Alexia Santamaria and her Auckland family are wooed by some of the delights of Dunedin.

We're an Auckland family. One of those Auckland families who don't know enough about life south of the Bombays to fully understand the joys of other regions. But on a recent trip to Dunedin to watch the cricket, we fell in love with this area, and now both our children want us to move there.

Emmerson's Brewery, Dunedin. Photo / Alexia Santamaria
Emmerson's Brewery, Dunedin. Photo / Alexia Santamaria

Our trip started with a day of cricket at the University Oval. In contrast to attending a one-dayer in Auckland, parking was easy and the smaller grounds meant our very happy 8-year-old got much closer to his Black Cap heroes than usual.

After the poor Pakistanis got a thrashing, we walked 10 minutes down the road to Emerson's Brewery. This was a win for us all with great tasting flights and fun food to please all tastes — an eclectic mix of steamed buns, asian slaw, poutine, chicken wings and chilli salt squid kept everyone happy and it was great to taste a range of Emerson's brews you can't find elsewhere.

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We started the next day with an energetic walk around Tunnel Beach. The rugged sandstone coastline provided dramatic scenery with striking caves and sea-worn rock arches and I had to stop every few metres to take "yet another" photo. Once we got down to the first bluff we really felt the power of the white-capped waves crashing up the side of the cliffs. It was magnificent. Of course we had to go down the "tunnel", built in the late 1800s by local politician John Cargill for his family. It was a thrill to get really close to that intense ocean.

The boys felt they deserved some burger action after their uphill efforts, so we headed to Good Good Burger — a great retro caravan set up in a funky warehouse in Vogel St. We were glad they were sated, as they looked a little anxious at our next experience — escaping from the old Dunedin Prison with Escape Dunedin!

Street art in Dunedin. Photo / Alexia Santamaria
Street art in Dunedin. Photo / Alexia Santamaria

Despite their nervousness we all had a blast. After being cuffed — with real handcuffs — and thrown in the cells (cells that were, unbelievably, used until 2007) it was up to us to get out to daylight. The clues were incredibly clever and included working out symbols to open locks and deciphering codes to lead us to our next challenges. It's really hard to say too much without spoiling it, but it was definitely the most fun we've had in a long time. We ended our day with a blissful swim at the Hot Salt Water pools right on St Clair Beach.

It was such a brilliant experience to be in calm, heated water right in the middle of the roaring surf and white sands of one of Dunedin's prettiest spots.

After all that exercise in one day, it seemed like a good idea to do something indoors the next, and the newly reopened Science Centre in Otago Museum was perfect. After visiting a lot of museums in New Zealand I can honestly say this is the most hands-on fun area for kids I have seen. I lost count of how many times they went down the indoor slide; they spent forever on the upward vent — floating parachutes and cups over the air stream; they loved The Void (a room with a series of lights and mirrors set up to look infinite), were fascinated with the iron filings set up to make fantastic spiky sculptures and did not want to leave making their own stop-motion movies at the animation station — and that was only the half of it.

Between the Science Centre and the gorgeous butterfly house and all its exotic occupants, three hours passed without our even noticing.

After a well-earned coffee from the fabulous Wolf at the Door and some tasty Korean food on George St, we decided to check out some of the 28 street art works on buildings around the city. The kids loved looking at the map and leading us to the next one (some took a bit of finding). They ranged from tiny images to three-storey murals by international artists and were all seriously impressive.

Otago Museum's science centre. Photo / Alexia Santamaria
Otago Museum's science centre. Photo / Alexia Santamaria

After a rest we headed to the Royal Albatross Centre for some late-night penguin action. It was worth keeping the boys up past their bedtime, as the experience of watching a black mass swim through the water and materialise into 40-50 adorable waddling Little Blue penguins when it reached shore, was something none of us will ever forget. The centre manages the excursion really well so that no one uses camera flashes or traumatises the little cuties as they race up the cliff to bring fish to their hungry chicks.

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Our last day was spent checking out the wonderful Otago Farmer's Market for breakfast. We had a lovely meandering morning over good coffee, soft flaky pastries and enormous Otago stonefruit before hitting the beautiful Flemish renaissance-style Dunedin station for a train ride of epic proportions.

Dunedin Railways has several scenic options but we went from Dunedin to Pukerangi and back and it was the perfect four-hour round trip. I had envisaged spending a lot of my time inside — perhaps over a cheeky rose — but we all found ourselves out on the open decks between the carriages, mesmerised by the drama of the landscape — rivers, gorges, sheer schist rock faces, green pastures, turquoise Otago skies, arid hill faces. We could see why they market Taieri Gorge as one of the world's great train journeys.

Once back at the station, the kids dragged us into Cobb & Co (they loved the idea of eating in a train station itself) and we reminisced about childhood family dinners over Cobb crunchies and traffic light and Pink Panther cocktails (they do adult versions these days too!)

All up it was a magical four days in a stunning region and there was still so much more to do. A great lesson for an Auckland family on the joys of getting out of JAFA land.

Otago Museum's Butterfly House. Photo / Alexia Santamaria
Otago Museum's Butterfly House. Photo / Alexia Santamaria

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