Located on the Otago Peninsula on the eastern seaboard of New Zealand's South Island, Dunedin is a thriving city of 125,000 with obvious links to Scotland in terms of history and architecture. In fact, the name means "Edinburgh" in Scottish Gaelic. Its popularity with cruise ship passengers is thanks to an easily navigable city centre, interesting museums and galleries, chocolate-focused Cadbury World, fresh seafood at a variety of restaurants and several interesting shore excursion options.
Looking to escape religious persecution at home, Scottish emigrants (including the nephew of Scottish poet Robert Burns) settled in the region, starting in the mid-1800s. Because they surveyed the land and planned the city carefully before starting to build, Dunedin is laid out in a way that makes exploration easy. The Octagon, an eight-sided plaza bisected by the city's main street, is the hub of the city, and most streets surround it in a simple grid. This is where cruise lines set up shuttle stops. Large parks and rolling hills add charm and rural character.
Dunedin started to grow in earnest after gold was discovered in the area in 1861. At first, just 150 men began digging, but soon up to 65 ships would arrive on a single day with new prospectors. The population of Dunedin doubled to almost 6,000 in the course of six months. By 1870, it was the biggest and wealthiest city in New Zealand. As expected, the fortunes of prospectors fluctuated, but a more lasting effect on the city's prospects came in 1882, when the first shipment of refrigerated meat left the port for Britain.
It's the oldest city in New Zealand, but don't let its age fool you. It's a lively place, with lots of young people, thanks to the University of Otago with its many buildings in the north end of the city. Dunedin is spotlessly clean and full of friendly, helpful people with a keen sense of hospitality. Life proceeds at a gentle pace, with Victorian and Edwardian buildings -- as opposed to skyscrapers -- built to charm, rather than stun.
The picturesque city is built in a narrow valley around the end of Dunedin Bay and is easily walkable. Two principal streets, Princes Street and George Street, start at the Octagon and head south and north, respectively. George Street is lined with shops, restaurants and cafes, including many familiar brands. The surrounding hills afford a view of Dunedin and its lush, green countryside.