1. Port Chalmers Maritime Museum
This is one of the best little local museums you could hope to find – richly packed with artefacts from the town’s maritime past alongside artwork depicting the early days of Port Chalmers and other local curios. The model boats are fascinating. The museum is open daily 10am-3pm.
It’s the spot to really get a feel for what has made this town tick over the decades – chiefly piston-driven diesel engines and acres of sailcloth.
2. The Portsider
If an excellent, ever-changing selection of craft beer and top-notch pub food is just what you’re after, this is your spot in Port. Hans and Pip run a warm and welcoming establishment in this historic building.
Hans’ Dutch upbringing shapes the menu and his Bitteballen or Vegeballen are a delicious accompaniment to a glass of their fantastic beer. Wednesday night is steak night and tends to get very busy – testament to Hans’ skill with the skillet.
3. Aramoana Mole
The Mole is the long breakwater that extends out into the Pacific from the harbour mouth, its purpose to prevent sand from blocking the harbour entrance. The Mole’s construction over a century ago is something of an engineering marvel – the crumbling wooden structures on its eastern side are the remains of the railway that was constructed to carry the spill out across the water.
At least three intentionally-sunk shipwrecks lie hidden below the waves on that side as well. A walk to the very end positions you right in the belly of the sea, amid big swells and wildlife.
Shags fly past from the breeding colonies on Taiaroa Head across the harbour mouth and resting fur seals are often smelt before seen. From here you also get a sweeping view up the Otago coast. Many a visitor has fallen in love with Otago after a walk out here.
4. Orokonui Ecosanctuary
Since its inception in 2007 the Ecosanctuary has become a spot beloved by locals seeking solace from city life or showing friends and family around their home patch. Seeing takahē wandering around the lawn inside the entrance gate is just one highlight.
Walkers through this valley of remnant native forest soon meet kākā, bellbirds and tūī coming down to use the strategically placed feeding stations.
Even if the birds are quiet, the two-hour return walk to the bottom of the sanctuary is a meditative pleasure. There is also a good café and plenty of knowledge to be gleaned from the information panels and the enthusiastic staff.
5. Tunnel Beach
The track to Tunnel Beach, just south of Dunedin, descends through a tunnel cut into the rock by former landowner William Cargill for his family’s use and arrives in a spectacular setting of sandstone sculpted over the millennia by wind and rain.
If you’re going to spot a whale from the Otago shore, this may be the place to do it. Note the track is closed between August and October for lambing.