If you are in Dunedin with a car and some time to spare, a drive around the Otago Peninsula is a must. There are two short excursions that will enable you to cruise the Otago Peninsula or drive the coast opposite the Peninsula. Either way you can take in some incredible views, walk on wild, southern beaches with only seals for company, see New Zealand’s only castle and visit Aramoana – a strange yet captivating community which was the scene of a tragic multiple shooting in 1990, the story was then told in the movie ‘Out of the Blue’ in 2006.
Otago Peninsula – Larnach Castle and Portobello
Heading out of Dunedin in a car rental the road climbs up through the suburbs and then, quite suddenly leaves the last building behind and opens out to the most amazing view down the harbour channel with Port Chalmers to the left and the Otago Peninsula winding ahead of you. The road is at its highest here and although you will be tempted to stop and take photos, be warned – this is a narrow road with limited space to stop so when you see a chance, take it.
The road passes the entrance to Lanarch Castle and gardens, which are worth a visit. If you have seen castles in Europe, this really doesn’t compare in size, stature or history but it is claimed as New Zealand’s only castle and is reasonably interesting. It was built in the late 1800’s by James Larnach who chose the location for its stunning views. The construction materials were sourced from all over the world including Italian marble, welsh slate and of course native timbers from New Zealand. The grounds are quite lovely and there is boutique accommodation on offer.
The road continues along the Otago Peninsula, winding along the cliff top which can be pretty gusty on a windy day and is, in places single lane and close to the cliff edge – some careful driving required. There are a couple of amazing beaches where you can park and admire from above or, if you are feeling energetic, wander down and enjoy the solitude of just you and possibly some seals laying around. Be prepared for the climb back up though!
Winding down, the road leads you to Portobello, a tiny village nestled into a bend on the harbour. Here you can enjoy lunch in one of the cafes before winding your way back along the water’s edge to Dunedin.
Port Chalmers and Aramoana
Leaving Dunedin in the opposite direction, the road takes you out past the Forsythe Barr Stadium, home of The Highlanders rugby team and along the side of the harbour to Port Chalmers. This is the main port for Dunedin and has a very industrial port area which interestingly is also where the cruise ships dock. The little town in the Otago Peninsula is quite chic with some boutique style shops and lovely cafes.
The road leads out past the marina and becomes more and more winding and in places, very narrow. It hugs the cliff on one side and the water on the other and on a sunny day it really is an amazing drive. Reaching the end of the peninsula, you drive into Aramoana. Not a town or village, it really is just a diverse collection of houses, dotted around amongst areas of woodland, sand dunes and the beach. Being relatively isolated it appeals to artistic souls and some of the property and gardens are quite different!
It was in 1990 that a resident of Aramoana had an argument with a neighbour which led to a 2 day nightmare for the residents of the small settlement. David Gray went on the rampage, killing 13 people in total including the local policeman. Robert Sarkies made a film of the story in 2006, ‘Out of the Blue’.
On a lighter note, there is a parking area at the headland and you can walk out on the spit, watching the surfers and taking in the view of the harbour and lighthouse. If you are lucky you may see seals who sunbathe on the rocks along the edge of the spit. On a sunny day the beach here is a beautiful spot for a picnic.
Being out on a headland, the drive back is along the same road but offering views back to the city which are equally as impressive.