Dunedin Must-Dos by Karen Phelps
From healthy eating to wildlife watching and staggering up the world's steepest street surrounded by scarfies, here are 10 of Dunedin's top attractions.. By Karen Phelps.
Have you heard the one about the Scotsman who went to New Zealand and never came back? Me neither but chances are he ended up in Dunedin. Today the city with the Scottish heritage has an eerie feel with the morning mist clinging to the Gothic style buildings and the periodic chiming of the clock.
But Dunedin is not for the faint hearted - the streets are steep and although the city is not big it can initially be confusing to get around. This is largely due to the fact that most of the street signs seem to be obscured, absent or facing in the wrong direction. Consequently the best way to get a feel for the city is to just drive around and see where you end up.
THE TEN BEST THINGS ABOUT DUNEDIN
1. OTAGO PENINSULA
Take a tour around the Otago Peninsula. If possible leave a whole day for this trip and stop off at the various points of interest along the way such as Larnach Castle, the penguin and albatross colonies, Otakou Marae (apparently there is only one other of its kind in New Zealand), the aquarium and historic Edwardian villa Fletcher House.
The students otherwise known as ‘scarfies’ hike up hills at the speed of light, have a dress sense all of their own and make up a sixth of Dunedin’s population. The University of Otago was a first for New Zealand when it was founded in 1869. The term Scarfies was derived from the fact that the weather meant the students usually wore scarves, often in the Otago colours of blue and gold. Today Scarfies give this part of New Zealand a truly unique and friendly feel.
3. BALDWIN STREET
It is recorded in The Guinness Book of World Records as the steepest street in the world - although there is some dispute over this as only a small section of the street is actually steep enough to qualify for this title. Baldwin Street has a maximum gradient of 1 metre in every 2.86 metres, which means that for every 2.86 metres horizontal it goes up vertically 1 metre. I drove up the street but if you’re super fit it’s worth hiking up to the top just so you can say you did it.
DIRECTIONS: From the Octagon head North along George Street to the end then veer right into Bank Street. Turn left at the traffic lights into North Road. The tenth street on the right is Baldwin Street.
4. LARNACH CASTLE
William Larnach’s life has an air of mystery and intrigue about it, which is no doubt why so many people flock to have a nosy around his home each year.
A successful landowner, Minister of the Crown, banker, financier and Merchant Baron, it has been suggested that it was the rumour of an affair between his third wife (who was a great deal younger than Larnach) and his eldest son that led to Larnach’s demise. He took his own life in Parliament House with a single pistol shot to the head in 1898.
The castle was built for his first wife Eliza Jane Guise, a descendant of French nobility. Construction began in 1871 and 200 workmen laboured for 5 years before the family even moved in. The interior is embellished with the finest materials from around the world - apparently one wood carver was continuously employed for 12 years.
Today the castle is owned by the Barker family who have spent more than 25 years restoring the building and re-creating the beauty of the 35 acres of gardens and grounds.
The tour of the castle is self-guided. Don’t forget to walk up to the tower where the view from 1050 feet above the sea takes in the harbour past Port Chalmers to the Heads and then along the open coast with its inlets and 700 foot cliffs. Afterwards treat yourself to a cup of tea in the magnificent ballroom.
5. TANGENTE CAFE
Think funky cuisine and get a sandwich made with organic bread baked on the premises from Tangente cafe and bakery at 111 Moray Place.
6. ROYAL ALBATROSS COLONY
It doesn’t take much to get an ornithologist excited I discovered when I went to view the Royal Albatross Colony on Taiaroa Head. In the middle of our introductory talk one of the guides burst in and exclaimed that there was an albatross circling. An excited frenzy followed as everyone rushed up the hillside to the observation point.
Albatross usually only breed on cold remote islands. The Taiaroa colony is the only one located on the mainland so close to a city in the world. With a three-metre wingspan these are mighty big birds. The protected area also means that other wildlife are often on display such as the rare Stewart Island shag (which nests below the viewing are), dolphins and Southern fur seals.
The optional extended tour heads underground to the tunnels of Fort Taiaroa, which was established 100 years ago to counter the threat of invasion from Tsarist Russia. The fort is a museum housing the only working order Armstrong Disappearing Gun (1886) left in the world.
7. OLVERSTON HOUSE
In some ways this is better than Larnach Castle because it’s not quite as well known plus Olverston House has guided tours. Built between 1904 and 1906 in the Jacobean style, Olverston House was the home of the Theomin family. They travelled extensively and the 35 room house is furnished with irreplaceable artefacts and priceless treasures such as Japanese ivory, Chinese jade and ceramics, silver ware from the reign of William IV plus a collection of Japanese weaponry and helmets. The art collection includes works by famous New Zealand artists Frances Hodgkins and Goldie.
The house also has mod cons unusual for the time such as central heating, a heated towel rail and internal communication by telephone. Notice the little opening in the wall of the Great Hall, which, according to our guide, was used by chaperones to keep watch on the young girls dancing below to make sure nothing inappropriate occurred.
8. PORT CHALMERS
Take a trip out to Port Chalmers just a 15-minute drive from Dunedin city. It’s a nice drive along the sea front and the port is best viewed from the Signal Flagstaff. Try the Coastal Walk (45-60 mins) or the Skyline Walk both of which give good views.
9. POTPOURRI NATURAL FOODS
If you’re sick of greasy convenience foods and crave a good healthy nosh up then try a meal at Dunedin’s longest established vegetarian café, which is located in the heart of the city at 97 Stuart Street.
10. PENGUIN TOURS
The Yellow Eyed Penguin Conservation Reserve is a private effort to save the world’s most endangered penguins from extinction. Tagging started in 1992 and the colony now encompasses over 100 birds.
The tour starts off with a slide show and talk by the guide then a bus takes you on a bumpy ride over the hillside to the reserve.
Dodge the sheep droppings on the path to the first observation hut. The penguins look like little more than awkwardly lumbering blobs as they emerge from the sea exhausted after a day’s fishing. It’s a bit of a waiting game at this point as they rest for 1/2 - 3/4 of an hour before making their way to the nesting site.
It’s then a short walk through a unique system of hides and tunnels to observe the birds flirt, mate, fight and even urinate from as little as a few metres away. Who could ask for more of a nature kick than that?