DUNEDIN: MY HOME TOWN

Many of my blog readers are in America, Britain and Germany, so after 120 blogs, I thought it was time I wrote about my home town to give you a flavour of the place. Dunedin is unlike any other New Zealand city because it was not heavily influenced by Maori culture in its early history, as other New Zealand places were. With a strong Scottish influence, it has the “feel” of a northern European town, not a colonial one.

Dunedin City (Ceidrik Heward)

I’ve lived in Auckland for over 20 years and can’t remember meeting a local who has visited Dunedin.  It is seldom talked about apart from the cold weather that most northerners associate with the place. I don’t know why Dunedin tourism doesn’t do more to promote this afterall, it is warmer than many dynamic European cities who have exciting weather related events to attract visitors.

With a population of 125,800, Dunedin has recently slipped behind Tauranga to become New Zealand’s sixth largest city. It grew to national prominence during the Otago gold rush back in the1860s. Money flowed into the newly established town (the first European settlers arrived in 1848), transforming the bleak little settlement into a vibrant town, destined to become the most important city in New Zealand until it was replaced by Auckland, then Wellington, in the 1950s.

EDUCATION HUB

Being home to the country’s oldest university, it’s no surprise that education is

Dunedin’s main industry. The city also has one of the country’s top polytechnics and some of the oldest and most prestigious schools in Australasia. It also has the only dental school in New Zealand and at one time, had the only medical school too. A number of Dunedin students have gone onto become internationally famous in their various fields of expertise.

NEW ZEALAND’S ONLY CASTLES

Larnach Castle is Dunedin’s premiere tourist attraction. In 1871, William Larnach employed 200 master craftsmen to construct a grand home from local stone, and to create an interior to rival an English stately mansion. Unfortunately, the money he lavished on the place for 15 years only brought him heartbreak. Both his wife and beloved daughter died there. The ballroom he built for his daughter is now used for functions and has a cafe inside. It is also known for the supernatural events that have taken place there over the years. I’ve experienced the solid wooden doors to the room open by themselves!! With so much sadness caused by the family deaths and his financial challenges, William ended up shooting himself on the steps of the Parliament Building in Wellington. On a brighter note, the city has prospered from his hard work. His impressive castle, sitting isolated on top of a windswept peninsula, overlooking some of the most spectacular coastal scenery in Australasia, is now a Dunedin icon.

Larnach Castle and Ballroom (Ceidrik Heward)

New Zealand’s only other castle, is also found in Dunedin. Completed in 1877, Cargill’s Castle is now a ruin and is a rather foreboding place. Even on a warm summer day, the surviving interior is hauntingly cold. The wind creates a melancholy symphony as it plays through the gaping spaces in the walls that once housed the magnificent windows. The weather stained concrete on the tower is cracked and crumbling. The grand staircase has gone. The roof has gone. The clouds gather overhead. The wind freshens. The birds take to flight. Another storm is brewing in the vastness of the Pacific Ocean. As the clouds gather, and the first drops of rain moisten the overgrown grass where once, a grand carriageway swept guests to the front entrance, the castle ruins look hauntingly magnificent.  There is a strange magic in the sadness here. This is a place that whispers memories of triumphs and tragedies. I have always thought this would be an ideal location for a son et lumiere (sound and light) show. It would be a first for New Zealand and the dramatic history of the castle would be an ideal story to tell in this format.

Cargills Castle (Ceidrik Heward)

FAMOUS BUILDINGS

Other Dunedin buildings from the Victorian and Edwardian eras are still very much in use. The Railway Station is claimed to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. This grandiose architecture jewel, with its turrets and towers, is right out of a children’s fantasy story.  Elements of this impossibly romantic building can be seen in the University’s clock tower built 26 years earlier in 1878. These were indeed Dunedin’s golden years when money flowed into the town in abundance. The city’s impressive collection of imposing buildings are reminders of the skill, love and money that was invested in making Dunedin not just a major New Zealand city, but one to rank alongside much older ones in Europe. It is a shame these beautiful buildings are not better promoted outside the city.

Otago University Clock Tower (Ceidrik Heward)

In the Octagon, the city’s heart, arguably the finest turret chiming clock outside Europe, announces the hours from the fully restored clock tower on the historically important, and imposing Municipal Chambers building. On the opposite side of the Octagon, the luxurious 1920s interior of the Regent Theatre has been lovingly restored and is again used as a live theatre.

Every year, an increasing number of wide eyed tourists file through Olveston, marvelling at the wealth and opulence of the successful pioneering family who lived in this stately mansion at the end of the 19th century.

Olveston (Ceidrik Heward)

WORLD’S STEEPEST STREET

Dunedin’s Baldwin Street is the world’s steepest street. Bitumen could not be used to surface the road because it would simply run down the 35% grade in oozy waves on a warm day.

Dunedin is recognised as the wildlife centre of the country. The magnificent Royal Albatross breeds within the city boundary. A short drive away, the endearing, pink footed, Yellow Eyed Penguin, can also be observed at close range going about its business. Cormorants and seals provide further attractions to those interested in wildlife.

Hidden in the ground under the Royal Albatross Colony, an intriguing piece of Victorian technology, an 18 tonne Armstrong Disappearing Gun, with its 17 foot barrel, itself weighing 5 tonnes, has been fully restored and is the only example of its kind in the world. Its intricate hydraulic system and the underground labyrinth of tunnels and chambers needed to service this awesome piece of equipment, is drawing increasing tourist numbers. I have written about this in an earlier blog.

CITY GARDENS

The city’s cool climate encourages the robust growth of sub tropical plants. Each spring (September/October) the famous Rhododendron garden attracts international flower lovers when it erupts in a spectacular blaze of pinks, reds and whites. Another spectacular garden but with a totally different appearance, is the city’s latest attraction. The $7.5 million Chinese Scholar’s Garden is a faithful replica of a 7th century Scholar’s Garden and was designed and built by Shanghai craftsmen using traditional construction methods. Its central pond, rock gardens, climbing mountain, curving roofed pavilions, arched bridges, zig zagging walkways and corridors, create the illusion of space. This is a place of beauty, peace and tranquillity and is the only authentic garden of its type in the southern hemisphere. It has not been promoted much. In fact, Hamilton now has a Chinese garden which is better known to Aucklanders than the one in Dunedin.

Chinese Scholars Garden (Ceidrik Heward)

For a small city, Dunedin has a big menu of attractions. Some are odd, some unique, some are spectacular, some breathtaking, some exciting, but all truly memorable.

It’s time for Dunedin tourism to be more aggressive in promoting the city to other New Zealanders so they can see for themselves just what a little gem Dunedin is. (what about winter weekend feasts at Larnach Castle with all the trappings, spooky happenings, haggis and plenty of good food? Aucklanders would love it. Make the cold weather with the fog etc one of the attractions!!) With Chinese tourism to NZ tipped to increase dramatically over the coming few years, Dunedin, with its rich Chinese history should be aggressively promoting the attractions via Chinese tourist websites.

As I said at the start, Dunedin is unique among New Zealand cities because of its wide range of Victorian and Edwardian architecture and its strong Scottish heritage and to a lesser degree, Chinese one. Dunedinites are fiercely loyal to their home town and what it has to offer. I just wish it was better promoted within NZ so other Kiwis, especially Aucklanders, could experience this uniqueness for themselves.

Ceidrik Heward

In this book I’ve recalled what it was like growing up in Dunedin and also wrote about the many little things that made a childhood in the southern city so much fun.

Comments

  1. Simon Williams says:

    Ceidrik Thank you for this piece. I must read your blog more often and the book written with Tony Smith.

Speak Your Mind

*