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Where to stay in Dunedin - city or on the Otago Peninsula?

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My husband and I will be spending our final 2 days/nights of our 3 week New Zealand trip (February-early March) in the Dunedin area. We will be driving in from QT to arrive early afternoon to do some sightseeing around the town, then on our full day we will drive out the Otagao Peninsula to see as much as we can squeeze in (Royal Albatross Colony & Taiaroa Head, Yellow Eyed Penguin Preserve and Larnach Castle), and then we will have a partial day for a little more sightseeing before returning our rental car and flying out in the late afternoon.

We are in our early 60s, and looking for 4 star hotels/motels/inns. We can't decide whether to base ourselves in the city or on the Peninsula. So far the accommodations we are considering are Dunedin Palms or Bluestone on George (in the city), the St. Clair Beach Resort, and the Portobello Motel or Otago Peninsula Motel (on the Otago Peninsula). We would like your advice/recommendations on these specific places or others in similar price ranges. I am leaning toward the St. Clair beach or Otago Peninsula with a view for our last 2 nights in NZ.

Also, what else to see/do in Dunedin and a special final dine out location would be appreciated.

PS Diamantina, your responses to my posts so far have been helpful and we look forward to your additional thoughts here. Thanks!


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    I would suggest you stay in the city. You can easily fit the Peninsula into a day trip. It's a lovely drive. Stop at Larnach's for lunch then go to the Albatross Centre in the afternoon and you'll still be back in the city in time for dinner. If you stay out on the Peninsula it's a long way in and out to check out the rest of the city.
    Dunedin itself is very compact and if you're staying in town you can easily wander around.
    Check out the Botanic Gardens and make sure you drive down Baldwin St (the world's steepest street).

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    This will be a long posting.

    I have never overnighted in Portobello, though I have been there countless times. KWAussie is correct, Otago Peninsula is not far from the city and vice versa. I currently live above St. Clair Beach. and previously lived downtown. From downtown it's about 10 minutes to the start of Portobello Road, the road that curves along the harbor. From St. Clair, it's about 12 minutes to the start of Highcliff Road, the peninsula's high road.

    (It's best to go the peninsula on Highcliff Rd. and leave the peninsula on Portobello Rd. This way you see both roads, and this puts you on the less scary side of the road each way.)

    Another frequent poster on Fodor's forum, I think it may be RalphR but I can't be sure, has stayed both in the city and at Larnach Castle on the peninsula. It'd be great if he gave his opinion. You might try posting the new topic "Larnach Castle, Dunedin" I tried to look through the archives, but had no luck. I've never stayed at Larnach Castle. It has great views on a clear day, lovely gardens, but I hear the restaurant is so-so. It's convenient to peninsula attractions.

    I would check Trip Advisor reviews for the particular places you are interested in staying at. It's been accused of having bogus reviews, but I've found it reliable and useful.

    I honestly think you can wait until you get to NZ to book Dunedin as you'll be here at the end of your trip, but it's good you're thinking about your choices. The weather has been unusually foggy and wet this December, so who knows what will happen at the end of February/beginning of March? (It's normally a good time.) Dunedin has a loads of hotels, motels, self-contained accommodation, B&Bs, hostels, and even farm stays, so it's unlikely you'll have problems reserving nice accommodation a few days beforehand. And I don't know of any big events or conventions at the end of February/beginning of March that you have to worry about.

    About 10 days before coming to Dunedin, start checking for its 10-day forecast. It's far from infallible, but it'll give you an idea. This might determine where you might like to stay. A view place won't be as enjoyable if the weather is not clear.

    Even in bad weather, Taiaroa Head, the Albatross Centre/Blue Penguins Pukekura, Penguin Place and Larnach Castle will be worth visiting. You'll view the albatrosses from an enclosed hide. At Penguin Place, you mainly view the YEPs from camouflaged-covered trenches and hides. You'll need to dress warmly (and just in case bring a waterproof jacket) to see the Little Blue Penguins from the platform at Pilot's Beach because you will be exposed there.

    I generally book accommodation ahead (a couple of weeks) if I have some small, special place in mind, or if I know there is limited accommodation and I am going on a weekend (because it's not uncommon for folks from Dunedin to drive up to Tekapo or Mt. Cook, or down to the Catlins for the weekend) or during some special event. Places like Mt. Cook and Tekapo also receive many tour buses. I think rule of thumb is to always book your first stay, which I am sure you already know. If I book ahead, when possible I'll book places that allow for free cancellation 24 to 48 hours before arrival, this way no deposits are lost if I need to cancel outside this time frame. If I'm going to Queenstown or Cromwell, where there's plenty of accommodation, I'll book a few days, or a day before, or the morning of my stay, though I'll always check to make sure there isn't some event like Winter Games or Arrowtown Autumn Festival. I'll also book early and pay upfront if I see a special offer.

    I will try to list the advantages and disadvantages of each location, as I see them.

