The 35km-long crooked finger of the OTAGO PENINSULA, running northeast from Dunedin, divides Otago Harbour from the Pacific Ocean. With sweeping views of the harbour, the sea and Dunedin against its dramatic backdrop of hills, the peninsula offers outstanding year-round marine wildlife viewing that’s probably the most condensed and varied in the country.
The prime wildlife viewing spots are concentrated at the peninsula’s tip, Taiaroa Head (less than an hour’s drive from Dunedin), where cold waters forced up by the continental shelf provide a rich and constant food source. The majestic royal albatross breeds here in what is the world’s only mainland albatross colony. Also concentrated on the headland’s shores are penguins (the little blue and the rare yellow-eyed) and southern fur seals, while the cliffs are home to other seabirds including three species of shag, muttonbirds (sooty shearwaters) and various species of gull. New Zealand sea lions sometimes loll on beaches, while offshore, orca and whales can be seen. Other than taking one of the excellent wildlife tours, the best opportunities for seeing animals are on some of the beaches. Sandfly Bay welcomes yellow-eyed penguins home in the late afternoon, then Pilots Beach sees the arrival of blue penguins around dusk.
Around the head of Otago Harbour, Portobello Road shakes off Dunedin’s southern suburbs and begins to weave its way along the peninsula’s shoreline past little bays, many dotted with stilt-mounted boathouses. Beyond the accommodation and eating nexus of Portobello, Harington Point Road continues to Taiaroa Head.
Apart from wildlife spotting there’s appeal in the beautiful woodland gardens of Glenfalloch, the excellent Marine Studies Centre & Aquarium, the exemplary grounds of Larnach Castle and several scenic walks to spectacular views and unusual land formations created by lava flows.Read More
At Company Bay, Castlewood Road runs 4km inland to the 1871 Gothic Revival Larnach Castle, which sits high on a hill commanding great views across the harbour to Dunedin. More château than fort, this sumptuous residence was designed by Robert A. Lawson for Australian-born banker, politician and importer William Larnach. Materials were shipped from all over the world then punted across the harbour and dragged uphill by ox-drawn sleds. Its outer shell took three years to complete, with the ornate interior taking another nine.
After years of neglect the castle was rescued by the Barker family in the late 1960s and has since been progressively restored while remaining their home. Check out the concealed spiral staircase in the corner of the third floor, which leads up to a terraced turret.
The castle’s magnificent manicured grounds, divided into nine gardens, are of national significance and quite beautiful; keep an eye out for the handful of Alice in Wonderland statues, such as one of the Cheshire cat hiding in an ancient Atlas cedar tree.
You can refresh yourself at the café in the former ballroom, or stay overnight.
- The royal albatross
When observing wildlife, respect the animals by staying well away from them (at least 10m), and keeping quiet and still. Penguins are especially frightened by people and they may be reluctant to come ashore (even if they have chicks to feed) if you are on or near the beach and visible. In summer, keep to the track as they’re extremely vulnerable to stress while nesting and moulting. Never get between a seal or sea lion and the sea; these animals can be aggressive and move quickly.