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Window on Dunedin, New Zealand

"Did you see the railway station?" people asked us when they'd heard that our cruise's itinerary had included Dunedin on the South Island of New Zealand. Apparently everyone who visits this city photographs it. In many towns, the railway station is merely the plain and utilitarian depot for passengers arriving and departing, but Dunedin's one is a work of art.

To understand this better, scroll back over a hundred and fifity years to when Dunedin was the city in New Zealand. The country's largest city by 1865, the commercial centre, flourishing on its recent discovery of gold in the region, this was where New Zealand's first university would be situated in 1869, where cathedral spires already rose high above the other buildings.

In the Otago peninsula's lush green hills, the early British settlers, in 1848, had seen a likeness to Scotland, and so it became Dunedin – from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland.

After 1861, gold fever hit hard and people came from many countries, chasing fortune. Transport links began, but it was not until 1906 that this building was opened: a magnificent railway station to match the status of the city.

In keeping with Dunedin's Scottish roots, much of the city's architecture was grand and solid, but in keeping with the era – and its wealth – decorated lavishly too. The railway station's ornate Flemish Renaissance-style architecture features white Oamaru limestone facings on black basalt rock. The sheer size, grandiose style and rich embellishments of the station earned architect George Troup the nickname of Gingerbread George.

Around 750,000 mosaic tile create intricate patterns and designs (of course following a railway theme) covering the floors of the waiting rooms and booking hall. The walls are covered in glazed tiles, sometimes described as being Royal Doulton, although not everyone believes that.

Just as stunning is the one-kilometre long platform, said to be the country's longest, which becomes what is probably the world's longest catwalk for the South Island's main fashion show, Dunedin Fashion Week 2014, 30th March to 6th April.

Despite its size and glamour, the only train now using the station is the tourist excursion service. A restaurant is on the ground floor and there's an art gallery and a sports hall of fame upstairs.

But this thriving southern city is about so much more than just stately old buildings.

Watch this video to get a feel for what's going on.

Today's Dunedin (pop. around 128,000) is modern with a thriving cafe, bar and restaurant scene, much of it located in the busy Octagon area, a plaza which is the hub of the CBD.

New Zealanders pride themselves on their fresh locally-grown produce, and their chefs are some of the world's best. There is something for everyone on the food scene: old-fashioned British food, Kiwiana (a blend of old and new), great cafes - The NZ-ers claim to have created the flat white coffee (and pavlova, and Anzac biscuits), and high-end elegant dining.

But one thing the Kiwis (the people, not the bird!) have all to themselves is a national favourite - the cheese roll, sometimes referred to as 'southern sushi'. Here it is, as we found it proudly offered on the blackboard menu at a Dunedin beachside cafe. It has to be the simplest snack served anywhere: a slice of bread spread with a mixture of cheese and onion soup mix or, simply with onion, which is then rolled up and toasted in the oven or a sandwich maker. It is served with a slap of butter, as you can see.

Just as popular is Speight & Co’s Brewery, an icon of Dunedin and Otago, which has been producing the “Pride of the South” since 1876 – goldrush days. After a fire destroyed the Dunedin plant, bottling of stubbies moved to Auckland, but locals still call this their own brew.

There is also a very lovely coffee liqueur, called The Quick Brown Fox, being made in Dunedin. See this video....

Our guide, Athol Parks, has been taking walking tours of the city he loves and knows so much about for around eight years. He stays fit by sometimes leading as many as four or five two-hour tours in a day. His knowledge seems almost limitless, and he loves this city so much that time passes quickly both for him and those walking with him. For information.....

While many of the city's public buildings date from the 19th-century, they share a similarity to many in Britain and Australia. But keep your eyes open to notice kiwis, the national bird, popping up in various places such as this facade.

St Paul's Anglican Cathedral is on one side of the Octago, next to the Town Hall, and was completed in 1919. Despite its architecture, it has some interesting modern touches such as a perspex cross.... 

...and this stained glass window which at first glance appears quite traditional. But look closer. Here you will see native New Zealand animals and birds, and the woman on the right is Dame Kiri. Even Christ (not seen) at the peak of the window has Maori features.

