Dunedin is the principle city in the Otago area. It was the largest city of New Zealand's south island during the gold rush of the mid 1800s. Many reminders remain of this era, including the country's only castle, an enormous Edwardian mansion with all its trappings, and an ornate railway station. Remnants of the goldfield sluices, farming ingenuity and Edwardian engineering can still be seen, thanks to preservation efforts. The land surrounding Dunedin, was forged from volcanic rock. Wildlife abounds in the sea, inland and along the rugged coast. A major attraction is the albatross hide. CDC information for travelers. Hours/availability may have changed.

1.Steampunk HQ

Steampunk HQ
© Steampunk HQ

This interactive museum, dedicated to the SciFi genre of Steampunk is aptly situated inside a Victorian era stone building. Here families can explore an alternative, retro-futuristic view of 19th century England as it could have been. As its name suggests, Steampunk explores the possibilities of steam-powered technology in a bygone era. The museum showcases art, movies, sculptures and sound, true to the genre. It is open from 10 am to 5 pm, 7 days a week, all year round, except for Christmas Day. There is a dress-up room and a gadgetorium to explore. Photography is encouraged.

1 Humber Street, Oamaru, 9400, Phone: Phone: +64-2-77-78-65-47

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2.Royal Albatross Centre

Royal Albatross Centre
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The Centre offers a range of tours. The albatross tours take between 60-90 minutes and include viewing the birds in their natural habitat, up close from a glassed-in observatory, and a short film on the life cycle of the species. This mainland breeding colony is the only one in the world. The Blue Penguin tours take place at dusk every evening when these small birds can be seen leaving the sea to nest for the night. The Tiki Tour offers a guided drive around the Otago Peninsula. Tours run throughout the day, all year round.

1260 Harington Point Rd, Dunedin 9077, Phone: +64-34-78-04-99

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3.Dunedin Railway

Dunedin Railway
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The Dunedin railway offers a range of short and long, world-class, luxury rail journeys, starting at the city. It takes between 4-6 hours to visit the Taieri Gorge and the scenic hinterland of the Otago Peninsula and 2-4 hours to travel the coastal route with its rugged scenery. Trips are run daily. The longer rail journeys take 5-7 days and travel further afield, across New Zealand. There is a licenced café on board which offers a range of prepared meals that can be accompanied by tea, coffee, beers or wine. Special events and groups can be accommodated.

Dunedin Railway Station on Anzac Square, Phone: +64-34-77-44-49

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4.Bannockburn Sluicings

Bannockburn Sluicings
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Feted as New Zealand's wild west, the sluicings made by miners water blasting their way to the alluvial gold, have created a spectacular desert-like landscape. The domain, deserted since the last gold miners left, features the remnants of houses, cave dwellings, blacksmith shops and the intricate water system that sustained the mining practices. The area, which has been declared a landmark by the Otago Goldfields Heritage Trust, can be explored on foot or bicycle via a network of trails. Vehicles can also reach the vantage points from which there are panoramic views of the area.

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5.Totara Estate

Totara Estate
© Totara Estate

Farming started on the estate in the 1850s. The farm grew to 15000 acres, with 17600 sheep, by the 1880s, before the wool price dropped and demand for mutton fell. The general manager of the enterprise devised steam-powered technology that could freeze meat long enough for it to reach England, by ship three months later. The technology revolutionized the industry and sheep farming is still lucrative to this day. Smaller farms became viable so the farm was carved up. The land and the farm buildings have been restored and interactive, multimedia exhibits installed. There are various relics of the age and a shop selling mementos. Visitors can also enjoy picnics, walks and views.

State Highway 1, 8km south of Oamaru, 9492, Phone: +64-34-33-12-69

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6.Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead

Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead
© Hayes Engineering Works and Homestead

Ernest and Hannah Hayes were an enterprising couple. Ernest invented labor saving farming tools. His 1924 fencing wire strainer is still in use world wide today. Hannah rode all over the area on bicycle, selling his products. The Engineering works grew as did their family – to 9 children. A commentary brings the many facets of the preserved workshop alive again. The homestead, although made of mud, did not escape Ernest's enterprise and has been made interesting by his inventions. Self-guided tours of the property are possible but a guided tour can be booked. There is a gift shop and café on the premises.

