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The basics
New Zealand: Destination Guides

The ultimate student guide to Dunedin

Dunedin is known across the country as a student city due to its prestigious university, affordable living, and fun nightlife – not to mention the incredible wildlife and surf spots.

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Dunedin is a city on the South Island of New Zealand, famous for being student-friendly and a unique, rich Scottish heritage that goes back generations. It’s home to the country’s oldest university, the University of Otago, which is rated amongst the top one per cent worldwide and brings thousands of students together from around the world.

 

Dunedin is a highly liveable city, blending a classic New Zealand weatherboard house style with stately Victorian buildings to create an attractive and compact city centre. Shops, services, and other amenities are never far away, and the city is easy to get around by foot, bike, or bus.

 

Despite being the country’s 8th most populated city, Dunedin offers an arts and culture scene that rivals its larger neighbours. Galleries and museums dot the city and offer an insight into the city’s history and culture, while visitors also have easy access to the region’s natural heritage through a wealth of wildlife sanctuaries and national parks.

 

Dunedin is intertwined with its natural environment, whether it’s hundreds of stunning plant species and hideaways in the Dunedin Botanic Gardens or hiking and biking trails that cover the many hills around the city. 

 

Between the University of Otago and Otago Polytechnic, students of any background can find the right course. The city’s lower cost of living compared to other cities in New Zealand combined with these great academic options to form one of the most attractive student cities in New Zealand.

 

Find out how to apply to study in New Zealand

 

What is Dunedin like?

 

Location and demographics

Dunedin is a coastal city on the south-eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s found in the large natural Otago Harbour and is a significant port town. The city is surrounded by an imposing ring of seven hills that are the remains of ancient volcanic activity, today forming a beautiful skyline for its residents.

 

The population of Dunedin is approximately 87 per cent European and is also home to significant Māori (nine per cent), Asian (eight per cent), and Pacific (three per cent) ethnic groups as well as a mix of others, resulting in a diverse and cosmopolitan community. It also attracts an international community of students.

 

Culture and history 

The area in which Dunedin now stands is thought to have been home to the Māori people since at least 1100 AD. Scottish settlers arrived in 1848, founding it as a Scottish Free Church settlement due to its ideal location for farming and timber production.

 

It became a city in 1865 and thrived as a gold mining town, industrial hub and focus for commercial activity. Today Dunedin is a centre for education, religion, and relaxed, modern living. The city is known nationwide for its rich Scottish cultural heritage, with the city’s name coming from the Gaelic term for Edinburgh.

 

Discover more about the university culture in New Zealand

 

What universities are in Dunedin?

 

Dunedin is home to two renowned universities that allow it to match its larger neighbours for educational quality and prestige. The University of Otago was the first university to be established in New Zealand, educating students since 1869, over 150 years ago. It’s ranked within the top 250 universities worldwide according to the QS World University Rankings 2023 and offers almost 120 undergraduate programmes, along with more than 180 postgraduate ones.

 

As a member of the world’s top one per cent of universities, the university attracts thousands of students from around the world. This is due to the quality of its courses and the expertise of its staff. The university has won six of the last nine Prime Minister’s Supreme Awards for Teaching Excellence, and its graduates enjoy a work or further study rate of around 95 per cent.

 

You could also choose to study at the Otago Polytechnic, which offers a broad range of practical and vocational courses that focus on helping students build successful careers. With expert staff who are active in their industries, students at the university enjoy high qualification rates and the highest rating for educational performance, according to NZQA 2015.

 

Discover more universities in New Zealand

 

What does Dunedin offer students?

 

What transport is there? 

You’ll be able to travel easily around Dunedin due to its compact size, with a variety of transport methods available depending on your preferences. While driving is possible and a good network of buses cover the city, you can choose to walk or cycle in most cases.

 

What about entertainment and food?

Dunedin’s food scene is rapidly growing and offers visitors a great range of cuisines. In addition to the Scottish-inspired food the city is famous for, you’ll be able to find a variety of world foods, healthy options, and high-end cooking. The city is also home to a fantastic mix of pubs, clubs, bars, and cafes, reflecting its status as a fun student city and a laid-back place to live.

 

Explore some of the things you can do in New Zealand

 

Is there accommodation?

Finding great student accommodation in Dunedin isn’t difficult. You’ll be able to choose from a variety of different accommodation options ranging from university hall-style residences to private apartments and houses, along with private halls. You’ll never be far from your university campus, and there are different options around the city for each budget or lifestyle.

 

Are there public services for students?

The New Zealand Government runs the International Student Wellbeing Strategy, which supports a range of services and projects designed to help overseas learners settle in and thrive during their time there. Post-study work permit visas are also available to students who complete an eligible qualification in the country.

 

How much does it cost to live in Dunedin?

 

The general cost of the city

Dunedin is an affordable city to live in for students coming to New Zealand, while still offering a great student lifestyle. It’s significantly cheaper than larger cities like Auckland and Christchurch, meaning you’ll be able to get more out of your student budget.

 

Read more about how much it costs to study in New Zealand.

 

Student budget

As a single international student living in Dunedin, you might need to budget anywhere between NZD 275 and NZD 550 per week. This includes rent, utilities, food, transportation, and other living costs. Your budget will vary depending on your living arrangements, lifestyle, and activities, and where in Dunedin you’re living. You’ll also need to purchase mandatory health insurance, costing NZD 200 to NZD 700 for a year.

 

Learn more about tuition fees in New Zealand

 

Financial requirements

The New Zealand Government asks that international students demonstrate that they have at least NZD 15,000 accessible for the first year of their studies, or NZD 1,250 per month of their studies if the course is 36 months or less. An equivalent value scholarship, sponsorship or financial guarantee from a family member is also accepted. 

 

Are you looking for a scholarship? Discover the top scholarships in New Zealand

 

What are the main attractions in Dunedin?

 

Dunedin is the hidden gem of New Zealand and offers a huge range of fun activities and experiences to explore during your downtime. The landscape of Dunedin is unique. In a single day, you could find yourself on one of the steepest streets on Earth, surfing on beaches less than 10 minutes away from the city or having high tea in a Scottish castle-style mansion.

 

The city is known for its student population and creative streak, with incredible street art covering many of Dunedin’s walls and historic beer breweries providing everything you’ll need for a fun afternoon any day of the week.

 

Dunedin remains in touch with its indigenous roots. You can experience it at the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum, which explores early interactions between European arrivals and Maori people through art, artefacts, and interactive exhibits.

 

Further afield from the streets of Dunedin, you can hop onto the vintage Taieri Gorge Railway and ride along several incredible historic bridges, as well as through the stunning valleys and hills that the Otago region is famed for.

 

Dunedin is often regarded as a haven, whether it’s for wildlife, easy living or studying. This compact port town is the home of New Zealand’s oldest university, a unique cultural history and some of the country’s most affordable student living. You can find your perfect academic path in New Zealand using our course matcher tool