The Dunedin Town Hall is a gracious and classical building and Dame Kiri Te Kanawa will make what could be her swan song here this year as part of a rebranded Otago Festival of the Arts.

There are splashes of 'tartan' throughout the city. Not the least is the climate, which can be chilly for much of the year, but also places like this scottish bar and restaurant, whose menu features 'wee dishes' and has a minute courtyard whimsically called the 'sitooterie' (translation later).

Unsurprisingly, Dunedin and the surrounding areas were founded by the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland founded Dunedin at the head of Otago Harbour in 1848 as the principal town of its special settlement. Visitors approaching the aptly-named First Church find iut hard to realise that the spacious grounds were created by hundreds of men. Convicts worked with pick and shovel to lower Bell Hill 40 feet. The setting of lawns and trees is thus a raised platform with cliff faces on three sides. The soil from the hill top was used for reclamation of the inner harbour area. 

But wait, there's still much more in this fascinating area.

For a concise overview, the museum is the place to come. The museum underwent extensive renovations during 2011 and 2012, reopening to the public with a new name, Toit? Otago Settlers Museum. in December 2012. The revamped display now tells the story of Dunedin and its surrounding districts chronologically from the arrival of the first M?ori up to the present day.

Dunedin is situated at the far end of the 21-km long Otago Harbour, the remnants of a drowned giant volcano. It is flanked on the south by the Otago Pensinsula admired for its natural beauty and home to many endangered specis and local wildlife. 

These New Zealand fur seals (Kekeno) are part of one of the world's largest breeding colonies of these seals.  They live on a large rocky area of the coast and can be seen anytime of the day all year round. 

 

The Yellow Eyed Penguin Reserve at Penguin Place offers visitors the opportunity to visit a working conservation programme and to experience and photograph undisturbed penguin activity at close range through a unique system of hides and covered tunnels.

The reserve is a private conservation effort to save one of the world’s most endangered penguins, the yellow-eyed penguin, from extinction.  The reserve is funded entirely through the profits from the Penguin Place tour operation. Yellow-eyed Penguins  were called Hoiho (noise-shouter) by the Maori.

The Royal Albatross Centre is situated at the bottom of Taiaroa Head at the entrance of Otago Harbour, and is the only mainland breeding colony of these massive seabirds in the world. With slim wings up to three metres across, the great Albatross is capable of swooping speeds of at least 115 kph.  While graceful and spectacular in the air it appears distinctly clumsy on the ground. 

Abpout halfway between the entrance to the harbour and the city itself, is a place that would not seem out of place in Scotland itself. Built by a wealthy eccentric and ill-fated local businessman over a hundred years ago, its stunning location and interesting history makes it well worth a visit. Read more.... 

Back in Dunedin, another place which seems to have come from another era is Olveston House, crammed with memorabilia and souvenirs picked up but its owners, the Theomins, a hundred years ago. Some years ago, in 1966, the entire house and its contents were bequeathed to the City of Dunedin and it is now on display to the public.

Finish your city on a light note, visiting the world's steepest residential street, Baldwin Street in suburban Dunedin. It's a short straight street a little under 350 metres long, rising from 30 metres above sea level at its junction with North Road to 100 metres above sea level at the top, an average slope of slightly more than 1:5.

Port Chalmers, half an hour's drive from the city centre is the port for Dunedin and most used for exporting frozen meat and timber, and to welcome cruise ships such as this.

Near this spot, overlooking Port Chalmers, a plaque on a large stone monument commemorates the port as the last visited by Robert Falcon Scott before heading south on his final expedition to Antarctica. 

The exit from the port, heading towards the sea along the harbour is one of the most bewutiful in the world.

At every part there are coves and bays...

... and mudflats towards the ocean......

... and remote, idyllic beaches.

Oh, and did we mention that the area has great beaches, and some seriously exciting surfing?

+++++++++

Translation: Sitooterie - the Sit out-erie i.e. the place where you sit outside (pronounced as a Scot would).

More information on Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula......

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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