Hayes Road, off Ida Valley-Omakau Road, Oturehua, 9387, Phone: +64-34-44-58-01

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7.Olveston House

Olveston House
© Olveston House

David Theomin was a self-made man. He was born in Bristol and made his fortune through various ventures in New Zealand. His wealth enabled him to indulge his love of the arts. Olveston House was built in the Edwardian era, just after the turn of the 20th century. It has been preserved with all of its prized artwork, fine furniture, fittings and fabrics intact. The imposing multi-story building is set in a beautiful garden with a large conservatory. There are 6 guided tours per day, every day except Christmas Day. Access to the garden and gift shop are free.

42 Royal Terrace, Dunedin, 9016, Phone: +64-34-77-33-20

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8.Larnach Castle and Gardens

Larnach Castle and Gardens
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In 1967, the only castle in New Zealand was almost a ruin and being used a sheep pen. The Barker family took on the expensive task of restoring it to its former glory, including the furniture and artwork. The gardens were equally neglected and totally overgrown. Today they have also been restored and awarded 'Garden of International Significance' status. The house is used for special events, weddings, conferences and balls. Luxury accommodation has been built on the grounds and self-guided tours are permitted in the castle and gardens. There is a gift shop and café on the property which is open year round.

145 Camp Rd, Dunedin 9077, Phone: 00-64-34-76-16-16

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9.Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station
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The ornate station building, nicknamed Gingerbread George, was a reflection of the opulent times of the gold rush. It was 25 years in the planning and finally emerged as a Flemish Renaisance design. The dark basalt stone is trimmed with light Oamaru stone. The pillars of the front colonnade are made of pink granite and the domes are capped with copper. The booking room floor is made of a quarter of a million mosaic tiles, depicting locomotive motifs and the initials of the New Zealand Railway. A Royal Doulton frieze and stained glass windows repeat the motifs. Now it houses a market, restaurants and New Zealand's Sport Hall of Fame.

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9 Best Things to Do in Otago, New Zealand

More Ideas in New Zealand: Waitomo Caves

The Waitomo Caves are located in the Waitomo district of New Zealand. The geologically diverse region was one of the island’s original tourist destinations. The Maori word Waitomo translates to ‘water’ from ‘Wai’ and ‘sinkhole’ from ‘tomo,’ or roughly, ‘water which flows through a hole in the ground.’ Several caves in the area are open for tours, and are renowned for the glowworms which decorate the ceilings of the caves and light up the space for an awe-filled adventure.

The main caves in the region are the Waitomo Glowworm Caves, known for the luminescent creatures that hang from the ceilings. Unique to New Zealand, Arachnocampa luminosa, known as the glowworm, is a tiny species of fungus gnat that is luminescent in both its larval and imago stages. Glowworms prefer wet, protected habitats. Many of their above-ground dwellings have been effected by farming, making the popular Waitomo Caves one of the best viewing places for glow worms today.

The Ruakuri Cave offers Waitomo’s longest underground walking tour. The name of the cave means ‘dog’ as Maori legend tells, it was discovered 500 years ago by a boy taking refuge from wild dogs as he was hunting in the area. The cave entrance was subsequently used as a Maori burial ground, and this sacred area is protected today by guiding visitors down a spiral staircase away from the protected site. After descending down the spiral entrance, visitors follow an innovative, wheel-chair accessible walkway past crystal and limestone formations.

The Aranui Cave in the Ruakuri Scenic Reserve is named after the Maori who discovered it in 1910, and is known for its stalagmites and stalactites. The cave is without any water, and is the smallest of the three, but with some of the most beautiful geological formations. Because the caves were formed on an earthquake fault, water more easily enters and every crevice is decorated with colorful geological and crystal formations. A Cave Weta colony is found inside the Aranui Caves. These giant insects are unique to New Zealand and date back to the age of the dinosaurs. Related to the locust and cricket, their Maori name translates to ‘ugly one.’ The long-limbed and long-antennaed creatures only come out in the dark to hunt for food, as they are not adapted to seeing in the light.

History: The entire Waitomo region lay beneath the sea 30 million years ago. The natural beauty that exists both above and below ground today is an after effect of millions of years of water carving out the Oligocene limestone. Local Maori have been taking visitors through tours of the glowworm caves since at least the early 1900’s. In 1904, cave tour operations were taken over by the British Crown. Today, tours are operated by several privately owned companies.

