A student’s guide to living in Dunedin
Dunedin is a small city of approximately 120,000 people but don’t let that fool you. Dunedin is a top choice for international students who are looking to get away from an urban and fast-paced lifestyle while experiencing the prestige of a world-class education.
What makes the city outstanding is the focus on culture, education and its natural and wildlife wonders.
Dunedin is among the best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian cities in the Southern Hemisphere and the only city in New Zealand to be designated as a UNESCO Creative City of Literature in 2014.
Popular activities in Dunedin
While Dunedin is small, there’s a lot to see and do, especially if you love culture, arts and the outdoors.
Spend the day at St Clair Beach
Dunedin is a coastal town, so scenic beaches are aplenty and most require only a short trip from Dunedin’s city centre.
If you’re staying at the University of Otago, then St Clair Beach is probably going to be your #1 beach hangout.
Located only a 10-min car trip or a short bus ride from Campus, St Clair Beach is great for surfers and has plenty of surfing lesson options for anyone looking to learn.
For those who aren’t surfers or don’t want to step into the cold waters of the South Island, St Clair Beach also has an outdoor hot salt water pool at the southern end of the beach.
If you’re living in Dunedin, there are plenty of other beach options to check out. For an extensive list, visit DunedinNZ.
Explore Dunedin’s heritage
Originally modelled after Edinburgh in Scotland, Dunedin has some of the world’s best-preserved Victorian and Edwardian buildings, castles and gardens that are simply worth exploring.
If you love culture and cheap outings, then the Otago Museum is your first stop – located only minutes’ walk from the University of Otago. Once you’re done, you can take a 20 minute walk down the road to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, the Lan Yuan Chinese Garden or the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum.
Located right near the museums and galleries is the Dunedin Railway Station, and if you love historical architecture then it’s worth the visit – even if you’re not taking the train anywhere. You can top off your day trip with an outing to some Dunedin city of literature top spots nearby.
Admission to public museum and galleries are completely free, with a small fee for ticketed sections, exhibitions, events and the Lan Yuan Chinese Gardens.
Walk up and down Baldwin street (if you can)
Dunedin is home to the steepest street in the world, and it’s become a cultural icon for locals and tourists alike.
Baldwin street is a residential street, not unlike many other residential streets you see in Dunedin or New Zealand, except for the fact that it's so steep you won’t see any cars parked on the side of the road.
Baldwin Street has become one of Dunedin’s hotspots with many tourists or group tours taking the challenge to climb, bike, scoot or walk up the road. When you succeed, you’re rewarded with a great view and a stylish resting bench that explores the history of the street.
Baldwin street is also a local icon with the Cadbury Jaffa Race street party taking place each year in Winter, where the focus of the festival is quite literally to watch 75,000 orange-flavoured chocolate balls roll down the road.
Cost of living
The costs of living in Dunedin, like any other city, will ultimately depend on your accommodation choices and your lifestyle preferences.
Accommodation can cost you anywhere between NZ$150–$400 per week depending on where you choose to live, if it’s shared rental, homestay or halls of residence accommodation, and what extra amenities are included.
There will also be different student accommodation options from each university, so it’s worth getting in touch with them for guidance on finding the right accommodation options based on your requirements and preferences.
Each university will also have their own estimated cost of living that’s specific to the university and the region.
As an example, the University of Otago in Dunedin recommends at least NZ$15,000–$17,000 per academic year for halls of residence and shared private accommodation lifestyle expenses, and the NZ Government recommends between NZ$14,000-$16,000 per year minimum for living expenses.
Estimated weekly costs (NZD)
If you want a more detailed estimate of living costs in Dunedin, you can check out Expatisan’s Cost of Living calculator.
Places to shop
Figuring out where to go for day-to-day purchases can be intimidating for newly arrived international students.
The main supermarket chains in New Zealand are Countdown, Pak'nSave and New World, and all three are located throughout Dunedin.
If you’re living close the University of Otago or the city centre, your best options are New World Centre City or Countdown Dunedin Central. There’s also Uni Mart if you are looking for Asian food, snacks and produce.
While all supermarkets will offer all staples and snacks at an affordable price, it is often specific brands or the range of international and dietary-specific foods that can vary across the supermarket chains.
Dunedin also offers local fresh food markets, various independent grocers and Diaries (small superettes). You can visit the Dunedin Guide to Buying Local to find out more.
Dunedin has a range of shopping options, from local and vintage lifestyle stores to conventional fashion retail outlets and second-hand stores.
There are 3 main shopping malls located in Dunedin’s city centre that will cover everything from fashion and pharmacy to video games and electronics: Golden Centre, Meridian Mall and Wall Street Mall.
There are also boutique fashion strips such as Edinburgh Way on George Street or Moray Place.
To explore more options, you can visit Dunedinnz’s Shopping in Dunedin webpage.
