What to Do In Dunedin

Guinness World Records has decreed that Dunedin's Baldwin Street no longer has the title of the steepest street in the world. It's now held by a street called Ffordd Pen Llech in Wales. But disappointed Dunedin locals are pointing out that editor in chief Craig Glenday has admitted "Baldwin St is visually much more appealing, dare I say it, than Fford Pen Llech. It looks better & more convincing".

But let's start by repeating a blog we wrote about Baldwin St a couple of years ago.

"Last week the home-owners of Baldwin Street in Dunedin once again hosted the annual Jaffa race, in which 75,000 individually numbered Jaffas are released at the top of their street. So what exactly is a Jaffa? As you will see in our photo, it's a small round chocolate candy, contained within a thin orange crunchy shell and very popular with New Zealanders.

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We're not sure exactly what the Jaffa race rules are, but we understand there are 3 races in which 25,000 numbered Jaffas per race are released. Attendees are asked to "sponsor" one of the numbered jaffas for $1.00 and the first Jaffa to get to the bottom of Baldwin Street wins. More importantly however, since the first race was held in 2001, this event has raised over $600,000 for local charities. 

What makes the race so interesting is that Baldwin Street is officially recognized by the Guinness Book of Records as the steepest street in the world (gradient of 1:2.86, a 19-degree slope) 

Race time in Dunedin

Race time in Dunedin.

Baldwin Street is also a popular place throughout the year for taking photos (many based on optical illusions) as these examples show.

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And now, in July 2019, the 'steepest street' title has been lost and as reported by Radio New Zealand News, there are a few Dunedin locals who are having to think about just how they will adjust to having only the second steepest street.

Enterprise Dunedin director John Christie hopes the tourists will still come.

"Obviously a little bit disappointing to lose the title, but the nice thing is Baldwin Street is only one of a number of great different tourist products we have in the city, and we know that visitors will still want to come and have a look at what was the world's steepest street.

Guinness World Records editor in chief Craig Glenday said there has been some recent interest in the title of world's steepest street with six applications made since March last year, but until now none have been able to provide enough evidence to take the title.

"Or when they find the guidelines, they decide 'oh it's too much effort, I can't actually put the effort in' which suggests to me that they're not confident enough that their street is going to break the record."

He said there is always a chance that Fford Pen Llech could lose the title to some other street.

"We've all been on steep streets, the key is that you have to be able to prove it to us ... come to us with the evidence and if you can beat Fford Pen Llech, then fair enough, that's what we're here for is to constantly be updating the records."

Mr Glenday said often records will sit quietly under the radar, as may have happened with Dunedin, until someone suddenly pays attention to it which can smoke out a number of other applicants.

Mr Glenday said Baldwin Street has been a worthy title-holder.

"What I've really enjoyed about Baldwin Street is that it's a straight line, it's a very long straight road.

"You've got these incredible photographs if you take it at the right angle which looks like all the houses are at wonky angles. And visually it's much more appealing a street, dare I say it, than Fford Pen Llech, so it just looks better and it looks more convincing than as a steeper street."

Mr Glenday said it was also good to see people having fun with the steepness of the street with Jaffa-rolling races. He said it would be hard to do something similar in Wales.

"It hasn't got the instant visual impact and if you try and roll something down it, it won't go from top to bottom, particularly because it's too winding."

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Fortunately, Dunedin has other superlative attractions to fall back on to more then satisfy the discerning visitor. Here's what CNN Travel found when they made a visit.

"Dunedin, on New Zealand's idyllic South Island, isn't getting as many tourists as nearby Queenstown. But that's good news for travelers who want to experience the country's famous hospitality but aren't as keen on Hobbits.

Despite its low profile, Dunedin, whose name is the Scottish Gaelic word for Edinburgh, possibly making it more Scottish than Scotland -- has a quiet, understated cool.

As a university town, it is full of inexpensive eats, street art, craft beer and live music, not to mention cheery locals who are known to argue over who gets to stop and give you directions.

Here's a sampling of the best things to do in the town referred to as "Dunners."

(Just one thing before you go: it's pronounced "done-Eden.")

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Take photos at the Dunedin Railway Station

Dunedin Railway Station is so popular people come from around the world just to take pictures of it.

Dunedin's gray, gingerbread-esque railway station may not be in use anymore, but it has a purpose these days -- being the most photographed spot in all of New Zealand, according to some. Not only is the outside stunning. Head inside for a small gift shop and stained-glass windows depicting trains.

