The drive from Dunedin to Oamaru offers up some stunning scenery and interesting history — you have to know where to stop though! You’ll have to ditch the main road from time to time, but you’ll see some beautiful beaches and viewpoints and the detours aren’t all that much longer than taking the main road. Keep reading to find out some of the best places to stop between Dunedin and Oamaru.
Driving from Dunedin to Oamaru
If you’re taking the main road and don’t stop, the drive from Dunedin to Oamaru should take around an 90 minutes. If you stop at all the places below, it’ll take a couple of days. If you have a few hours to kill choose a few places that look the most interesting (I’ll recommend the very best places to stop at the end of this post).
Port Chalmers to Waitati
You can take the main road out of Dunedin (and you should if you’re in a hurry), but if you want to see better views you should drive to Port Chalmers and then over the hill, which will eventually bring you out to the main road at Waitati. You’ll get some great views of Port Chalmers, the harbour and Otago Peninsula from above town and there are some nice old buildings in Port Chalmers.
If you want a bit of a detour you can head to the Heyward Point Track for one of the best views in Dunedin. You’ll also pass by the Orokonui Sanctuary — stop by if you want to see some native New Zealand birds in a predator-free environment.
In Waitati you can head to Doctors Point for an interesting beach walk or continue the main road towards Karitane. Hikers will want to check out the nearby Silver Peaks Scenic Reserve — it’s home to the best day walk in Dunedin.
READ MORE: 30 Fun Things to Do in Dunedin
The Scenic Road to Karitane
You won’t be on the main road for long before you reach another detour which takes you to Karitane. There are some great views along the way, especially at the big lookout above Karitane (it’d be hard to miss). You could also check out the old mental institution at Seacliff, although there isn’t much to see these days.
The Huriawa Peninsula in Karitane is a nice short walking track with spectacular coastal views. You can also check out Karitane Beach, which is one of the better beaches in the area. From Karitane you’ll re-join the main road (don’t worry — there are more detours to come!).
This small town might not look that interesting, but turn right off the main road and you’ll reach the stunning Waikaouiti Beach. You can climb the headland at the northern end of the beach for a good view (the track is a bit dodgy though so do it at your own risk) and then drive up the hill to the Matakana Farm Buildings. These red buildings, backed by the blue expanse of the Pacific Ocean, are the oldest surviving farm buildings in New Zealand. From there you’ll have to go back to the main road, where you’ll soon pass through a few small towns (Palmerston, Hampden, Herbert), which are decent places to stop for a bite to eat or a rest from the road.
The Tavora Reserve Track should take around an hour and there are some awesome views on offer. First you’ll walk to a deserted beach and then up the hill for expansive views both north and south. It’s pretty off the beaten path, meaning you’ll likely have this place all to yourself!
Shag Point is a cool place to stop if you want to see some New Zealand fur seals. I remember stopping there as a kid and seeing hundreds of them, and we saw a dozen or so on our most recent visit.
Kaitiki Point Lighthouse / Kaitiki Beach
You’ll get a good look at this long stretch of beach from the main road, and there are several car parks along its length where you stop for a quick walk along the beach. Just past the far end of the beach you’ll find the Kaitiki Point Lighthouse. The lighthouse itself isn’t that interesting but you’ll see an awesome view of Kaitiki Beach and, if you’re lucky, some baby fur seals.
We saw a group of around a dozen pups and it was one of the most adorable wildlife encounters we’ve had in New Zealand. You can also see yellow-eyed penguins if you’re lucky.
This small town is a popular holiday spot for locals over summer and there is a highly regarded seafood restaurant (Fleur’s Place) to check out. There’s also a nice walking track and a rugged beach to walk along. Check out our post about the best things to do in Moeraki!
This unique piece of New Zealand nature is located just off the main road (not in Moeraki Village). It’s basically a whole lot of (almost) perfectly round boulders lying on the beach. The Moeraki Boulders are best visited for sunrise, but it’s must-see place at any time. This is the most popular place to stop on the trip from Dunedin to Oamaru and if you’re only going to stop once, this should probably be the place.
Another detour from the main road takes you to Kakanui, a small town that’s popular with holidaying locals. There’s a nice beach right in town and another one at the northern end of town (All Day Bay) where you might find some paua shells (we found heaps there last time). It’s a popular spot for fishing and diving — take extreme care if you’re planning on entering the water as people have died there recently.
Kakanui to Oamaru
The good news is that you don’t have to backtrack to the main road from Kakanui — keep driving and you’ll get to Oamaru along the far more scenic Coast Road. There are some nice views along the way and the closer you get to Oamaru the better the scenery gets. The last beach before Oamaru is stunning and you can get a good view of it from above (if you don’t mind walking through some tussock).
I’m a big fan of this beach — I’m pretty sure it’s called Awanui Beach, but I can’t seem to find much info on it. From there it’s a short drive into Oamaru.
Dunedin to Oamaru: The details
It’ll take anywhere from a couple of hours to a whole day to do this scenic drive from Dunedin to Oamaru. There are heaps of places to stop (the ones I mentioned aren’t all of them) so it’s best to choose a few and go from there. If you only have a few hours to kill I’d probably advise you to choose the Matakana Farm Buildings, Huriawa Peninsula, Moeraki Boulders and the road between Kakanui and Oamaru. However you choose to do it, the drive from Dunedin to Oamaru will be a memorable one.
Are you planning a road trip around New Zealand? Check out our two-week South Island itinerary!
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