Welcome to the Dunedin, New Zealand budget travel guide.
Having grown up in Christchurch, I did numerous trips down to Dunedin in my student days, and more recently lived in an eco cottage in the Leith Valley at the town's northern edge.
This guide will introduce to Dunedin through the lens of both a visitor and a local, focusing on budget accommodation and activities, as well as all the 'need to know' background to make the most of your visit and get a feel for the real character of the place.
Dunedin was founded by Scottish settlers, and the decidedly Scottish character of the place is still clear today (the name itself is drawn from the name of the castle in Edinburgh).
Located towards the southern end of the south island, it even has a similar climate to Edinburgh, down at the opposite end of the world.
That said, it has long had a streak of diversity running through it – the Chinese Gardens, for instance, remain as a testament to the early Chinese settler populations who migrated here for the Otago gold rush.
Like Edinburgh, Dunedin is a little bit 'weird' and proud of the fact, and in addition to being the home of one of NZ's best universities it has also produced its fair share of artists and writers.
Janet Frame, one of NZ's most treasured authors, hailed from Dunedin, as does Bill Manhire, who founded the International Institute for Modern Letters in Wellington.
Dunedin has something of an infamous reputation as New Zealand's “student town,” with the thriving University of Otago at the town's heart.
Otago Uni is the primary study location for all NZ students looking to go into medicine. As a result of the student-heavy population, the place has a very young feel to it and even just walking around, you'll notice the population skews very much towards the 18-25 year old category.
The reason for the 'infamy' can be summed up in the story of the Undie 500 – a now-defunct event in which students from Canterbury University accepted the challenge to buy a car for less than $500, give it a 'theme' (eg ghostbusters), and drive down to Dunedin for the weekend.
Lots of alcohol was consumed during this event, culminating in weekend-long keg parties.
Needless to say, things got out of hand and the event is now banned – the last couple of times it was held resulted in riots in the streets, with police being called, couches and cars burned in the street, and thousands of broken bottles left littering the ground the next day.
Rest assured though, this is an unfair representation of Dunedin! Generally student life here is actually pretty uneventful, although lots of partying in broken-down flats is always a common theme. But there's more to Dunedin than that.
The student-town nature of Dunedin can be a good thing for budget travellers in two ways.
It means Dunedin has a good social vibe and nightlife, so it can be a good place to 'get amongst it' with the locals and experience a bit of real Kiwi student life.
Also, because most students are flat broke, there are a lot of cheap options for everything under the sun here – very handy if you're trying to stretch your money further.
For budget accommodation in Dunedin, your best options are the handful of backpacker hostels near the city centre and one or two campgrounds.
There are also some fairly affordable motels around the centre of town, if you're looking for a shared room or travelling with a family.
Take a look at the Cheap Accommodation in Dunedin Overview to get a general idea of the costs and details of each accommodation type, or zoom in on one of the below sections for more info.
Though it may not seem at first to be brimming with attractions, there are plenty of things to do and place to see in Dunedin to keep you occupied, even on a tight budget. Check out this guide to the Best Cheap & Free Things to Do in Dunedin.
The activities range from cultural (Museum, Art Gallery) to entertainment (the Cadbury chocolate factory), to wildlife experiences (albatross, yellow-eyed penguin).
Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula are actually something of a hidden gem for wildlife enthusiasts, actually – if you're undecided on whether or not to visit Dunedin and nature activities are big on your agenda, definitely include it.
There are some cool nature activities here that you can't do anywhere else in NZ.
Dunedin is a little bit isolated from NZ's major centres, with the only large city on the South Island, Christchurch, being a 4-5 hour drive away.
If you're travelling around the South Island and you can afford it, I highly recommend buying or renting a vehicle – but if that's not an option, buses from Christchurch or Queenstown are generally the cheapest way to reach Dunedin.
That all said, cheap flights to Dunedin, and from Dunedin to Wellington and elsewhere in the country, are regularly available through Air New Zealand and sometimes Jetstar.
Check out the Flights to Dunedin Guide for more details.
Due to Dunedin's location, it can be a good idea to hire a car from here in order to go exploring the rest of Otago and Southland, visiting the Catlins, Bluff, Queenstown/Wanaka and Fiordland/Te Anau.
Visit the Car Hire in Dunedin Guide for info on the best companies and how to get good deals.
Dunedin airport is quite small and actually quite far away from the city centre.
If you're flying in here, or departing to elsewhere in NZ, it pays to know a little about the airport in advance. Check out my Dunedin Airport Guide here.