“Dunner Stunner” Dunedin is the quintessential university town in good ol’ New Zealand and it does not pretend to be anything else. The first thing you’ll notice on the streets is the amount of young, privileged, international students that the public school kid in you (or maybe just me) is secretly jealous of.
The next thing you’ll notice is the low cast gloomy clouds and the freezing cold weather. Located in the lower south of the South Island, Dunedin is perpetually cloudy. It is always cold and drizzling. While it’s summer in Auckland, it’s hailing ice the size of trucks here.
Believe you, me. I lived in Dunedin for two months during Spring, and there was only ONE proper sunny day during my visit. It was a good 26 degrees and it was so “boiling hot” that everyone, and I mean EVERYONE, was out in their crop tops and shortest shorts. The two beaches, St Kilda and St Claire, were packed like a Taylor Swift concert. The next morning, everyone was back in their puffiest winter coat and warmest Ugg boots. The Dunedin weather is a pain to put up with, but it makes for a good place to go hunting for the Southern Lights. More on that later.
Weather aside, I love Dunedin. You get all the city shopping with a chilled-out town vibe. It’s beautiful too. The intricate architecture doesn’t shy away from the fact that it is New Zealand’s oldest city.
Dunedin is also a fun place to live in. For starters, my house was next door to the Green Man craft beer brewery, 5 minutes walking distance away from the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, and a bus ride away from two beaches and the Speights beer factory. There’s a yearly Craft Beer Festival, good beaches with surfing and wildlife watching, nice hiking, a beautiful botanical garden and a street so steep it’s in the Guinness World Book of Records.
This little city loses to Wanaka and Queenstown when it comes to mountainous charms, which makes it a little less touristic than its West Coast cousins. However, if you’re driving through the East Coast, Dunedin definitely makes for a good pit stop.
Look up any travel site and they’ll give the same few recommendations for the best things to do in Dunedin. The top being a drive to Otago Peninsular where you can spot yellow-eyed penguins, fur seals, and seal-sized birds called albatross.
One of the best things to do in Dunedin that I’ve discovered, however, is not one in any of the top recommendations. It involves taking advantage of Dunedin’s status as a university town. Those who enjoy learning will appreciate this – crash a lecture at the University of Otago. There are plenty of fun things to do in Dunedin, but this one takes the cake.
A breathtaking campus, the University of Otago deserves more than just a visit. It deserves you attending its classes. Don’t worry, you don’t actually have to break into the lecture halls. The university actually hosts free open lecture events that are, well, open to the public.
True to its status as a world-class university, the University of Otago have some really interesting lectures available on a semi-regular basis. The first lecture I attended was on women suffrage. Louise Nicholas, women’s right advocate talked about her battle with the New Zealand legal system after she was allegedly raped by several policemen in 1984.
I was intimidated entering the lecture theatre for the first time. What if I were the only outsider there? What if they asked for my ID? What if they throw me out? I told myself it would be alright as I easily blended in with the students. All my worries disappeared when I entered the lecture theatre – there were young children and senior citizens!
The lecture takes on the spirit of free open lectures very literally – everyone was invited to enter the class and there was no ID checks nor registration. You just walk in and take a seat. I learned so much from that one lecture that I went back for one on climate change and another one on the CIA’s Detention and Interrogation Programme. I would’ve attended more if I could!
Needless to say, the lectures are very exciting as it covers a wide range of topics. The seats were comfortable, the speakers were passionate professors, activists, scientists that you would otherwise never have access to, and I left every lecture learning something new. Think of it like a Ted Talk, but more fleshed out and you get to ask questions after. The schedule for upcoming University of Otago open lectures can be found on their website. Alternatively, check out the bulletin board the Dunedin i-SITE Visitor Centre.
Amidst my frustration of frosty beaches and miserable weather, it was the University of Otago open lectures that made Dunedin great for me. Years after graduating from my university halls of Malaysia, sitting in that warm lecture theatre in New Zealand, I lived my daydream of having an overseas education for 45-minutes. And just like a uni student (minus the exam stress), I could go surfing, hiking, or hunt for the Southern Lights with my mates after class! I also got myself a tattoo from an awesome tattoo parlour here to remind me of all the fun I had in this beautiful city.
Compared to the rest of postcard-perfect New Zealand, Dunedin is not a place that will blow you away. It’s a place that grows on you as you slowly discovers its charms. It’s once you leave Dunedin that you realise you love her; not the passionate lust for a new lover, but the warm, familiar love for family.
If you’re headed to Dunedin, say hi to the lecture halls for me.
Mei Mei Chu’s tips for the best things to do in Dunedin:
- Catch the Southern Lights: The best time to see the Southern Lights is during a cloudless winter night at Tunnel Beach. More info on how to spot it here.
- See fur seals: Sandfly Bay is the best place to see fur seals up close.
- Watch the city turn orange: Signal Hill during sunset has the best views of the city.
- Walk up the steepest street in the world: Dunedin’s quirkiest event of the year is the Baldwin Street (that insanely steep street) Jaffa Race. People roll a Cadbury Jaffa chocolate ball down Baldwin Street and see who’s chocolate reaches the finish line first.
- Buy lots of chocolates: That famous Cadbury Daily Milk chocolate with fancy flavours that costs like RM25 per piece at the airport is made in Dunedin. Stock up at the Cadbury World Factory, it’s super cheap here!
- Bonus tip For Working Holiday Visa-ers looking for a job: You’ll have to wrestle the thousands of uni students for a vacancy
Read more stories from New Zealand:
Why I Quit My Job And Flew To New Zealand For Half A Year
How To Travel New Zealand On A Cheap Budget (Yes, It’s Possible!)
How Did 9 Months Travelling New Zealand Change Me?
34 Truly Unforgettable Moments in New Zealand
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