DUNEDIN: Solos Escaping to Shore; Handy Tips & Hints

Larnach Castle, Dunedin New Zealand
Larnach Castle, Dunedin New Zealand

The question of whether to book a shore excursion via the ship’s Shore Excursions desk or make your own plans is a hot topic among cruise forums and passengers. Travelling solo, and you may be keen to have plans locked in, and know that you’re joining a group of like-minded cruise goers.  However, in Dunedin it was super cruisy (excuse the pun) making your own plans, once getting off the ship.

Dunedin is charming, it’s ‘The Edinburgh of the South’.  Make sure you get off the ship and make its acquaintance. I visited Dunedin for the day on Ovation of the Seas (Tuesday 3 January 2017). Here’s my review of some touring options and enjoying Dunedin, by your own arrangements.  Take note, travel between Port Chalmers terminal and the centre of town (The Octagon) is 20-30 minutes.

#1 – On Shore Bookings
At the terminal, you’ll find a line-up of excursions on offer, from shorter trips to longer one.  The first thing you’ll realise when you get off the ship in Dunedin is the willingness of the locals to help you pick and book a tour, and head you on your way. There’s a board of posters and information in port for all they have on offer, and it’s just a case of asking one of the local tour booking consultants for advice.

I easily booked my tour package direct with the local tour desk at port with a credit card payment of NZ95.  It included a return transfer, visit & tour to Larnach Castle and the city orientation tour.  It was the perfect introduction to Dunedin. Visit TravelHeadFirst website for more information.

#2 – Larnach Castle
High on the list if you want a leisurely visit to Dunedin is a tour of Larnach Castle.  My tour was a combo package; the orientation tour was first then with a bit of time at leisure before joining the afternoon visit to Larnach Castle. This was perfect, as it gave me time to grab a bite to eat and head to the Cadbury Chocolate Factory. From the centre of town, tours depart for Larnach Castle.  I totally enjoyed the visit.  The ‘Castle’ has a unique history and is still privately owned. It’s a scenic drive out to the property, about 14 kilometres or around twenty minutes from town and making your
way there and back is a great tour in itself.

Visit www.travelheadfirst.com for more information.

#3  - Taieri Gorge Railway
Top rated by the ship, this experience is ideal if you are looking for a longer visit and to experience the best of the Dunedin Railways.
If deciding if you want to book via the ship or direct, then make your comparisons before you cruise.

The ship promotes a six hour excursion duration USD219 for adults. You can visit the railway’s website to make your own comparisons but keep in mind you’ll need to get a transfer from port to the train station in town to join the train journey if booking direct with the railway.  In short, prices quoted on the day to me via the Railways were NZD99 for the four hour return trip Taieri Gorge Summer morning departure at 9:30am. But, given the demand for this journey, you’d probably want to book this before leaving home.

One thing that can go against you if making your own arrangements is if the ship has a late arrival to port, and if you’re not booked via the ship’s excursions you won't have priority disembarkation and this could through a curve ball into your plans to make it in time for the train departure.

Visit www.dunedinrailways.com.nz

#4  - The Cadbury Chocolate Factory
With over 4,500 passengers landing to Dunedin the factory was under pressure and Cadbury tours were a sell out with many missing out. Plus, then there were the ship crew, just as keen to fill baskets full of chocolate.  If this is a must do for you, then book it early whether with the ship or direct with Cadbury. The ship offered the Cadbury World Tour, in total two hours and a leisure departure of 10:30am for USD49. It included the return transfer, the one hour factory tour, and a chocolate sample. It doesn’t say it, but hopefully they factor in shopping time too (I’m sure it would).

Cadbury World, Dunedin
I’m not sure that Cadbury staff had ever quite seen anything like it with Ovation of the Seas arrival to town.  I just wanted a few blocks of chocolate and at NZ10 for 4 big blocks, and some new flavours, it was a bit of fun and good value. I stocked up on blocks for my cabin attendant who wasn’t able to make it to shore that day, and of course, took some home for myself.

If you’ve got the day at leisure in town, the factory is easy to find close to ‘The Octagon’ in the centre of town.

#5 – Lunch at Leisure
Not keen for any major plans, then lunch around ‘The Octagon’ has some fabulous choices and town has quite a character that makes Dunedin town centre a great visit.  I’d recommend tacking on an orientation tour to see other parts outside the centre of town.

If it’s just a return transfer to town you need, then book with the ship. Our price was USD15 return.

And words of caution
Of course, throwing caution to the wind, then if for some reason you don’t visit port (such as bad weather) then any excursions booked directly with operators and not via the ship may mean loss of deposit or full cost. So check the operator terms before you book in the event the ship doesn’t make it to port.

Also, there’s always the word of warning that only excursions booked via the ship will guarantee your timely return in time to embark before they draw up the gangways and head out of port. Ultimately, you make the call but in a country like New Zealand, with well-developed tourism offers, it’s going to be one of your safer bets.

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About the author

Justine Waddington

Justine Waddington is the founder and director of Encounter Travel, a company that creates holiday groups exclusively for solo travellers. As a solo traveller with 57 countries under her belt and 10 years of leading travel groups, Justine is in the unique position of being able to offer tips and advice from the perspective of an experienced solo traveller and also that of a travel agent.

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