Travel |Charming Port Chalmers NZ

Well, do I have a treat for you today. A tour of the lovely and little known Port Chalmers. Until a year ago we had a wee holiday house at the cold beach of Aramoana. To get from Dunedin city to Aramoana you have to drive thru Port Chalmers. From the city to Port, as the locals call it, is a ten minute harbourside drive. Then from Port to Aramoana is another ten minutes along the harbour edge.

In this fast paced world of consumer crazy, Port is a warm hug with gum boots on wrapped in a favourite cardi.

Experience Summary

  • Easy access via car
  • Buses from CBD
  • Photo opps+++
  • Allow four hours
  • Free wifi @ the library
  • Child friendly
  • $0 to wander
  • Ages 0 – 80+
  • Heritage everywhere
  • Great cafes
  • Low Risk
  • Reliable
  • Safe
  • Lovely main street
  • Accommodation $$

Read on for my list of top Port Chalmers must do attractions. Most are free. All are kid friendly. Note great public toilets at the library as well as free wifi.

Port Chalmers from the lookout in the Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell – Iona Church in centre

I have spent many a happy few hours in Port. I love Port the way you love your favourite Aunt. She is hard working, a bit quirky and easy to love. She is a bit worn around the edges, but with a style all of her own. In this fast paced world of consumer crazy, Port is a warm hug with gum boots on wrapped in a favourite cardi.

Where to start, with the obvious. Port Chalmers has been a working port since day dot. It is still home to container ships and in the last 20 years a growing (until COVID19) cruise ship port. There is a fair bit of wood chip and logs thrown in too. Best bit, you can park on the hill above the town and have the most fabulous view of the port in action. On a good day six to eight double storey forklifts run about at a frantic pace sorting containers, while the big overhead rigs do the actual unloading. In summer the boys and I would buy icecreams from the dairy (corner store), drive up the hill and sit on the grass and watch the work go on below. It was fascinating.

Skip across the road to the very special Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell, built in the remains of an old bluestone quarry. Best seen in September and October, but lovely all year round. The Dell features numerous rhododendrons, along with magnolias, prunus, maples and spring flowering bulbs viewed by strolling the woodland paths. I would tell my boys fairies lived here. It is believable.  A  lookout accessed by stairs situated on the quarry rim above the Dell features a selection of old historic photographs of the Port over the years and offers panoramic views of the Otago Harbour.

Port Chalmers is now part of Dunedin city, but it has really maintained it’s own identity. Not easy in this age of homogenisation and urban sprawl. It’s done this to a large extent because there is no available land in the village. In it’s earlier days it was all built upon. Very soon, the last part of a cycle path will be completed that will join Port Chalmers to Dunedin city. It’s a magic feeling cycling along the very edge of the harbour.

Something that works for Port is the re-purposing of old buildings and the emergence of a cluster of second hand rose type shops and other bespoke shopping experiences.Who could not love ‘The Box of Birds’ as it provides a massive dose of rummage sale of goodness from times gone by. There are a number of cute and cool cafes and a Belgium inspired pub run by a couple of real Belgiums.

Then it’s the little touches, like an amazing succulent garden at the front of the library. I have to say, being a bit of a library lover this is one of my all time favs. Old building refurbished, warm, cosy, ground level, free wi fi and public computers, not too big, not too small. All provided by the Dunedin City Council.

So what do you think, Port Chalmers is charming in my books. There are cool coffee houses, a micro brewery and tasting lounge, edgy designers, crafters and homeware shops. During one holiday visit, in the late 2000’s, my darling boy, aged around eight, bought a whole batch of 1960’s doll house furniture, which we duly carried back to Brisbane in our luggage.

A must see for art lovers is the Hotere Sculpture Garden. This collection of works is free to view. Walk from the library, up the eastern side of Port Chalmers, through the old residential area to Flagstaff Lookout and this amazing sculpture garden. Or drive and part out the front. Here you will find the entrance to the Hotere Sculpture Garden where you can see works by Ralph Hotere and various other New Zealand artists.

Port Chalmers is a hidden gem. Go stay a night and savour the unique flavour of Port or save an afternoon for it when you visit Dunedin. Most shops don’t open till after 10am and not on Monday. I love that too. Come fall in love with Port Chalmers, you won’t regret it, Le.

Hotere Sculpture Garden $0 So so beautiful, no cost and an insight into NZ sculpture.

Flagstaff Lookout $0 Amazing views of the outer harbour and out to sea. Great for sunrise photography.

Heritage Buildings $0 Just like everywhere!

Maritime Museum $0 Because isn’t everyone an old seadog at heart!

Iona Church $0 Gothic Revival style built in 1872 and amazing. Visit as you walk up the hill to go to the Lady Thorn Dell.

Lady Thorn’s Dell $0 It’s a fairy grotto in the real world.

The Portsider $$ A delightful place to grab a pint and a something yummy to eat. Right in the main street.


View the working Port $0 So you can’t go in, but go sit on the hill and watch. Grab a coffee, an ice-cream or fish n chips and enjoy!

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