A Day Out on Otago Peninsula: Top Attractions and Things to Do

The Otago Peninsula is the home of the Royal Albatross, the endangered yellow-eyed Penguin, and the Blue Penguins. Other marine wildlife, such as one of the rarest seal species in the world, the New Zealand Sea Lions in their natural habitat.

Only half an hour’s drive from downtown Dunedin, the Otago Peninsula has two main roads passing through a picturesque landscape of gently rolling hills, secluded beaches, and clifftop faces.

On the 15th day of our New Zealand road trip, we arrived in Dunedin. Other than the natural attractions, the main reason for us to drive all the way there was to see the endangered yellow-eyed or blue penguins. Having checked in the motel in Dunedin, we headed out to the Otago Peninsula afterward.

Here were the things we did on that day: 

  • Driving along the two scenic roads
  • Join an organized tour at the Penguin Place
  • Watch Wildlife and enjoy ocean views at the headland of Otago Peninsula
  • Visit the Scottish Larnach Castle
  • Enjoy the beautiful Castle Gardens

Observation point of Penguin Place, Otago Peninsular, New Zealand

Driving along the two scenic roads

There are two main roads on the Otago Peninsula, Portobello Road and Highcliff Road. Portobello Road is a meandering coastal road that passes several small bays. There are several viewpoints on which we could take photos. But there was no way to park.

Highcliff Road goes up and down the rolling hills of the Peninsula. However, at some places, it gets too narrow to fit the traffic from both directions. There were a few picture points along the road. The Highcliff road is unbeatable beautiful.

Both roads offer incredible views. We drove the Highcliff road on the way to Royal Albatross Centre. At the end of the day, after the visit of Lanarch Castle and Garden, we followed the Portobello Road along the coastline.

Things to do in Otago Peninsular; New Zealand

Join an organized tour at the Penguin Place

Observation point

The yellow-eyed penguins are the rare species and usually come to the shores to their nests after dawn. Upon the booking of the interpretive tour, the staff told us that the chance to spot the yellow-eyed penguins would be pretty low.

At the beginning of the tour, our tour guide gave a complete introduction to the situation of their project and interesting aspects of penguins. Then, we got in an old van.  After a few minutes of driving, and then a few minutes of walking, we arrived at the observation point. On the beach, there were many nests built for penguins. We waited for about half an hour but didn’t see any penguins, but other marine wildlife such as seals. It would be a cool opportunity to see them in person and feel more engaging.

Rehabilitation centre

Back to the rehabilitation centre, we were able to see one yellowed-eyed penguin. It was too weak and needed care desperately.

In the rehabilitation centre we saw two more penguins.  One was hurt by the propeller of a boat, and the other might have been injured in a net. Both penguins were rescued and placed there.  Until they are recovered or strong enough, they will go back to nature.

It was a pity that we could not see any penguin in nature.  However, we admired people’s hard work devoted to the protection of this endangered yellow-eyed penguin species.

Rehabilitation centre in Penguin Place, Otago Peninsular, New Zealand

Watch Wildlife and enjoy ocean views at the headland of Otago Peninsula

The Royal Albatross Centre

It was already after lunchtime. We popped into the Royal Albatross centre to have a quick snack and coffee. There is a short introduction to the birds and the conservation efforts made on the Otago Peninsula. After having a quick look at the gift shop, we went outside to explore the headland.

Enjoy ocean views at the headland of Otago Peninsula

We followed a nicely made walkway to the edge of the cliffs. The Otago Peninsula has breeding colonies of New Zealand fur seals and Royal Albatross. A handful of Royal Albatross, as well as other marine mammals, were sunbathing on the sandy beach.

At the cliffside, we could see Taiaroa Head and the lighthouse of the peninsula. In front of me, the Pacific Ocean is shallow turquoise and endless broad. I have never seen such an empty and vast ocean before. It was paradise!

Fort Taiaroa and Armstrong Disappearing Gun 

Visitors can explore this fascinating Fort Taiaroa and view the only Armstrong Disappearing Gun of its type in the world, still in working trim, in its original gun pit.

You can book a tour in the centre to see the fort and learn more about Albatross. Or, book Royal Albatross Centre Tour online.

Several walkways give visitors access to many breathtaking views and sheer cliff faces. #Otago Headland; NEw Zealand

Enjoy ocean views at the headland of Otago Peninsula; Things to do on Otago Peninsular

Visit the Scottish Larnach Castle

Background of the Larnach Castle

In 1871, William Larnach, a merchant baron and politician started to build the Larnach Castle for his beloved first wife Eliza in the middle of the Otago Peninsula. It took more than 200 workmen in three years to build the Castle shell. Then, the European craftsmen spent a further 12 years embellishing the interior. In 1885 a 3,000 square foot Ballroom was added.

The castle features the finest materials, such as marble from Italy, slate from Wales, floor tiles from England, glass from Venice and France. Many New Zealand native woods were also used, such as kauri ceilings, rimu floors, and honeysuckle paneling.

The first owner and the current owner of the castle

The tragic story was, that the Larnach, as a man of a great version, the owner of a dream home, committed suicide later. Currently, the Castle is privately owned and cared for by the Barker family who purchased it as their home in 1967.

Functions of the castle

The Castle had also had many uses, such as a hospital for shell-shocked soldiers, and a nuns’ retreat. And the Ballroom was once even used as a sheep holding pen! Nowadays, the beautiful 3000 square foot Ballroom hosts events such as Weddings, Balls, Conferences, and Celebrations.

Scottish Larnach Castle, Dunedin, New Zealand

Enjoy the beautiful Castle Gardens

Features of the Castle Gardens

What we liked the most are the exquisite gardens. The castle gardens feature a Rock Garden, South Seas Garden, Rainforest Garden, marble fountain and wishing well. Different plants bloom throughout four seasons, such as Mexican Snowball, Tree Aeonium, Mountain Horopito, and Rimu.

It was the summer season when exploring the castle gardens. Some blooming plants turned the garden into a scented and visual delight.

The gardens are a natural wonderland. It stretches all the way from the doorstep of the castle to the edge of the ocean. At the end of the day, we enjoyed the panoramic views of the harbour and the Otago Peninsula in silence.


Situated within the Larnach Castle grounds, Boutique Larnach Lodge accommodation offers individually decorated rooms with free Wi-Fi and panoramic views of the harbour and the Otago Peninsula. You can book this hotel online.

Beautiful flowers in Larnach's Castle Gardens; Things to do on Otago Peninsular, New Zealand

The cafe room inside of Larnach's Caslte, Dunedin, New Zealand; Things to do on Otago Peninsula

Views from the Larnach's Caslte Gardens, Dunedin, NEw Zealand

Travel tips

  • The above places are not far from Dunedin’s centre. We made everything within one day. If you want to join the castle tour and wildlife visit tour, make sure to have enough time to drive from one place to the other place.
  • Some tours offer a journey to the Otago Peninsula, including wildlife observations and other activities. Please check here to find out which one suits the best for you.
  • There are some hiking trails on the Otago Peninsula.
  • Portobello is very small. But it is good to have a cup of coffee or lunch.
  • The coastline is beautiful. It is worth to spend some time taking some pictures.

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