Dunedin the Scotland of the South

Dunedin, one of New Zealand’s oldest and most important settler cities, together with its northern neighbour Christchurch, has a strong Scottish heritage. The city is the doorway to the Otago Peninsula and the Southern Scenic Route along the south eastern coast.

Dunedin was planned in the early 1840s as a Scottish settlement. First settlers arrived soon after and, with the discovery of gold in the 1860s, the town grew to become one of New Zealand’s important commercial centres. The Otago gold rush enticed many migrants – notably Chinese, but also Irish, Italian, French and German nationals. Dunedin is the Celtic form of Edinburgh, and original city plans were based on Edinburgh. While many street names are the same as Edinburgh’s, town planners had to alter the plans to accommodate hills and swamps.

The good burghers of Dunedin ploughed right ahead, and ignored the undulating terrain.  In fact, Dunedin is home to the world’s steepest street, Baldwin Street, which has a 35% gradient.  It is not easy to walk up, but it is more difficult to skateboard down.    

Many Dunedin buildings date back to the gold rush. Of these, the most impressive are First Church, University of Otago’s clock tower, Larnach Castle and Otago Boys High School which were all built in the late 1800s, and Dunedin railway station was completed in 1906.

Dunedin is often referred to as the wildlife capital of New Zealand, and certainly it does strive to preserve its reputation through sustainable measures. Many locals are protective of the unique environment and there is a demand that wildlife tours are non-intrusive. Which means that tourism shouldn’t impact on the lives of the native fauna, not of the human residents. In fact, two local tour operators have Green Globe status, and environmental sustainability is a core business principle for many operators.

The Orokonui Eco-sanctuary, surrounded by a pest-exclusion fence, gives rare native animal and bird species the opportunity to rejuvenate and re-establish populations.

Eco-accommodation options in Otago include Kaimata Retreat, and Highland Peaks lodge which has Qualmark enviro-gold status.

Dunedin, a centre of learning, art and culture since early European days, has been home to many of New Zealand’s great poets, writers, artists and musicians. Although one notable musician, Keith Richards of The Rolling Stones maintains in his biography Life that he spent the most boring time of his life in Dunedin, which may have been before he co-wrote (I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction.

Victorian and Edwardian architecture dominates the cityscape, and many historic buildings have been reinvented for modern life, like the Dunedin railway station that’s now home to Speight’s brewery. Next door, the Chinese garden is a reminder of strong Chinese cultural ties.

Otago Settlers’ museum and Olveston House highlight the influence of Scottish and early settler heritage, while Taieri gorge railway provides a different perspective on the distinctive Otago landscape and history.

So Dunedin, with its dour Scottish architecture and non rock ‘n roll ambience may not be the world’s most exciting place – but it is very pretty, and also unique, a place that’s good for the soul.

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