Chief Chief Tane Tinorau, a local Maori chief was the first to explore the caves in the late 1880’s. Although the Maori people had known about the caves for much longer, their interior had never been explored. By 1889, Chief Tane and his wife, Huti, were taking guests through the caves for profit, having found an easy above-ground access point. After a 100-year period of British overrule, the caves were returned to the local Maori tribe in 1989. Some of the staff members who guide visitors through the caves today are directly descended from Chief Tane and Huti.

The Ruakuri Cave was first opened in 1904 but closed in 1988 due to a legal dispute over ownership of the land. The caves were reopened in 2005 by the New Zealand government after coming to terms with the family trust that claimed original ownership. The Aruni Cave has been operating public tours since 1911 under the New Zealand Minister of Tourism.

Ongoing Programs and Education: Visitors to the glowworm cave tour the cave on a boat ride along the underground portion of the Waitomo River, accompanied by an expert guide who provides commentary on the glowworms, the geological history and significance of the caves, and the cultural history of the area. Tours depart multiple times per day.

Walking tours of the Ruakuri Cave take approximately two hours, 90 minutes of which are underground. Guests should be advised that temperatures inside the caves are always cool, regardless of the weather above ground. Comfortable walking shoes are recommended. Cameras are allowed in the Ruakuri and Aruni Cave tours only.

39 Waitomo Village Rd, Waitomo Caves, Otorohanga 3943, New Zealand

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More Ideas in New Zealand: Larnach Castle

New Zealand’s Larnach Castle is located in Dunedin on the South Island. The late 1800’s Victorian castle on a hill overlooks the city to one side and the Pacific ocean on the other, and is open for tours and overnight stays. Situated on the Otago Peninsula Larnach Castle incorporates materials selected from all over the globe. Marble was imported from Italy, while glass was procured from France and Venice, along with floor tiles from England. Ceilings, wood floors and paneling were made from the finest wood native to New Zealand, including honeysuckle, rimu and kauri.

The current owners have furnished the home with a collection of original New Zealand furniture, reflective of the period in which it was built, and have painstakingly researched the original artwork, décor and interior detailing to return the home to its original state.

The 35 acres of castle grounds are home to 7 acres of manicured gardens, which extend from the castle itself to the edge of the ocean. The gardens have been named ‘Gardens of International Significance’ by the New Zealand Garden Trust. Visitors can easily spend a full day amid the flowerbeds, hedgerows and fields. Specialized areas within the gardens include a serpentine walk, the Lost Rock Garden, Pattern Garden, Green Room and Alice Lawn. The castle grounds are imbued with an Alice in Wonderland theme that has been present since the 1930’s. Original statuary in the gardens are based on characters from the book. The current owners have expanded upon this theme throughout the gardens with added statuary and a Queen of Hearts throne. The bright pink throne in front of the Rainforest Garden backdrop is a favorite for photographs. A ‘curious door’ referring to a phrase from the book, can be found in a tree trunk in the South Seas Garden.

Boutique lodging on the castle grounds is available at three locations. The Camp Estate is a neo-classical style stone country home adjacent to the castle, the Larnach Lodge is a recreation of a colonial farm building, and accommodations are available in the renovated140-year old stables, which are classified as a New Zealand historic landmark.

History: Larnach Castle was built in the late 19th century by the wealthy Australian-born banker and politician, William Larnach, as a gift for his first wife. Larnach amassed his fortune as a bank manager in the early days of the Dunedin goldmines, and expanded his portfolio to include shipping, farming, real estate and politics, serving the New Zealand government as a cabinet minister.

The 15-year long building project began in 1871 and took over 200 workers to complete. The first three years were spent on the home’s exterior, while it an additional 12 years were spent finishing the detailed interior.

The appeal of the castle is partially driven by the dramatic history of its first owner, William Larnach. who committed suicide at the New Zealand Parliament Buildings in 1898 in despair over an affair between his youngest son and his third wife. After Larnach’s death, the family fell into financial ruin following legal battles and disputes, stemming from the absence of a will. The castle was sold in 1906 after the family’s furniture and belongings were auctioned to pay for the debts of the estate.

In the intervening years, the castle has been used to house nuns, as a government-owned mental hospital, and as lodging for soldiers during World War II. In 1967 the Baker family purchased the ruined estate with the goal to restore it to its original glory.

Ongoing Programs and Education: Tours of the castle are guided by a knowledgeable staff who weave in the scandals of the Larnach family and the history of the site. Visitors may ascend the castle’s spire to enjoy the views at the top, which extend to the ocean and past the City of Dunedin.