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Enjoy high tea at Larnach Castle

Larnach Castle was built in 1871.

As "the Edinburgh of the South," it makes sense that Dunedin has a castle -- the only one in the whole country.

Though the castle is a private residence, there are still some accommodations on the property, including in the stables. (They're really nice stables, though. Not the kind horses sleep in.)

Still, since Larnach is some ways from the city of Dunedin, a great option is heading there for high tea or a fancy dinner, complete with a proper Scottish-style blessing of the haggis. The best time to go? Burns Night, January 25, which is the birthday of Scottish national poet Robert Burns. The Kiwi summer weather is an added bonus.

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Have a flat white and a cheese roll at The Perc

Sure, it's no secret that New Zealand and Australia have vibrant coffee cultures.

But unique to the South Island is a snack called the cheese roll; basically, just cheese and onions rolled up inside a piece of soft bread, although many places add their own secret extra ingredients or flavorings and are loath to tell you their particular combination.

If you want a to-go snack, it's hard to beat something that already comes in roll form (here, you can order it as "South Island Sushi"), and it pairs well with a flat white, long black or the bespoke coffee of your choice.

However, The Perc is so cute that it's worth sitting down and having a proper meal; breakfast is the best, with lots of healthy avocado toast options, plus house-made muesli, porridge, bacon butties and a nice range of vegan and vegetarian options.

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Reward yourself with a Speight's beer

Being isolated means that it's easier and cheaper for Kiwis to make their own excellent beer than pay to import it from elsewhere.

One of those brands is Speight's, a now-ubiquitous national beer that traces its roots right here to Dunedin and brands itself "the pride of the south."

You can tour their Dunedin brewery year-round (three tours daily in the winter; six in the summer) and your admission ticket also includes some samples.

The brand's Gold Medal Ale is probably their most classic pour, but they also make cider and ginger beer.

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Smell the roses at the Dunedin Botanic Garden

Dunedin's botanic gardens are the oldest in the country.

Get your nature fix at Dunedin's sweeping Botanic Garden, which is free to visit almost every day of the year.

Because of its geography, the focus is mostly on plants from the southern hemisphere, but there's also a beautiful rose garden and a glasshouse full of warm-weather plants.

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Stock up at Hard to Find Books

Hard to Find Books is the largest bookstore in the Pacific.

Hard To Find Books is an aptly named multi-level shop full of, you guessed it, books that are hard to find.

You could easily spend a day hunting down long-lost titles in this biggest bookshop in the Pacific, but if you're not looking for anything specific your best bet is the New Zealand authors section -- win points by picking up something by Janet Frame, a local legend who lived and worked in Dunedin for much of her life. If the North Island is in your plans, there's also a Hard to Find outpost in Auckland.

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Explore the city's vibrant street art scene

Ed Sheeran is a popular street art subject in Dunedin.

Dunedin not only likes street art but actively encourages it, bringing in artists from around the world for special pieces. You can't turn a corner downtown without finding something special behind a parking lot or in an alley.

Keep an eye out for a piece dedicated to Ed Sheeran, who played three sold-out shows in Dunedin in 2017 and selfied most of his trip.

If you're hunting for a favorite artist, the Dunedin Street Art Council maintains a city map that features info on all the pieces and the artists who created them.

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Spot Yellow Eyed Penguins

Out on the Otago peninsula, about a 40-minute drive from central Dunedin, is the Royal Albatross Centre.

The site, as you may have guessed, is home to a colony of royal albatrosses -- this is their only breeding space in mainland New Zealand and you can sign up for a tour to see the birds (or, depending on the time of year, their nests) from a respectful distance.

And that's not the only animal who calls this area home.

Little yellow eyed penguins, also known by their Maori name of Kororā, are native to New Zealand and Australia. They're the tiniest -- and arguably the cutest -- species of penguin, but climate change, erosion, overuse of plastics, urban sprawl and other realities of modern life have endangered their communities.

To get the best view of the little guys, sign up for a sunset tour to see the birds return from the sea to the land when the sun sets.

In summer in New Zealand, sunset can be as late as 11 p.m., so the special New Year's Eve tour includes a celebratory glass of champagne at midnight.

Dunedin is included on many of our NewZealandVacations.com itineraries, including this favorite, the 12 Day The Heart of New Zealand Self Drive.

Lindsay Barron

Lindsay Barron • Jul 19, 2019