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6 of the Best Things to Do in Port Chalmers, Dunedin

6 of the Best Things to Do in Port Chalmers, Dunedin

Port Chalmers is the main port in Dunedin and is the place you’ll arrive at if visiting on a cruise. It’s worth visiting even if you’re not boarding a boat there – there is heaps to see including some great viewpoints, plenty of old buildings and some nice shops and cafes. It’s also close to some of Dunedin’s top tourist spots, including Mount Cargill and Orokonui Ecosanctuary.

Downtown Port Chalmers

The main street in Port Chalmers is lined with cafes, boutique shops and galleries (along with the slightly more unglamorous dairies and “local” pubs). It’s a nice place to wander and is photogenic due to the large number of old buildings.

Old buildings in Port Chalmers, Dunedin, New ZealandThe main street in Port Chalmers, Dunedin, New Zealand

You might see the Flying Whale, a large mural, painted on the side of the cruise terminal. If you’re a fan, check out the Flying Whale Gallery on the main street of Port Chalmers. They sell prints of that piece as well as heaps of other stuff — it’s always nice to buy art from local places like this. Also check out Port Chalmers Maritime Museum if you’re interested in that kind of thing.

Viewpoints Above Town

If you’ve got a car it’s best to drive to these viewpoints, although you could see them on foot if you had to. First up is Centenary Lookout, just above town on Blueskin Road. You’ll drive past this place when going to Orokonui and beyond. From there you’ll get a good view over the port and harbour, and you might even see some wild chickens.

READ MORE: 30 Stunning Viewpoints in Dunedin

There’s also a good view of the Port Chalmers from Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell — go at the right time of year and you should see some flowers.

Next up is the Flagstaff Lookout, which gives you a look at Port Chalmers from a different angle.

Looking over the port in Port Chalmers, Dunedin, New Zealand

Finally, you’ll get some great views of Otago Harbour from Island Terrace (just up the hill from town). There are a few seats up there — a good spot for a picnic on a sunny day. There isn’t much parking up there so you’ll need to leave your car on the street (we parked at the bottom of Island Terrace and walked up).

Viewpoint in Port Chalmers, Dunedin, New Zealand

Back Beach

Below that viewpoint I just mentioned is a gravel road with some boat sheds. This seems to be favourite place for locals to go for a stroll with their dogs or a dip in the harbour. Back Beach is also the departure point for ferries to Quarantine Island or across the harbour to Portobello.

Quarantine Island / Portobello

Quarantine Island sits in the middle of Otago Harbour between Port Chalmers and Portobello. It’s historical use is obvious from its name — these days it makes for a fun little excursion allowing you to see Otago Harbour from a different perspective. Catch the Port to Port ferry to visit Quarantine Island, or you can take it across to Portobello (cyclists doing the harbourside cycling track use this service a lot).

Port Chalmers to Portobello

There’s a cycling track most of the way between Portobello and Port Chalmers. The Port to Port track (it runs right next to the main road) is a popular cycling route in Dunedin, and the ferry service means you can cycle it one way and then catch a boat back to whichever side you started on.

The Hills Above Port Chalmers

Above Port Chalmers you’ll find plenty of beautiful views. The best place to see them is from Mount Cargill – you can drive right to the top but it’s a bit hard to reach if you’re coming from Port Chalmers. If that’s the case, your best bet is to park on Mount Cargill Road (there’s a small car park) and walk up to the top via the Organ Pipes, obviously you can just drive if you want to avoid exercise though! Or you could walk all the way from Port Chalmers via Grahams Bush.

Hiking to the top of Mount Cargill, Dunedin, New Zealand

Orokonui Ecosanctuary is the other iconic Dunedin tourist attraction close to Port Chalmers. It’s home to heaps of native New Zealand birds and is a predator free environment.

A tiny bird at Orokonui Ecosanctuary, Dunedin, New Zealand

Other places to visit nearby include Careys Bay (home to a famous pub / café / restaurant), Heyward Point and Aramoana Beach. This is also the start of the scenic route to Oamaru – so many great beaches and coastal views on that drive!

Getting to Port Chalmers

It’s best to drive, but if you’re relying on public transport you can catch a bus to Port Chalmers (bus 14) and walk to most places. If you’re arriving in Port Chalmers on a cruise ship you can organise a tour (get in touch with me if you’re looking for a private driver) or bus into town and explore the city centre of Dunedin. There are so many options – Dunedin is New Zealand’s nicest city after all!

Are you planning on holidaying in New Zealand? Don’t miss our South Island Travel Guide!

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Jon Algie

I'm a South Island local -- born in Timaru and raised in Dunedin. I left the island in 2006 and returned 10 years later. Having seen a good chunk of the world I realised how special this place is -- the most beautiful island in the world! Seven years (and almost 400 posts) later I'm still helping locals and tourists alike plan their trips around the South Island.