Guests touring the gardens are given a map of a scavenger hunt, and are asked to find a Wishing Well, the Oamaru Stone Cheshire Cat and a dungeon. A brochure on Native Plants of New Zealand points out which plants in each of the gardens are native to the island.

Annual public events include the Winter Ball, an elegant Victorian-themed holiday dinner with dancing and the Spring Fling, a family friendly event with free activities for children throughout the gardens.

Private events, weddings, parties and conferences may be held in the castle’s 3,000 square foot ballroom, built in 1885. High tea is served in the ballroom daily for visitors.

145 Camp Rd, Dunedin 9077, New Zealand

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More Ideas in New Zealand: The Tree Church

The Tree Church in Ohaupo, New Zealand is a church made from living trees. Each of the trees that make up the church and surrounding grounds has been carefully selected for its quality and style of growth. The living church is surrounded by three acres of gardens, living tree fences and boundaries, a living labyrinth, and garden walks, and is designed as a place to contemplate and enjoy nature.

Leptospernums, or the Teatree, were selected to make up the walls of the church. The flowering species is native to New Zealand and honey from the tree’s flowers is said to have healing, antibacterial properties. The tree’s leaves have a copper sheen, enhanced by trimming every six weeks. The cut-leaved Alder, or Laciniata, was used for the church’s roof, due to its flexibility and the sparse canopy that allows sunlight into the space. The natural light keeps the church free from the need for electricity and helps maintain the growth of the grassy ground cover. Additional trees supporting the church include the Camelia Black Tie, a bright red rose, the Acer Globosum, also known as Norway Maple, a small tree that grows a dense, symmetrically round crown of leaves, and Thuja Pyramidalis, a conical shaped evergreen native to New Zealand.

The church’s alter is made of Italian marble from Lake Cuomo, and has personal significance for the church’s owner, Barry Cox, as it originally served as the alter at his home church in Shannon, New Zealand.

Throughout the gardens, guests will also see oaks and maples, Beech trees, Ginkos, the evergreen Poplar, the conifer Taxodium, or Cypress tree, and the Black Tupelo, or Nyssa tree. Bog gardens, a cut flower garden and a vegetable garden are also located on the grounds. A pond of water lilies is surrounded by weeping willows. A labyrinth walk is based on the design of the city of Jericho in 460 BC. The unicursal labyrinth has no dead-ends. Visitors enter at the single entrance and follow the circular pattern to the center, then back out again. The 7 circles of the Jericho labyrinth historically represent the circle of life itself; from the outer circle of death, to the inner circle of eternity.

History: The creator of the Tree Church, Barry Cox, has always been fascinated by churches and their history, and spent much of his young adult life traveling the world to visit the most famous cathedrals. Cox owned a service that safely uprooted and transplanted trees, and he used this experience and knowledge in his personal Tree Church project, as he set out to create something that honored the beauty of churches he long admired.

In 2007, Cox built the iron frame of the church and carefully planted the trees, which he has since been training to grow around the frame. Ultimately, the iron frame will be removed when the trees are sturdy enough to support the structure on their own.

Although Cox initially began the project for his personal enjoyment, he was convinced to open the gardens to the public in 2015. Soon after, Cox’s nephew asked about getting married in the church, and a new business was born. Cox currently has plans to plant a natural amphitheater behind the church, to be used for events, as well as plans to expand the English garden surrounding the labyrinth.

Ongoing Programs and Education: The Tree Church is open to the public seasonally, closing for the winter. Visitors pay an admission fee to walk the grounds and spend a day enjoying the landscape. Although there is no food or drink available at the gardens, guests may bring their own picnic lunches. Day visitors are asked to respect the Tree Church and surrounding gardens as they would any church, and are encouraged to quietly enjoy their time on site.

The church itself can seat up to 100 guests for weddings and other events, and is available for event rental. There is also a covered outdoor pavilion available that can seat up to 60 under cover for receptions and other events.

What’s Nearby: The Tree Church is consistently voted Number One among things to do in Ohaupo. Nearby, visitors interested in nature and the outdoors will also find Hamilton Gardens, a conceptual nature park that has recreated historical garden concepts from throughout the world, and Yarndley’s Bush, a natural forest offering hiking and trails, nature and wildlife viewing.

119 West Road M, Ohaupo 3881, New Zealand, Phone: 6-42-76-90-31-05

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