Travel and Culture

Over the Sea Not Far Away: Dunedin

I live in the North Island so travelling to Dunedin means going over the sea – Cook Strait. Recently a friend and I decided to make a trip together to Dunedin from our North Island homes. She had been born, raised and educated there. My mother and her family lived there and my parents first met in Dunedin so it was bit of a memory trip in different ways for both of us. My friend made the flight bookings, organised a rental car and arranged that we would stay with her brother in Karitane, about half an hour’s drive north of Dunedin. It was like having a secretary do all the work and I could see why business executive types and CEOs love having one of these.

 Going to Dunedin is like stepping back in time. It’s absolutely gorgeous! Its name is derived from the Scottish-Gaelic word ‘Dun Eideann’ meaning Edinburgh and I have heard it sometimes referred to as ‘the little Edinburgh of the south’. The Maori word for Dunedin is ‘Otepoti’ which I reckon rolls beautifully off the tongue. Dunedin has heaps of Victorian and Edwardian buildings, historic churches, wooden villas and old, brick houses.

The Central Business District in the Octagon is easy to walk around and there is so much to visit in this small area. You can see the statue of the Scottish poet – Robbie (Robert) Burns (unveiled by Miss Burns, a great-grand niece of the poet); the Town Hall where long ago my mum and her friends attended dances in their elegant ball-gowns and shawls; the Art Gallery and Library; and when cruises ships are in Otago Harbour – a market full of locals’ stalls. Leaving the Octagon, you can easily walk to the historic First Church which is built in the elaborate Gothic style; to Lan Yuan – the fabulous Chinese Gardens; to The Otago Settlers Museum which is full of Dunedin’s Maori and European history; and to the old Dunedin Railway Station, decoratively built with black basalt rock and white Oamaru facings.

A little further away from the CBD (which is why we got a rental car although there are plenty of organised bus trips) is the Otago Peninsular – a lovely drive and where one may see Albatross nesting or flying from the Royal Albatross Observatory (we saw both); and the elaborate Larnach Castle built by William Larnach, a wealthy banker and Member of Parliament. Karitane, north of Dunedin where we stayed is a lovely seaside/rural community. Everyday a sea lion visited and had long nana naps on the beautiful beach.   One early evening we drove to the Moeraki boulders on Koekohe Beach. Heaps of people were there discussing the marvelousness of these large, round, wave-wet natural objects.  Normally, I don’t mention a particular venue to eat. I think people can make their own café and restaurant discoveries, but I cannot help but add that we had a meal at ‘Fleurs’ Place’ just south of the Moeraki boulders. The food was divine, and I had the opportunity to meet Fleur, the well-known personality who owns this famous rustic restaurant.

The last things my friend and I did, was to visit ‘memory spots’ – the Dunedin suburb where my friend lived as a child and attended school and the local cemetery where her parents are buried; plus the old Dunedin University which she attended in the early 70s. For me, we visited the St Clair Hot Saltwater Baths where my parents met, and then the lovely, old two-storied home that my mother’s mum and dad owned (Narnie and Pop) and where my mum shared a veranda as a bedroom with her two sisters.

One thing – while you’re in Dunedin don’t forget to order a cheese roll in a café.  These are a real Otago/Southland thing and major delicious.

You don’t have to pay heaps of money to go to a beautiful city overseas. Dunedin, this lovely, lovely city is right here within New Zealand.  You’ll be lucky to visit it and luckier to live there.

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