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.