Whether your itinerary is for an intrepid explorer or a culture vulture, Dunedin has your bases covered if you have little ones in tow.
1. A day at the museum
For a city of its size, Dunedin is over-endowed with world-class museums, spanning natural science, social history and fine arts. Otago Museum recently celebrated its 150th Birthday, and the strength of its appeal spans right across that. The Animal Attic – in all its Victorian museum glory hosts the extensive taxidermy collection – including their very own Rat King. The newly built science discovery centre Tuhura holds hours of wonder and includes the three-storey Tropical Forest where you can wander through humidity and hundreds of exotic butterflies.
Toitū Otago Settlers Museum uses interactive displays and portrait galleries to introduce mana whenua and colonial settlers; showcases a range of vintage vehicles, from steam trains to trolley buses; and the first computer in the city, a monster built for Cadbury’s in 1963.
A short walk from there to the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, a thing of beauty itself through its reuse of an old department store building. Current exhibitions include waterfalls, giant mosaic carpets, a collection of telephones and a film following French football legend Zinedine Zidane for those with sportier inclinations.
2. Outside over there
In recent years the city has amassed an impressive collection of vibrant street art murals. Grab a map to show you around, or you can organise a guided tour.
You don’t have to travel far for spectacular natural views. Fifteen minutes drive from the Octagon gets you to Tunnel Beach, with its grand arches carved by the sea and staircase down through the rock carved by hand by James Cargill for his family to access the beach in 1870.
Another half hour takes you out along the top of the Otago Peninsula, with amazing views dropping away on both sides, to Lovers Leap. This stunning vantage point is part of the Sandymount Track, which is about an hour round trip.
Back in the city, the playground at Marlow Park in St Kilda has been an iconic destination for generations and if it all gets a bit much you can wander along the beach to the coastal St Clair Salt Water Pool, open to the elements and for the summer season from October 1st.
3. Gorging with your gastro-gnome
Some refuelling will no doubt be in order, so drag out your best elastic-waisted trousers for a mini foodie adventure. If our toddler set the menu, we’d start every day with pancakes. The range of gourmet options at Capers are often decadent but always delicious.
If you’re lucky enough to be in town over the weekend, the Otago Farmers Market at the Railway Station is bustling and stacked with brunch options, pastries, buskers and (often) face painting.
The wood-fired pizzas from Vogel St Kitchen are a winner for lunch, or, if you can wait until dinner time, Etrusco at the Savoy is a boisterous pizza and pasta place loud enough not to worry about surprise tantrums.
A little something sweet to finish? Where else but the Rob Roy Dairy, with its legendary ice cream cones of truly formidable size.
4. Retail therapy
No break in a bustling metropolis is complete without giving the local cash registers a hammering. The Children’s Room & Book Shop is tucked in down the back of the University Book Shop (UBS) and has an incredible selection for readers of all ages. Settle into a beanbag to pore over your options, or join them for Story Time on a Friday or Saturday.
Museum gift shops are well worth a look. Plenty of old time games at Toitū and fodder for young science minds at the Otago Museum.
If you’re after something for other people’s children, there’s a global range of percussion instruments at Trade Aid (and a solid range of wooden toys beyond that). For the sweet-toothed internationalist, Granny Annie’s Sweet Shop is a world tour of confectionary that will do wonders for energy levels and sleep patterns.
5. Dunedin city limits
Dunedin is the second largest city in the country by area, so go for a day trip out towards one of its boundaries. Head to Middlemarch and if you can carve out some time around the Rock and Pillar Range then you could do much worse than a wander around the Sutton Salt Lake.
Elsewhere on the Taieri, you can take a picnic to the Taieri Historical Park – a collection of relocated classrooms, courtrooms and the like – followed by a dip in the nearby watering hole. As the locals are fond of telling you – it’s always three degrees warmer on the Taieri!