Dunedin Railway Station
Otago University Clock Tower

Dunedin - City of tradition

Dunedin - City of tradition

Dunedin, city of tradition and fine architecture, gives us excellent dining experiences and very crisp but fine weather.  If you are an Aucklander despairing of losing our built heritage and architectural future, then a Dunedin visit may be just what you need.  


On previous travels south we have been on road trips, so enjoying an aerial view of the Alps from 30,000+ feet is a rare treat.  Today the clear sky, gives a view west across to pure white snow covered mountains, with Mt Cook clearly head and shoulders above the rest.  It’s a little bumpy descending into Dunedin but we are soon on the ground, collecting our bags and finding the Thrifty rental car office. This involves an outside excursion into a fierce wind reducing the air temperature dramatically.  Our small, nicely presented Toyota Corolla is perfect for our stay.


Looking back in time, Dunedin was a very prosperous city in the late 19th century with Otago gold being the driver.  Established by Scottish immigrants in the 1850s much of the architecture of those times is preserved today.  Originally named New Edinburgh, Dunedin (Dun Eideann) being the Scottish Gaelic form of Edinburgh, was eventually chosen.  Otago University, founded in 1869 was and still is a focal point of Dunedin culture with the impressive presence of the clock tower complemented by the stylishly traditional Professorial houses nearby.  The Leith River runs very prettily through the grounds, discharging some distance on into the Otago Harbour. Otago University contributes enormously to Dunedin both economically and from the unique student lifestyles.  19th century houses close to central Dunedin are very sought after as accommodation by students during the academic year.  The challenge for students coming from the North Island would be coping with the intensely cold winter weather.

Dunedin airport, at Momona is quite a way from town, taking over 30 minutes in good traffic to reach Dunedin city outskirts.  Our GPS guides us to Princes St and Fables Hotel where we are based for the next four nights. This used to be Wains Hotel and is an historic stone building, internally amazingly refurbished in modern period style.  It’s not far from the railway station, designed by architect George Troup and famous worldwide for its ornate style and external decoration.   With construction beginning at the turn of the 19th century,   it’s in rail use today and is also the venue for an extensive farmer’s market every Saturday morning which is well worth a visit.  Directly across the road, in Anzac Ave is Ironic, an eclectic café/restaurant with inside/outside seating, serving excellent coffee and great food options.  Walk on past the train station and you quickly come to the Chinese Garden.  Do go in. The garden itself is very traditional Chinese, quite structured with pretty strategic plantings around a lake-like large central pond.  You think you won’t spend long, but are soon drawn in by the images and history of Chinese people in Dunedin.

Everywhere you walk in Dunedin there is heritage architecture, both commercial and residential.  If your stay is short then the prescribed ‘heritage walk’ is worthwhile but if you have longer, like we do this time, walking and discovering for yourself is much more exciting.  Books are a draw card for us with the ‘Hard to Find’ bookshop in Dowling Street a must visit. There are lots of comfortable club chairs dotted around, so you can take your time perusing your ‘finds’. The University Bookshop (UBS) with new books is another rewarding destination in Great King Street, University Precinct, stocking an interesting range of books, on many subjects, including a great children’s section.


Scenic options are many with the outstanding Otago Peninsula the nearest.  This well- travelled road ends with the albatross colony.   It’s only about one metre above high tide sea level, mostly lacking  barriers between you and the salt water. The weather is calm the day we drive out, but under heavier weather it could be challenging. The delights of this scenic drive are many from the colourful bus stop murals to the charming Portobello settlement, with a visit to see the albatross and enjoy the café’s excellent coffee and wild coastal views at the end.

Include Port Chalmers in your itinerary, with lunch at the near-by pretty historic Carey’s Bay hotel.   The refurbished hotel dating from 1874, still retains its inherent originality. We enjoy lunch siting in the front window of the charming dining room looking out to the water, warmed by a wood fire. The bay itself is a scenic delight.  


Port Chalmers has a long history with its establishment dating from about 1850. Gold discovered in Gabriel’s Gully in 1861 led to an enormous inrush of would be gold hunters needing all manner of local services.  Hotels, stores, chemists, blacksmiths and schools were quickly established, with the Masonic Hall functioning as a courthouse on weekdays.  A number of original buildings are still standing and in use, with the 1876 Chicks Hotel, in stark contrast to the of nearby port activity and its modern  container handling equipment. An 1876 hotel guest, looking seaward with time traveller vision, would gain a startling peep into the future.


After enjoying the charm of No 7 Balmac, Baccus, Buster Greens, Marbeck’s  Food Store/café,  in the city and Salt at St. Clairs during our stay, we reach our last Dunedin night and drive back to St. Clair beach for dinner at Titi on the beachfront.   St Clair is a 1.6 km white sand beach facing into the Pacific Ocean.  Very large waves roll into the beach creating ideal conditions for experienced surfers.  Today there are quite a few heads bobbing up and down far out waiting for the right wave.  The freezing  conditions mean all the surfers are in full wet suits.   After a quick stroll on the foreshore we are ready to head inside to enjoy the restaurant.  Titi offers just a couple of set menu choices, the dishes decided by the chef.  We have a wonderful evening, beautifully looked after, with every dish presented suiting our tastes perfectly after expert tweaking to cope with some important dietary issues.


We are up early for our morning flight back to Auckland.  On the way to the airport a stop to refill the rental with fuel  is a small challenge with the self-service fuel pump needing to be operated in semi darkness at Oc degrees.  A challenge for frozen fingers pressing  the right buttons.

On the A320, masks on, it’s back to Auckland, sorry to leave historic Dunedin, but with great memories.