Day Trips from Dunedin New Zealand

Dunedin is a truly fascinating city packed with history, contrast, character, and a multitude of attractions. An underrated gem, Dunedin has lots to offer the city explorer – delightful city streets, beautiful beaches, hidden coves, and forested hills. Dunedin is also an excellent base for day-tripping, with several outstanding destinations within just a few hours’ drive.

A gateway to the Otago Peninsula, this southern city nurtures a wealth of historical architecture such as Larnach Castle, Dunedin Railway Station, and Knox Church to name but a few. Dunedin also boasts an abundance of wildlife experiences – penguins, albatross, sea lions, and fur seals may be found at the Royal Albatross Centre located at Taiaroa Heads.

This article will explore some of the best one-day road trips you can easily take from Dunedin. We have three Pegasus Rental Car locations from which you can hire one of our economical Pegasus rental vehicles and explore the South Island at your own pace. And if you decide to linger a little longer at these destinations, you can find convenient accommodation options close by.

Dunedin to Te Anau

scenery of lake te anau overlooking mountains.

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Te Anau is only 290km from Dunedin. Nestled on the edge of a lake, it is a base to the glacier-carved Fiordland National Park and an entrance-way to the Milford Sound. This region is home to the flightless takahē bird and trout. Te Anau Caves feature a limestone cavern of glowworms and an underground waterfall. To the southwest, the Kepler Track winds through beech forests, glacial valleys, and mountains.

Dunedin to Lake Tekapo

Lake Tekapo with wild flowers in the background.

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In the heart of the Mackenzie Country lies Lake Tekapo, just a 3½ hour drive from Dunedin. This beautiful lake provides one of the most exquisite views in New Zealand, so have your camera ready!

Snuggled into the base of Mt. John overlooking Lake Tekapo and the mountains beyond you will find Tekapo Springs. This heated alpine outdoor hot pool is a great way to relax, swap travel stories with other visitors, and enjoy the majestic views.

On your drive to Lake Tekapo, you will find Huriawa Peninsular 35km from Dunedin. This peninsula is steep, rocky, and stretches east for approximately 1000 metres from the mainland at the mouth of the Waikouaiti River.

hiking trail along the Huriawa Peninsula cliff.

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You can enjoy a walk around Huriawa Peninsula on a well-formed, safe, child-friendly walking track. Take in spectacular views of the Taiaroa Heads to the south and Butterfly Bay to the north. Traverse spectacular blowholes – where the incoming tide is forced up through the gaps in the rocks, creating an impressive display.

Dunedin to Invercargill

night view of Invercargill.

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In the early 1850s, settlers from Dunedin began purchasing land further south for their sheep runs. Over time, these accumulations of land grew to form Invercargill, New Zealand’s southernmost city.  It has charming Scottish heritage, friendly locals, and plenty to do only 2½ hours away from Dunedin.

In the centre of Invercargill is Queens Park, dubbed one of the most important parks in NZ! You will need several hours to explore the Queens Park Aviary, gardens, and botanical attractions.  It is always great on a road trip to find a place for the kids to burn off some energy, and in the Queens Park recreational areas and animal reserve, there is plenty of space for them to run around.  This makes Queens Park a veritable wonderland for children.

Sunset at Nugget Point Lighthouse over looking ocean.

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Should you wish to take the more southern, scenic route to Invercargill, you can travel towards Nugget Point, where you will find the most iconic land-forms on the Otago coastline. Located at the northern end of the Catlins coast, this steep photo-perfect headland is surrounded by rocky islets, with a lighthouse at its tip.

beach scenery at The Catlins.

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From Nugget Point you can take a short 67km drive towards The Catlins. It is rugged and remote, with large expanses of native rainforest and abundant wildlife. The Catlins remain mildly populated, unspoilt and scenic, with lots of outdoor adventures on offer such as bush walks, cycle trips, mountain biking, kayaking, surfing and fishing.

fossilised remains of ancient forests at Curio Bay.

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Curio Bay, a short trip from The Catlins is just 33 minutes away. This is where you can find the rarest penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin with only 1600 breeding pairs in existence. It is also the home of fur seals, sea lions and Hector’s dolphin can be sighted. What’s more, fossilised remains of ancient forests can be explored at low tide.

If you wish to catch a glimpse of the yellow-eyed penguin but are not travelling to the deep south, you can visit the Penguin Place, a 39-minute drive from Dunedin.  A private conservation reserve, this is an entirely tourism-funded venture that was established in 1985 when there were only 8 breeding pairs of yellow-eyed penguins in the region!

Dunedin to Christchurch

aerial view of Dunedin harbour.

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Located 360km away, Christchurch is the second most populous and largest city in the South Island, known for its English heritage and beautiful gardens. Christchurch became a city by Royal Charter (formal grant issued by a monarch) on 31 July 1856, making it officially the oldest established city in New Zealand.

boat on a river along the Dunedin river.

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Christchurch is the city of exploration and is constantly evolving, giving locals and visitors new places to explore and plenty of things to do.  A vibrant city, you can expect colourful street art and innovative projects to discover, a bustling hospitality scene with pop-up bars and well-established green spaces.

boulders along the Moeraki Boulders Beach during sunrise.

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Travelling north on State Highway 1 towards Christchurch, Moeraki Boulders Beach is only an hour’s drive from Dunedin. You simply cannot drive along the North Otago coast without stopping to appreciate these mysteriously spherical stones scattered across the beach. Each boulder is a calcite concretion approximately two metres high and weighing a few tonnes each and formed about 65 million years ago.

Ready to Enjoy a Day Trip from Dunedin?

With such an array of day trips from Dunedin, and now that you are equipped with ideas and information on some of the most incredible places to visit, you can start planning your perfect adventure and book with Pegasus today!