By now you’ve probably heard that Dunedin is the most scenic city in New Zealand and that you should definitely spend a few days exploring it. While there are plenty of viewpoints and beaches that you can drive straight to, it’s worth hitting the trails to see some of the best of what Dunedin has to offer. I’ll show you the best walks in Dunedin, and conveniently divide them up into difficulty levels. All you have to do is pick one (or all of them) and enjoy the views!
Short Walks in Dunedin
These Dunedin short walks will take you less than an hour and are suitable for most levels of fitness.
John Wilson Drive
For most of the day the last couple of kilometres of John Wilson Drive is closed off, but you can still walk all the way along to Lawyers Head. This road sits above the long expanse of St Clair / St Kilda Beach and there are some awesome views to be had. You can access the beach via a few tracks down the hill or you can stay on the road and enjoy the views. If you’re looking for an easy (and very scenic) short walk in Dunedin this could be your best bet.
The Sandymount Track used to be a lot longer, but due to safety reasons a lot of it is currently shut off. There are still some nice things to see though, including amazing views over Allans Beach and Hoopers Inlet. The two main viewpoints should take less than an hour to see and while there is some uphill walking involved it’s pretty easy.
READ MORE: 30 Stunning Viewpoints in Dunedin
The track to Nicols Falls is easy enough, but it does get muddy so that’ll add an extra layer to it. It’s a forest walk with very little in the way of views to see along the way, but the waterfall at the end is spectacular, especially after rain. There’s also a track nearby where you can see glow worms (at night, obviously!).
This is the perfect track to walk when exploring the Otago Peninsula. It’s on the way to the main sights such as Larnach Castle and Sandfly Bay and you’ll get incredible views of Otago Harbour from the top. It’ll only take you 10 minutes or so to walk the Soldiers Memorial Track, making it a great option for people who usually avoid hikes.
One of the most unique places to hike in Dunedin is the Orokonui Ecosanctuary. It’s full of colourful native birds flying through the forest and there are tracks to suit all levels. If you’re really into birds it might be best to hire a guide, although we saw bellbirds, tuis and kakas without a guide.
There are several interesting things to see at Taiaroa Head, and the best way to do it is to park up and walk around a bit. You can visit the albatross centre to look at the famous birds, walk down to Pilots Beach (you might see little blue penguins) and admire the cliff side viewpoint looking towards Taiaroa Head Lighthouse.
Longer Dunedin Walks
These Dunedin hikes will take a little longer and may involve tougher uphill sections. Still though, for anyone with any hiking experience they shouldn’t pose many problems.
From the car park above Sandfly Bay you can either walk the short track to a viewpoint or continue past that and down to the beach. You’ll have to walk down (and back up) some steep sand dunes but it’s a fun thing to do, and the beach is easily worth closer inspection. You can also walk down from the Sandymount side, which seems like it’ll take a little longer.
The Ross Creek network of tracks weave their way through a forest close to the city. There’s a big reservoir, a waterfall and lots of nice sections of bush. It’s mostly aimed at exercising locals but it’s a fun place to walk close to the city (you could catch a bus there if you wanted).
Karetai Road Track
If you’re looking for some of the best views in Dunedin, you should head to the Karetai Road Track. It takes you up the hill above Smails Beach and eventually opens out to stunning views of the coastline south of Dunedin. It’s mostly uphill but it’s easy enough and there’s a great variety of views on offer.
The City and the Town Belt
The Town Belt runs along the hillsides above Dunedin city – you’re never far away from it (especially if you’re staying anywhere near George Street etc) and it can make for a nice place to walk in any conditions. For me, the best part of the Town Belt is Unity Park Lookout and the various viewpoints nearby. From there you could go to Jubilee Park, through the forest and then out to Maori Road. Follow that and you’ll eventually come to Otago Boys High School, which is housed in an impressive old building, and then down the hill to the Octagon. You’ll see heaps of nice old villas along the way, with the occasional view of the city and harbour.
The Harbour Cone
Otago Peninsula is a highlight of any trip to Dunedin, and one of the best places to see it from above is the Harbour Cone Track. It’s one of the highest points on the Peninsula and the view from the top is incredible.
The Heyward Point Track is one of my favourite walks in Dunedin, mostly because of the amazing view you get over Aramoana Beach and the Otago Peninsula. That view is easy to get to (maybe a 30 – 40-minute return walk) but it’s a good idea to do the rest of the track. You’ll get more angles above Aramoana Beach and then a great view over Kaika Beach at the end.
George Street to the Gardens and Baldwin Street
This little city walk (not official, I just made it up) takes you from George Street or the Octagon (or wherever your hotel is), past the Dunedin Railway Station, along to the University of Otago then to the Dunedin Botanic Gardens and Baldwin Street. Obviously, you can drive to all those places but if you’re after an interesting city walk in Dunedin this is a great option.
The Arches to Purakaunui Beach
This is another “unofficial” track. Start at the Arches (you can only pass through at low tide) and then along Canoe Beach, up to the headland between Canoe Beach and Purakaunui Beach and then along Purakaunui Beach to the calm waters of the inlet. It should take a couple of hours all up – don’t take too long or you won’t be able to get back through the Arches without getting wet!
READ MORE: 26 of the Best Beaches in Dunedin
Dunedin Day Walks
These are the longest walks in Dunedin (depending how you do them) and are home to some of the best views. Luckily there are short options for most of these tracks.
Mount Cargill and the Organ Pipes
You can drive right to the top of Mount Cargill, but if you’d rather walk there are some things you won’t see when driving. I’d recommend starting at the small car park on Mount Cargill Road and then walking up to the Organ Pipes, one of the most unique pieces of nature in Dunedin. From there you can walk up to the summit – it’s not the easiest walks but you can’t argue with the views!
The Pineapple Track
The Pineapple Track can be easy or hard, depending on how you do it. From the car park at the top of the hill you can walk along the first part of the track, where you’ll get the best views. From there the track heads all the way down the hill towards Woodhaugh Gardens. If you walk this far and your car is still at the top, you’ll have to walk all the way back. Or, organise someone to pick you up at the bottom and take you back to your car. Or just do the first part of the track – the views are best there anyway! You could also do Swampy Summit, which starts branches off the Pineapple Track.
Taieri River Track
The Taieri River Track is around 30 minutes’ drive from downtown Dunedin (past Tunnel Beach and Brighton). The track takes around forested coves and then up to some viewpoints above the river – you won’t see views like this anywhere else in Dunedin! It’s quite a long track (and you’ll have to walk all the way back if you don’t organise another car), so if you’re not up for the whole thing you can stop at the viewpoint above the river (pretty sure this is the best view).
The Silver Peaks
The Silver Peaks Scenic Reserve is the longest, and best walk in Dunedin. There are several different tracks to choose from, and there’s even a hut along the way which you can stay the night at. We decided to just do a day walk and spend around four hours on the trails. There are so many incredible views in the Silver Peaks – it may be the hardest hike in Dunedin but in my opinion it’s also the best!
Other Walks in Dunedin
I’ve heard Mount Charles is a great place to hike in Dunedin, although you have to get the landowners permission which we’ve never got around to doing. There are also lots of other tracks on the Otago Peninsula (including a few to Boulder Beach) and some more around Port Chalmers. The walks I’ve mentioned in this post are the highlights, but there is so much more to explore in Dunedin. Get out into the forests and coastal tracks and let us know what you find!
Are you planning a trip to Dunedin? Check out our list of the best things to do in New Zealand’s coolest city!
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