a newspaper when it’s mostly full of lost and found wallet ads from half drunk, half sober people – once included a whole local ‘whinge’ section about how people were pressing the avocados too hard when deciding which one to buy in the grocery store. To which I say, if I am buying avocados for $4 each, I will press those things as much as I please to make sure they’re going to make the best $10 guacamole in the world, damnit”, but you know, I’m really trying not to get sucked in.
The point is, we wanted a little Kiwi getaway on the cheap and decided to take a spontaneous one night trip to Dunedin, a South Island coastal town along the Otago Peninsula known for its nice waves (see also: freaking freezing), beautiful coastline, Scottish influence, abundant wildlife, cool architecture, and large student and family population.
One Night in Dunedin
Queenstown to Dunedin Transportation
Since we hadn’t yet purchased a van and wanted to try out the public transportation options in New Zealand, we chose to take a convenient bus ride on Intercity’s FlexiPass system. Instead of buying single bus tickets for long distance rides, you can buy passes according to the number of hours you plan on riding the bus while in New Zealand. For travelers who don’t want to bother renting a car, or locals who just want to sit back and take in the view for once, their FlexiPass options range from 15 hours to 80 hours, and work out to cost roughly $8/hour per person.
Make no mistake, the 4 hour bus journey from Queenstown to Dunedin is absolutely gorgeous. Passing through Cromwell’s steep cliff lines and with a couple of stop-offs in just about the tiniest towns you’ve ever encountered, I picked out about 179 baby sheep I’d like to adopt as we drove through the rolling, bright green hills the rest of the way to Dunedin. As well seasoned users of public transportation, I have to say I was impressed with Intercity’s timeliness and cleanliness. We even shared stories and chocolate with a sweet Maori rugby player on the way back to Queenstown. Good times.
Where to Stay in Dunedin
Having spent only a single full day there, I am likely in no position to tell you where you should stay in Dunedin. But here we are, so here we shall go.
Since one of Peter’s primary reasons for visiting Dunedin was to surf, we chose to stay in a private Airbnb room in a gorgeous house just a few steps away from St. Clair Beach, a cute area scattered with a few restaurants, shops, and a heated saltwater pool.
Because we arrived on a day with 79% total crap weather, we decided to grab a pizza at The Esplanade and hit the heated pool, which sounded infinitely better than renting thick wetsuits and paddling around in the freezing 52 degree (11 Celsius) waves. On a side note, our Airbnb host went surfing in just his board shorts that day and now I am convinced that all Kiwis have constant mild to moderate hypothermia.
Unfortunately for our heated pool experience, we also discovered that New Zealand has a very different definition of ‘heated’ than the rest of the sane members of the world, so our swim was more like a painful, awkward dip followed by cookies and coffee with a view in the attached cafe. <shivers> Ahh well, we tried.
Located only about 5 kilometers from downtown Dunedin, I’d recommend staying in St. Clair for anyone looking for a cozy, scenic and popsicle-like experience, and definitely returning on a day when it’s sunny so you can really get the full effect of its charm.
Another piece of advice for visiting Dunedin, and pretty much all of New Zealand in general – avoid going on public holidays, especially when that public holiday is as boring a spectacle as Labour Day.
I had previously read about a few cool hangouts with live music, delicious cheap eats and a dive bar vibe (my heaven!) near The Octagon, Dunedin’s official town center, but unfortunately on Labour Day, all of them were closed as hell, so we ended up wandering around in the rain for a bit and settling down at a surprisingly nice (and most importantly, open) Japanese BYOB restaurant called Minami Sushi Bar before making our meandering walk back to St. Clair to call it a night.
The next morning, we packed up and headed back into town for a second try at Dunedin, luckily on a sunnier, more happening afternoon. Peter made a unexpectedly hilarious purchase of a knitted banana in pajamas from a boutique store, and we spent the day wandering around the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, eating a massive portion of fish and chips at the BYOB Best Cafe (yum!), shopping funky secondhand goods at Finders Keepers Boutique, walking around the Dunedin Railway Station, taking a well deserved nap in the grass, and finally, drinking some pre-bus beers at the oh so lovely Emerson’s Brewery, which is conveniently located about a 4 minute walk from Dunedin’s main Intercity bus station.
While we didn’t quite make it to the rad looking Tunnel Beach – about an hour bus ride from Dunedin – or happen to see any penguins on our visit, that just means we’ll have to return another time. We were both surprised at how large and spread out the city is (that’s what 6 months in Queenstown will do to you), and both agreed it’s probably the most underrated place we’ve been in New Zealand thus far. Take that as you will, and remember to grow thicker skin if you plan on surfing. You’ll need it.