A new harbourside trail offers a salty sightseeing tour of Dunedin by bike.

Stretching from Port Chalmers to Portobello on the Otago Peninsula, the 32-kilometre-long Loop Trail provides visitors and locals with a spectacular leisure and commuter ride.

It sticks to the waterside pretty much the whole way, following a combo of dedicated bike lanes, custom-built pathways and short sections of on-road cycling. The big breakthrough was the new section from the city to Port Chalmers, a tricky-to-build 10km that opened in August 2023 after three years and $50 million.

It’s free to you, save for the modestly priced cross-harbour boat trip that closes the loop. Oh, and the dosh you’ll likely spend in the pubs, cafés and shops along the way. Easy riding this may be, but you’ll want to take all day even though you could knock it off in a few hours.

Points of interest are marked on the printed Cycle The Loop map and online at dunedincycleway.co.nz. Its joys are endless, from salty scenes of boats and whirling seabirds, to funky street art, sculpture and significant historic sites.

In central Dunedin city are several bike and ebike hire outfits ready to get you geared up and away.

We started at Port Chalmers, however, which gave us certainty around timing to catch the cross-harbour boat trip over to Portobello.

Before that, though, the delightful Union Co. Cafe makes a good port of call. So does the Port Chalmers Maritime Museum, housed in the stone post office dating back to the Otago gold rush. It will reopen sometime in 2024 after major refurbishment.

That should leave you thirsty for the water, happily sated aboard the Sootychaser, the Port to Port boat service skippered by the Loop Trails angel, Rachel Macgregor. As her boat’s name implies, she’s a wildlife lover who also runs various tours to spot Otago Harbour’s world-famous wildlife.

Making landfall on the harbour’s east side, the loop ride continues clockwise, hugging the waterfront most of the way. Macandrew Bay is a lovely spot for a dip and a nip to the dairy for ice cream. It’s also home to the absolutely quacker The Duck café, serving terrific coffee and brunch, along with yummy fresh bread to go.

A little further on is Glenfalloch, a notable 30-acre woodland garden established in 1871 and now owned by a conservation trust. Amongst its arboreal treasures is a thousand-year-old mataī tree along with ornamental gardens, fernery, sundry follies and birdlife. Also nestled within is yet another great café, this one particularly peaceful and refined.

On reaching Dunedin’s inner-city limits, the loop pathway heads through the historic harbourside and warehouse precincts where lovers of handsome old architecture will find much to survey.

Sweet-tooths will also rejoice, thanks to Ocho, Dunedin’s locally owned bean-to-bar chocolatier. Head in to hear the cocoa low down, taste the wares, and buy a bar or two made from Pacific Island beans. While you’re in tasting mode, head next door to Dunedin Craft Distillers, a small gin-maker with a neat back-story, retail outlet, and ‘bread-to-bottle’ tasting tour.

By now you’re on the doorstep of many significant Dunedin must-sees, including Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, Lan Yuan Chinese Garden, and the splendid self-guided Street Art Trail. If you’re around on a Saturday, don’t miss the Otago Farmers Market next to the grand old railway station, often touted as New Zealand’s most photographed building.

Pedalling out the other side of town, a quick detour will find you at Emerson’s taproom and brewery. The slick and shiny HQ of the brewery first started by craft beer legend Richard Emerson in 1985, is a dangerously tasty and comfortable spot to recharge with a pint of pilsner or Bookbinder before you hit the home straight.

Crossing the bridge over the Water of Leith beside the city’s stadium, the trail soon passes a particularly striking sculpture of a super-sized dog. Three metres high and made from good old macrocarpa, Kurī/Dog was created by Stephen Mulqueen as a cultural guardian, safekeeping stories relating to the railways and the Māori world.

You’re now on the new section of trail out to Port Chalmers, which shadows an operational railway that lays claim to being one of the nation’s oldest. Various old-world sights signal Otago’s industrious and occasionally illustrious maritime past.

This loop trail reveals this history and more that has been hidden for generations, as evident in its name Te Aka Ōtākou/The Otago Vine, bestowed by local elder Tahu Pōtiki. On the approach to Port Chalmers, Otago Harbour’s guardian taniwha is honoured in a striking retaining-wall designed by artist Simon Kaan.

On arriving at the old port, there’s always the option to keep pedalling another few minutes to Careys Bay, where you’ll find a welcoming pub. Built from local bluestone in 1894, it’s ready to hook you in with local seafood and a post-ride pint to wash down all that salt.

Fact file:

The 32-kilometre-long Loop Trail from Portobello to Port Chalmers can be completed in a minimum of two hours, including the 10-minute ferry crossing. For more information and bike rental information, see: dunedincycleway.co.nz

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