New Zealand / Travel

Dunedin and the Otago Peninsula

We had been told by friends that we would like Dunedin. It’s a student city, home to the University of Otago; it’s got lots of old buildings (which is unusual for New Zealand). It’s also a stones throw from the Otago peninsula – apparently a New Zealand must-see. It’s also the furthest city in the whole world from my home of London, so we have managed to make it as far away as possible, without being out in the middle of the ocean. Our friend Matt was also due to arrive in Dunedin, where we would meet him and he was to join us for the rest of our travels. We were looking forward to our trip to Dunedin for all these reasons. It wasn’t a long drive from Oamaru to Dunedin, so we arrived feeling fairly fresh and in high spirits. Autumn felt like it was settling in, and Dunedin felt a lot like being back in the UK. This isn’t too surprising seeing as Dunedin in Gaelic means ‘Edinburgh’, and the Scottish influence is apparent throughout the city (although unfortunately it’s nowhere near as pretty as the Edinburgh closer to home). Here’s a rundown of what we got up to in the Edinburgh of the South:

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Dunedin Railway Station – The most photographed building in New Zealand
Now New Zealand is not exactly famous for its architecture, and it’s famous landmarks tend to be natural wonders, so I’m not sure how much of an accolade it is to be the most photographed building in New Zealand is. However, Dunedin’s railway station is very pretty and we did take several photographs of it. Inside it has a large entrance hall with a mosaic tiled floor with old fashioned ticket booths. The double doors lead out onto a wide platform, with retro signs pointing to the ticket office and cafe. Upstairs is a surprisingly large art gallery, with several rooms of paintings of Dunedin, and then, strangely, a temporary exhibition of photographs of Bolivian carnivals. This was a serendipitous finding. When Matt arrived we brought him to the Railway Station too, as his first kiwi landmark.

Dunedin Art Gallery
I’m a fan of local art galleries, and when we first arrived in New Zealand we visited the Auckland Art Gallery which offered a great selection of international and New Zealand art. Unfortunately, the Dunedin art gallery was no where near as good. The layout was confusing, and there was insufficient information about the works on display. That’s not to say I didn’t enjoy the gallery at all, it’s still a good way to kill an hour or so, but if you’re on a tight schedule, I would probably advise skipping it out.

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The Otago Museum
In contrast to the Dunedin Art Gallery, the Otago museum was brilliant. As a tourist in New Zealand, what I really want from a museum or gallery is something I can’t get back home, or anywhere else. I like it when it’s specific to the local culture, at least to an extent. The Otago museum had a section on Edmund Hillary’s Everest expedition, with plenty of his personal belongings from the trip on display. There was also a section explaining Maori history and folklore as to how New Zealand was created. Toby’s favourite room was the Pacific Islands room, with traditional objects and costumes from the likes of Fiji, Samoa and Tonga. There was also a large section on indigenous animals and insects, which included a fairly gruesome but entertaining section where you could look at dead spiders under a microscope. All in all, an entertaining and educational experience.

The Octagon – the centre of Dunedin
At the very centre of town there are two octagonal roads, a smaller one inside a bigger one. The central octagonal road is the Octagon. Many bars and restaurants are situated on the octagon, as well as St. Paul’s Cathedral, less huge and impressive than the London cathedral of the same name, but that’s only to be expected. We went inside the cathedral and were offered a short tour from a volunteer and we learned about the strange architecture (gothic at one end and 1970s concrete at the other). We then perused the selection of bars across the road, and settled for a studenty looking place with happy hour deals. We sat and watched the people of Dunedin go about their business, from the very centre of the city.

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The Otago Peninsula – A real kiwi must-see
Like many places in New Zealand, the best things to see are actually just outside the cities. That’s where you find the waterfalls, the beaches, the interesting wildlife and the best walks. Dunedin is no different. The Otago peninsula is where you can drive out to an albatross colony, where we not only saw albatrosses, but also some huge seals, and a shark! We didn’t pay to have a tour or anything, but just waited on a platform by the sea, which looked like that’s what most people do. It was great seeing so much wildlife in such a short space of time, and it was a nice introduction to New Zealand for Matt.

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We also visited New Zealand’s only castle (which isn’t really a castle by English standards!), called Larnach Castle. It looks like a large country house with beautiful gardens and wonderful views down to the coast. The best bit about Larnach castle, however, is the backstory. It was built for William Larnach, a New Zealand businessman, between 1873 and 1887. He then took up residence there with his first wife in 1874, but in 1880 she died. He then went on to marry her half sister, who then died in 1887. He then married for a third time, and over the next few years his career took a turn for the worse (he was accused of dodgy dealings). At a similar time, his wife had an affair with his youngest son. Later, in 1898, he locked himself in a committee room in parliament and shot himself. Understandably, I think, we were just as interested in the dramatic backstory of the castle and its previous owners, as we were in the castle itself!
The roads around the peninsula are really picturesque, driving through lush green countryside with views of the ocean around every corner. Just beware the unsealed roads!

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Moeraki Boulders
The Moeraki boulders are actually back in the direction we came, towards Oamaru, but the day we drove from Oamaru to Dunedin, we didn’t stop to see them because it was grey and drizzly. We thought we’d save it for a sunnier day when we could bring Matt along too. I’m pleased we did because it was a fun few hours and the day we decided to go was gloriously sunny. The boulders sit half buried on the beach front, and are several million years old. They are very large and perfectly rounded, and it’s a mystery as to how they were formed. We hopped across boulders and posed for photos.

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Matt’s Arrival
Now I finally come to the most exciting part of our time in Dunedin – as I’ve briefly mentioned, our friend Matt has arrived to join us on the rest of our trip! We are now the awesome foursome, traveling around together. We will take Matt to our favourite New Zealand spots, and explore some new places too. It’s nice to have four of us, it’s a proper group and Toby now has another stupid boy to play and drink Milo with…

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