    Downtown: Convenient to inner city sites. Walkable to Speight's Brewery, I-Site (tourist services), Railway Station (and Taieri Gorge Railway and Saturday Farmers Market), Cadbury Chocolate Factory, Toitu Settlers Museum, City Art Gallery, and Otago Museum. A short drive to the enormous and beautiful Botanical Garden, Olveston House, steep Baldwin Street, and city views on Signal Hill. Dunedin was NZ's first great city, so there are a lot of 19th- century buildings in the city center (the Otago Boys School, the old prison and courts, the bell tower at the University, and more Lots of restaurants, shops, two big supermarkets. Even in the busy city center, you can find good accommodation on quiet streets and some have harbor views. Just a 10-15 minute drive from St. Clair Beach. If you enjoy classical music and are in the mood for entertainment, from March 1-9 there will be an Early Music Festival with evening and lunchtime concerts at different downtown venues. Cons: Can be busy in February and March, when university is in session and during days when cruise ships visit. One day a couple of weeks ago, 7,000 cruise ship passengers were in Dunedin. I would guess at least half caught the bus from the port to the Octagon and fanned out from there, which added to downtown foot traffic (but they're all back on their ships by around 5). When the city is grey with clouds, the city center can feel dark and gloomy. You'll have a longer drive to peninsula attractions than if you just stayed in Portobello.
    Here's the cruise ship schedule:

    St. Clair Beach accommodation: Ocean views. Directly opposite St. Clair Beach (along with contiguous St. Kilda Beach is 3 km long). St. Clair Beach is popular with surfers and dog-walkers. St. Clair Saltwater outdoor pool is great for lap swimming (open 6 a.m. to 7 p.m.). A half dozen restaurants and cafes, four of them with ocean views. A fish and chips shop, butchery, and small grocery store a few blocks away. Gorgeous Tunnel Beach track 10 minutes away. This is a regular neighborhood with mainly single family dwellings, so not as busy as the city center, but not as serene as the peninsula. Con: You will have to drive or take the bus to downtown attractions. You will have longer distances to drive to get to peninsula attractions, as opposed to staying on the peninsula. At high tide, the waves crash against the seawall. Would you be around your room enough to enjoy the ocean views and thereby justify the higher accommodation prices?

    Otago Peninsula/Portabello: As your only full day will be spent on the peninsula, this would be most convenient. This rural setting is quiet, serene and closest to peninsula attractions. Some places have good harbor views. Cons: Takes 20-25 minutes to drive to the city center. Not many restaurants or shops. Farther from the airport.

    I'm sure whatever you choose will be fine.

    For best restaurants, you should definitely look at this link below and check reviews on Trip Advisor (of these, No. 7 Balmac, Plato, Pier 24 and Two Chefs Bistro are in Dunedin):

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    I just googled Bluestone on George. It gets great reviews on Trip Advisor and and looks stylish, modern and comfortable. It is close to the Otago Museum and the University, not far from the Botanical Garden, about a 10 minute walk to the Octagon, so you probably wouldn't want to walk. It's above the road, which is good as this is a somewhat busy road. This might be a popular accommodation because of its proximity to the university.

    Dunedin Palms also gets good reviews and is closer to the Octagon, the Railway Station, Speights Brewery. Toitu Museum.

    There are other places to stay at St. Clair Beach besides the Hotel St. Clair.
    There is also
    It does not face the beach, but is one block from the beach. It's in an older building, probably not as luxurious but it gets good reviews.

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    Kwaussie & Diamantina - thanks for your responses - so much helpful information that is so much appreciated! I think we are now leaning toward staying in town at the Dunedin Palms.

    We aren't as comfortable with scheduling accommodations at the last minute even if it might get us better rates, so we have made most of our room reservations in advance as that will give us peace of mind.

    With an itinerary of stops and places to stay, now it is on to filling in our wish list of things to do. We are so excited!

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    You are welcome, Betty.

    I agree, peace of mind will help to reduce anxiety about your upcoming trip.

    I just remembered you won't be going to the Blue Penguin Colony because you've already been to Phillip Island. Yes, no need to once again stand in the dark and cold to await the Little Blue Penguins.

    Another thing to consider. Because you will be checking out at 10 a.m. and will not have to catch your flight until the afternoon (though I don't know what time) you might have a few hours to do a little last-minute, non-strenous sightseeing or to go for a leisurely lunch with a view.

    You can have the motel store your luggage while you walk or drive to nearby attractions that you've not yet seen, such as City Art Gallery, the Otago Museum, Botanical Garden, Baldwin St. and Signal Hill. When done, it would easy enough to swing by and pick up your luggage as it would be on your way to the airport. It would take about 35 minutes to get to the airport from there.

    Or you could drive to St. Clair Beach for lunch with an ocean view. It would be easy enough to keep an eye on your car, if you ate at Pier 24 as there are parking spaces right in front. Though I don't think you would have much of a problem here. The surfers leave all kinds of stuff on the esplanade while they're out on the waves and don't seem concerned.

    There's another nice restaurant with city and harbor views and nice food about a five minute drive from The Palms. It's called Luna.

    In Wellington, besides Te Papa, one of my favorite attractions is Zealandia. Free shuttles to Zealandia pick up from both near the I-Site office and at the top of the cable car (another must). Zealandia is best seen on a walking tour (you pay for entry but there is no extra charge for the tour). You'll learn about the history of the reserve and about the unique animals of New Zealand, plus your guide will know exactly where to spot the hard-to-find tuatara. There is a little bit of strolling required, but no strenuous hiking. The rare birds and tuatara are a real treat. It's an oasis in the heart of the city.
    You could catch the cablecar and then catch the shuttle to Zealandia from the top of the cable car. When finished at Zealandia, you can catch the shuttle back down to I-Site in the center again. Lots of shops and restaurants around here and the City Art Gallery is also nearby.

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