Getting around Dunedin
Dunedin is a small city with plenty of public and private options to get around.
To make getting around even easier, the Dunedin City Council in conjunction with the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic, have released Smart Travel app for passengers to find all travel options available, including carpooling, cycling, walking and public transport.
The most common way to get around Dunedin is through the Otago Region Bus Network, or Orbus.
The Orbus network operates affordable and frequent public transport around Dunedin and surrounding areas.
To use the bus network, you have the option of paying for your fare in cash directly to the driver, or if you're a frequent traveller then you can purchase a cheaper and reloadable bus card to pay your fares.
Newly arrived International students can read through the Otago Regional Council’s Bus101 for students and find out how to get started, including how to get discounted student rates.
Private transport is another option for getting around, and the two most popular forms are taxis and ride-sharing services.
The main taxi options in Christchurch are Green Cabs (who are also environmentally friendly), Dunedin Taxis and Southern Taxis. You can use the online Taxi Calculator to get an estimate on your fares.
If you prefer ride sharing, then Uber and Ola are available in Dunedin.
If you are adept with a bicycle, then cycling is an increasingly popular way to get around Dunedin.
The Dunedin City Council is continuously making improvements to encourage more people to consider cycling and ensure the city is bike-friendly.
To get started with biking in Dunedin, the first stop is to check out Dunedin City Council’s New to Cycling in Dunedin Guide and view the City Cycling Route Map to plan your bike journeys.
Unique places to dine out
Dunedin’s choice of eateries showcases the city’s focus on fresh and wholesome ingredients with an inspiring mix of local and international tastes.
Dunedin’s culinary scene is growing and expanding, and keeping up with current trends and latest restaurant offerings can be difficult.
If you're interested in sampling a curated mix of Dunedin’s lunch, dinner, casual meal and drink venues, Dine Dunedin is a great place to keep up to date with Dunedin’s culinary events and special promotions.
For everyday options, you can always check out TripAdvisor’s Top 10 lists to find out what’s buzzing in Dunedin’s dining scene.
Speight’s Ale House
Located only 5 minutes’ drive or a short walk and bus trip from Otago University and Otago Polytechnic, Speights Ale House combines history, beer tasting and great pub food all in one.
The Speight’s Ale House is the original ale house that first opened in 1876, and re-opened in 1999 with work done to include the brewery tour and shop.
There’s a great range of traditional kiwi ales and beers to accompany lunch, dinner or takeaway. A 2-course lunch or dinner option starts at NZ$27.50–$35, but you can also order individual dishes off the menu, starting at NZ$16.
Best outdoor adventures near Dunedin
One of the best features of choosing to study in the South Island of New Zealand is the sheer amount of natural and wildlife wonders around the corner.
So, if you are studying in Dunedin and want to to get out and about, you can visit the Dunedin i-SITE Visitor Centre and chat to the staff for more ideas and options. Otherwise, here’s out top 3 ideas.
Spend a day at Koekohe Beach
One of the best and most unique day trips is the well-known Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach, a 1-hour drive north of Dunedin.
The Moeraki Boulders are a collection of round, very large 4-million year old stones, and is one of the most popular attractions throughout the South Island. Not to mention, the stones make for some amazing photography!
To get there, you can hire a car or jump on one of the group tour or bus options departing from Dunedin. Intercity Bus fares can start around NZ$26–$30 return if you don’t mind a 20-minute walk, otherwise private and group tour transport will take you straight there at a higher cost.
See the wildlife
The South Island is home to some of the world’s rarest wildlife, and many of them are a short distance or a day trip from Dunedin.
Some of the wildlife such as penguins and seals can be seen along the beaches, but for the best viewing it’s recommended to jump on a wildlife tour or book in with Penguin Place.
Dunedin is known as the wildlife capital of New Zealand, with the Orokonui Ecosanctuary only 25 minutes’ drive from Dunedin centre with additional transport options available from the sanctuary.
There are many more options to view rare animals near Dunedin. For more ideas, check out DunedinNZ’s Wildlife on the Otago Peninsula or drop by to the i-SITE Visitor Centre in Dunedin’s city centre.
If you’re looking for a day trip, then spending the day (or more) in Queenstown offers up a diverse range of experiences.
Queenstown is a massive tourist town. Once you’ve arrived in Queenstown, there are tours and tourist services on every street. You can even plan ahead and catch some great adventure or dinner deals through bookme.
From the Queenstown City Centre, you can walk around the town to sample restaurants, ride the gondola or the luge, check out NZ’s scariest haunted house adventure, go on a Lord of the Rings tour or take a boat cruise down Lake Wakatipu.
If you’re an adrenaline junkie then there’s plenty of bungee jumping, skydiving, mountain climbing, white water rafting, tandem gliding and much more.
Getting there is easy. The journey is a 4-hour and 20-minute ride on the Intercity bus, with fares around NZ$50+ return with occasional specials and discounts available.
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