Professorial Houses Otago University
Professorial Houses Otago University

Professorial Houses Otago University

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Professorial Houses Otago University
Professorial Houses Otago University

Professorial Houses Otago University

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Cathedral precinct Dunedin NZ
Cathedral precinct Dunedin NZ

Cathedral precinct Dunedin NZ

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Professorial Houses Otago University
Professorial Houses Otago University

Professorial Houses Otago University

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Dunedin, South Is New Zealand

City of tradition and fine architecture – excellent dining experiences and very cold weather. If you are an Aucklander despairing of our built heritage and architectural future then a Dunedin visit may be just what you need.  On previous visits south we have been on a road trip so the aerial view of the Alps from 30,000 + feet is a rare treat. Today the sky is clear affording a view west across to Mt Cook which clearly is head and shoulders above the rest.  The whole, nicely covered in pure white snow. A little bumpy descending down into Dunedin and 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.

A little Dunedin history.  A very prosperous city in the late 19th century with Otago gold being the driver.  Scottish immigrants established Dunedin in the 1850s with much of the architecture of those times preserved today. Originally named New Edinburgh, however  Dunedin (Dun Eideann) was eventually chosen  being the Scottish Gaelic form of Edinburgh.  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. Dunedin houses dating from the 19th century, being close in to central Dunedin are very sought after as student accommodation during the academic year. Any North Island students would have to develop the skills needed to overcome and endure 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 outskirts. Our GPS guides us to Princes St and Fables Hotel where we are based for the next 4 nights. This used to be Wains Hotel and is an historic stone building, internally amazingly refurbished in modern period style.  The railway station, designed by architect George Troup, is famous worldwide for its ornate style and external decoration. Construction began at the turn of the 19th century.  Still in rail use today, also there is an extensive  farmer’s market every Saturday morning – well worth a visit. Directly across the road, in Anzac Ave is Ironic, an eclectic café/restaurant with inside/outside seating, where you can find excellent coffee and great food options. At this time of year, outside is only for the hardier patron. 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 large central pond, really a small lake. 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, commercial and residential. If your stay is short then the proscribed ‘heritage walk’ is worthwhile but if you have longer, like us this time, walk further and discover for yourself – much more exciting. Books are a draw card for us with the ‘Hard to find’ bookshop in Dowling Street a must visit. Expect to spend several hours here. There are lots of comfortable club chairs for perusing your ‘finds’. The University Bookshop (UBS) with new books only is another rewarding destination in Great King Street University precinct where you can find interesting serious books you won’t see anywhere else. The UBS also has an extensive, unusual children’s section.

Scenic options are many with the Otago Peninsula the nearest and probably the best. Of course the albatross colony is at the end of the Peninsula road. The Peninsula low road is only about 1 metre above high tide sea level with mostly no 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 and there are the albatross, excellent coffee and wild coastal views at the end.

Include Port Chalmers and Careys Bay in your itinerary with lunch at the historic Carey’s Bay hotel a special treat. The bay itself is a scenic delight. Port Chalmers has a long history with its establishment dating from about 1850. Gold being 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 buildings from these times past are still standing and in use. The proximity of the port activities with its modern  container handling equipment gives the 1876 Chicks Hotel guest a strange time traveller view of a future world.

The Carey’s Bay Hotel is a stand out, almost to the point that if you do very little else, lunch at the Hotel in Carey’s Bay would be enough. The Hotel dates from 1874 and although refurbished still retains its inherent originality. Nothing better than on a cold winter’s day, lunch by the fire at Careys Bay is not to be missed.

Unfortunately we have reached our last Dunedin night and we are booked at Titis restaurant on the St Clair  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. It is freezing cold so the water must be straight from Antarctica. All the surfers are in wet suits of course and I think the exhilaration of catching the right wave must be really strong.  At the western end of the beach there is spectacular giant kelp waving  energetically to and fro in the surf. This is just below the last remaining heated salt water pool in New Zealand  after we lost the salt water Auckland Tepid Baths to fresh water in the 1970s. Hardy souls in Dunedin as their pool is outside whereas the ‘Teps’ are inside. After a quick stroll on the foreshore we are more than ready to enjoy TiTis. The team at TiTis know what they are doing, offering only a couple of menu choices according to what the chef has decided for the night.  We have a wonderful evening with every dish presented suiting our tastes perfectly, even expertly accommodating some important dietary issues.

This morning we are up early ready for our 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. Hard for the frozen fingers to press the right buttons.

On the A320, masks on, back to Auckland and sorry to leave historic Dunedin.