Port Chalmers, Dunedin Overview

A few kilometres away from Dunedin is Otago’s main port, Port Chalmers. This suburb has a population of 3000 and is ten kilometres inside of Otago. The port is extensively visited by cruise ships every year and is one of the major ports in South Island, New Zealand. A short delight, this port is the place for those who want a weekend getaway from the busy life in Dunedin.

This harbourside suburb offers a range of heritage sites, cafes and galleries within walking distance. This port is busy for 6 months, October-April when ships arrive early in the morning and depart early evening. Many famous musicians and artists have been locals to Port Chalmers and this place is famous for its culture art from potters and painters to sculptors, fashion designers and jewellers. So, if you’re in for a short trip to explore some maritime heritage, eat good food and relax at a harbourside town, then Port Chalmers should definitely be on your list.

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What to See and Do

  • Port Chalmers Maritime Museum is located on the waterfront Post Office next to the cruise ship wharf. Here, you will find a collection related to fishing, Antarctic exploration, archives, books, manuscripts and social history. 
  • The Iona Church and Holy Trinity Church 
  • Cary’s Bay and Aramoana are other harbourside villages very close to Port Chalmers. These villages have good coastal views, beaches and seafood. 
  • Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary where you can find a range of native species such as Kiwi, Tuatara, Tui, Bell Birds, Kaka, Takahe and Morepork. It is just a drive up Blueskin Road and visitors can take advantage of the good cafes and the visitor centre here. 
  • Port Chalmers Golf Course that is run solely by volunteers and has 9 holes along with native bushes, plants as well as a beer on tap. This place has a wonderful pick-up service and affordable equipment hire. 
  • Walk to Hotere Sculpture Garden where you’ll find a number of sculptures featuring four large works by famous artists from Port Chalmers. 
  • Do shopping at Aura Design, Georgie Girl, Christianne’s and at both sides of St. George’s street. You will find a range of accessories, clothing, jewellery, homeware, pottery and much more. 


Port Chalmers dates back to the 1800s, to the time of Maori and Koputai civilisations. This port was used by Ngai Tahu who sold the Otago Block to the New Zealand Company in 1844. In 1875, the European settlement of Otago was formed and by 1882, the first meat was shipped from this port to the Northern Hemisphere. However, the history of this place hasn’t been all that merry.

In 1881, when the Otago Harbour was opened and the “port” and the “city” argued over the rights of being called the main port. It was Port Chalmers that won and became the main deep-water container port in South Island. It was initially called “Koputai” but was renamed after the Free Church of Scotland leader, Thomas Chalmers who died in 1847, right before Otago was settled.


  • A few special mentions for restaurants and cafes in Port Chalmers are: 
  • Union Cafe is well-known for its salmon especially from October to April and for its roasted coffee and hot chocolate throughout the year. 
  • The Galley Cafe offers the best takeaway pizza, freshly baked cakes and counter foods. 
  • The Portsider is by far the best pub in Port Chalmer, offering the best craft beer. 
  • Cary’s Bay Historic Hotel is a vintage bluestone pub and seafood restaurant with a waterfront location, best known for its friendly staff and service.  
  • One thing that Port Chalmers is famous for is Fish and Chips, best served at The Chippy on Macandrew Rd. 

How To Reach Port Chalmers

  • Port Chalmers is around 15 kilometres from Dunedin so the closest airport to this suburb is the Dunedin International Airport (DUD).
  • It is around 41 kilometres from Port Chalmers and it will take around 40 minutes to reach this suburb if State Highway 88 is taken.
  • Taxis and cabs are available at the airport while buses move from different locations in Dunedin such as Korea House, Baldwin Street, Grace House, Mei Wah Fish and Chips, Tuhara Otago Community Trust Science Centre, Mandeno House, Northeast Valley, Ross Creek and a few more.
  • The main bus numbers that take passengers to Port Chalmers are 3, 8, 14 and 15.
  • Visitors can also take a cruise to this destination and this suburb can be explored on foot.   

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