PRIZED SOUTHERN BUILDING

The DK Eyewitness Travel Guide has ranked the Dunedin Railway Station  alongside the Coliseum and the Taj Mahal, as one of the ‘wonders of the world’ and in 2006,it was listed as one of ‘The World’s 200 Must-See Places’.

The sheer size, grandiose style, and rich embellishments of this delightful building, have made it one of the most treasured buildings in New Zealand. It is also the most photographed building in the country and the second most photographed building in the southern hemisphere after the Sydney Opera House.

In 2013 Condé Nast Traveller magazine placed this spectacular Dunedin building on its list of the world’s top 16 railway stations.

The Flemish styled structure was designed by George Troup and earned him the nickname ‘Gingerbread George’. This is more like a structure from a child’s fairytale than a public building.  Troup was the New Zealand Railway’s official architect and is responsible for a number of railway stations in the country. However, his design for the Dunedin station was his masterpiece and won him a British Architects’ award.

STATION’S HISTORY

The construction of the building, from 1904 to 1907, created many difficulties. The location is on reclaimed land. Ironbark piles were driven deep into the ground for foundations. Even today, they stand below sea level. The building stone was sourced locally, close to a railway line. Most of the workers on the construction team were railway staff, trained by Troup himself in the art of stonemasonry.

This is the fourth Dunedin railway station and is seven times larger than its predecessor. At one kilometre, it boasts the longest platform in New Zealand. In the heyday of rail travel, Dunedin’s station offered the most luxurious interior of any railway station in Australasia.

750,000 Royal Dolton porcelain tiles form the mosaic floor in the booking hall. The cherubs and foliage around the walls are original Royal Dolton china. Two of the magnificent stained glass windows feature trains approaching with headlights blazing. This effect is caused by a marble of clear glass focusing the sunlight, allowing it to stream through.

The largest of the three towers rises to 37 metres and houses a set of three clocks. Each clock face is 1.5 metres in diameter and is illuminated at night.

A roofed carriageway allowed passengers arriving by horse drawn carriage to remain under cover as they entered the building.

The station served around 4000 travellers each weekday until 1982 when the city’s suburban rail services to Mosgiel and Port Chalmers were axed. I grew up in Dunedin and can remember the activity at the station when these trains ran frequently, especially the rush of school kids to the station after school had finished for the day. The South Island Express also stopped twice a day (northbound and southbound) adding another flurry of activity and excitement. When road transport started to impact on the railways, the express was branded ‘The Southerner’ and given a blue paint job to improve its appearance but that service was finally terminated in February 2002. There are no main trunk passenger trains any longer. Only the Taieri Gorge and Seasider tourist trains operate from the station. There is talk of re-introducing ‘The Southerner’ to cater to the growing tourist industry. With three current  New Zealand train services geared to tourists, I would like to think the South Island Express would be a success especially if marketed as terminating at the most southerly railway station in the world (in Invercargill).

FASHION SHOW

Dunedin’s annual ID Fashion Show attracts new fashion designers from around the world giving them the opportunity to display their garments on the longest catwalk in the world. Having models strut their fashions beside a living railway line at one of the world’s most unusual railway stations, has made this particular clothing show so unique.

Bruce T published this on Trip Advisor last year, “We were astounded when we first saw the length of the platform at the station in Dunedin. We were so surprised that we took the time to “walk” from one end to the other! Although we were ambling (we were on holiday), it took us 6 minutes 38 seconds from one end to the other!”

SPORTS HALL OF FAME

Part of the upper floor of the station has been turned into a museum to celebrate Kiwi sportsmen and women who have made names for themselves in their respective sports. It is the only sports museum of its kind in the country and is a good way to make use of the space that became available when staff was no longer needed to service the trains that once used the station.

There is also an art gallery and restaurant to fill the other spaces that would have been empty after the collapse of rail services to the city in the 1970s (and around New Zealand at this time)

Everyone who visits this magnificent piece of architecture is reminded in a spectacular manner of a time when Dunedin was the richest and most influential city in New Zealand. It is the jewel in the crown of a city which has managed to hang onto so many of its beautiful Edwardian and Victorian buildings which have now become draw cards for tourists seeking more than the natural wonders the country is noted for.

Ceidrik Heward

 

 

Comments

  1. George Craig says:

    Och Ceidrik, ye brought the fond memories back, lovely wee story. Happy New year..Geo

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