Beautiful Portobello has wildlife, great views and excellent coffee, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Origin of name:

Named in 1840 by William Christie for his birthplace, Portobello in Edinburgh.

Population: 1100 (includes Broad Bay).


Claim to fame: In 1840, Otakou Marae was one of three places Te Tiriti o Waitangi was signed.

Local icon: The thrusting Harbour Cone.

Famous local: Olly Ohlson — remember how we used to keep cool till After School?

Best website:

Big business: It used to be farming, but today it's more about tourism and science, largely due to the Royal Albatross Centre and the University Marine Laboratory.

An opportunity: How about starting up a business renting out kayaks or stand-up paddleboards?

Source of pride: The wildlife and the beautiful beaches.

Town fiestas: The Portobello Blues Fest every second March features amazing national and international acts. The Portobello Volunteer Fire Brigade quiz night is a much-loved annual knees up. And don't forget the Port Paddock Pursuit, a mighty, messy mud run.

Here for a short time:

Get an icecream at Portobello Sweets and Treats — a really cute 1950s-style icecream and candy shop — walk round the township then eat fish and chips on the beach.

Best reason to stop: To sit on the waterfront and reflect upon the peninsula's natural beauty. This place is heaven for discerning nature lovers.

Don't miss: The royal albatross colony at Taiaroa Head. This is the only mainland albatross breeding site in the world and watching these enormous birds soar above your head or canoodle down on land is awe inspiring. The birds spend up to five years at sea at a time. Then go to the little blue penguin colony at Pilots Beach. Take a tour, spend the day at the visitors centre and enjoy a meal there, too.

Kids love to: Walk to Pudding Island at low tide. At the base of Seaton Rd, it's perfect for exploring rock pools and caves and hunting for crabs.

Best park: The Maramoana picnic area by Pineapple Rock is a very pleasant open area by the water to share your picnic with the local rooster community.

Best playground: The nautically themed Pirate Park has slides, swings, a boat, a fort and a mini flying fox.

Best facilities: There's a secret nice toilet by the children's playground next to The Happy Hen.

Best walk: Lovers Leap is a 45-minute loop along the southern side of the peninsula and features a beautiful natural chasm. Or trot over Okia Flat to wild Victory Beach and along the way you'll find volcanic vents known as the pyramids, which are great fun to climb.

Best view: Climb up Harbour Cone and admire the entire harbour all the way to Dunedin and Taiaroa Head.

Best place to pull over: Tourists tend to pull over everywhere — including the middle of road — although it's especially nice if you drive to the end of Aquarium Rd to gaze out to the harbour and Quarantine Island.

Best swim: Jump from the jetty for a cold shock on a hot day or get the tide right and enjoy a warm outgoing tidal swim. Papanui Inlet is a hot favourite.

Best museum: The Otago Peninsula Museum is full of photographs and historical treasures including an original settler's cottage, the Cape Saunders lighthouse lantern room, the old jail and a cannon found at Harington Point. Open Sunday afternoons.

Fabulous folly: 10km away, Larnach Castle is the most brilliant tourist attraction, a genuine castle with astonishing views and gorgeous gardens of national significance.

Cultural outings: Look for the plaque at Wellers Rock that commemorates the first European landing site in this area. Or take a trip to Quarantine Island to visit historic buildings and an old wrecked ship.

Nice arts: Happy Hens has become famous over the years for its brightly painted little wooden chooks. Or browse round the Studio for jewellery and ceramics, or New Zealand Greenstone and Art for stunning pounamu carvings and taonga.

Top shop: The Portobello Deli is the local grocer and there you can get everything from toothbrushes to toilet paper, can openers and cold meats. Their custard squares are especially tasty.

Cream of the coffee: The Penguin Cafe and the Portobello Pub both do a fine brew.

Baked: The Penguin's hummingbird cake with a proper pot of tea is hard to beat. Plus they serve really good pies.

Best food: Portobello Pub does bistro food and the seafood basket is a perennial favourite. Or book a table at 1908 for delicious fish or lamb shanks. If you're creative, how about a DIY dinner? Collect some tuaki (cockles) from one of the pristine inlets then cook them up over an open fire.

Wet your whistle:

Portobello Pub is across the road from the water and has a super outdoor area and playground for kids — so adults can sit outside in the sun and enjoy a drink while the kids leap about.

Best cycling: In 2012, Lonely Planet voted Otago Peninsula one of the world's top 10 road biking destinations. Most enthusiasts choose to go out on the low road and come back along the high road. For mountain bikers, the dirt roads around the inlets are great for chasing away cobwebs.

Best adventure: Go for the holy trinity — a kayak in the inlet, then a surf at Alan's Beach before topping it off by climbing to the top of Harbour Cone.

Wildlife: Where else can you see so many subantarctic animals so close to a major city?

And the bird life is spectacular, too. So keep your eyes peeled for whales, dolphins, seals, sea lions, penguins, albatrosses, mollymawks and the beautiful rare jewelled gecko.

But wait, there's more: You also have to visit the penguin hospital and reserve at Penguin Place and take a wildlife cruise with Monarch Tours.

Safety warning: Concentrate when driving on the windy coastal roads, they can become very slippery when wet.

What he said: In the words of Thomas Bracken, the fellow who wrote our national anthem: "When the visitor arrives at Portobello he will naturally wonder why Australians and New Zealanders rush to Europe and America for sightseeing when they can find such beautiful scenes within their own doors." (1879)