My second week in New Zealand was spent down in Dunedin. This is a city in the south of New Zealand’s South Island. It’s pronounced DONE-E-DEN rather than the rather more Tolkienesque DOON-E-DINE that I was expecting. I was staying with a friend who was on an exchange to the University of Otago which is apparently infamous throughout the country as the party uni. All the Kiwis I met told me to watch out for couch burning when I was down there – apparently this is a frequent occurrence during the street parties on the main student road, Castle Street. Once I’d wrapped my head around the fact that it would be getting colder the further south I went, I bundled myself up and got on a plane.
History of Dunedin
Dunedin was the largest New Zealand city in terms of territorial land area until Auckland overtook it at the end of 2010. It was also the largest by population until 1990. Tertiary (so university level) education is one of its most important economic activities and, like Norwich where I went to university, it is a UNESCO City of Literature. Pretty awesome, huh! There’s archeological evidence showing that the Maori occupation of Dunedin dates to around the same time New Zealand as a whole was settled by them between 1250-1300 AD. Settlement went in cycles, with evidence showing that there were Maori settled in what is now central Dunedin as late as 1785.
European settlement was kickstarted by sealers in 1810 but there was a long running conflict between them and the local Maori (known as the Sealers’ War). Permanent European occupation of the area began in 1831 when a whaling station was set up on the Otago Harbour. In a story that has become distressingly familiar, epidemics ravaged the Maori population. Yay European settlement…
Dunedin itself was founded at the head of Otago Harbour in 1848 by The Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland. It’s name in fact comes from Dùn Èideann, the Gaelic name for Edinburgh. It’s not known as the Edinburgh of the South for nothing! I have family in Scotland and it was slightly surreal driving around Dunedin and seeing signs for Invercargill, Balclutha and other incredibly Scottish sounding places. Almost as odd as being able to catch a train to Liverpool from Sydney!
For my first day in Dunedin we actually headed even further south to Nugget Point in the Catlins. This is an area, sometimes known as the Catlins Coast, in the south east of the Island and it is stunning. It’s pretty sparsely populated these days and is known for its scenery and coastal walks. We visited Nugget Point and its famous lighthouse. It was here that I hit over 19,000km (nearly 12,000 miles) away from home. I did have to text my parents about that one! The Catlins has been notoriously dangerous for shipping and Nugget Point Lighthouse was first constructed in 1870 to attempt to reduce the number of shipwrecks in the area. It’s been fully automated since 1989 and is now controlled from a room in Wellington nearly 700km away. I can’t imagine what it must have been like living up there when there was a lighthouse keeper. In 1901 Walter Hutton Champion and his wife Alice had this job. You’d have to hope you got along with the one person you were out there with!
After Nugget Point, which is a beautiful area of coastline, we headed inland to Purakaunui Falls. These are an iconic image of the Catlins, a three tiered cascade waterfall that once featured on a New Zealand postage stamp back in the 1970s. That evening my friend drove us up Signal Hill to watch the sunset over Dunedin. There’s a big monument up there to the first European settlers, very Scottish with their tartan shawls and stoic faces. All Victorian Europeans had suitably stoic faces for statues.
Street Art Trail
Something else that Dunedin is famous for is its street art. It was one of the first places in New Zealand to have a public art gallery and its artistic history has been continued with the Street Art trail (you can find more info about it here). I spent a happy day traipsing around the city trying to find all of the pieces on the list: I think I got about 11 of them which wasn’t bad going for one mornings effort. I had lunch in Vogel St Kitchen (a name which made me think of the Vogons and their terrible poetry in Hitchhikers) where they had an awesome array of tasty treats and, for an English girl abroad this was heaven, a great selection of teas. In the afternoon I went to check out the First Church of Otago. This was opened in 1873, only 25 years after the founding of Dunedin. The land that the church is built on was cleared by convicts, who had to lower the hill it stands on by 40 feet using just picks and shovels. That evening we went to Jizo Japanese Cafe and Bar. The place was rammed, which is always a good sign for a restaurant as far as I’m concerned! I had a very tasty chicken katsu but their sushi also looked gorgeous.
I can’t make much more in the way of recommendations for Dunedin as I was only there for four days in total but some of my friends who spent a year studying there have suggested a few places. In terms of eateries, Plato is apparently a great fish restaurant. As for things to do in the city, the Saturday farmer’s markets are usually great, with musicians scattered about amongst the stalls. If music or poetry is your thing, Dog with Two Tails is the place to be. And the historic Dunedin Public Art Gallery always has something interesting going on.
Dunedin also has a tonne of beaches to check out. I made it to Tunnel Beach and St Kilda’s in my four days. Tunnel Beach is accessed by, you guessed it, a tunnel which was apparently built by a father so that his daughter could get down to the beach more easily. She apparently drowned soon afterwards. On a more cheerful note, St Kilda’s is gorgeous, even if the evening we went it was incredibly windy. My friend also recommends Sandfly Bay and Aramoana.
St Kilda’s was the last place I visited before my epic 50 journey back to the UK. I came back via Wellington, Sydney and Dubai and landed back at Heathrow more than a little exhausted! New Zealand is a beautiful country. I discovered a love for the outdoors over there that has driven me to go exploring around Oxford. There’s something about travelling as far away as it is possible to be that makes you appreciate your own city.