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Dunedin – never to be ignored

How does one manage to describe a city in which one just totally and unconditionally falls in love with – and when I say falling in love – it means at first sight. The thing it is is that the love that one feels for Dunedin persists – and just the mention of Dunedin makes me want to go back right away. Strange, taken into consideration the mere situation of Dunedin, in the very south of New Zealand’s South Island, a 5 to 6 hours’ drive from Christchurch with a kind of climate that might remind us of a rather cold and unfriendly Norwegian summer.

Baldwin Street- World’s steepest street

Still, the whole concept of Dunedin is so special, the people, the architecture, the flora and fauna, cultural life – Dunedin  has so much more to offer than the mere impressions one gets through Travel Guides and a short visit. To tell you the truth, I already visited Dunedin some years ago, and this year we had actually decided that we just wanted to make a drop in to Dunedin and then head on down to Invercargill, which is actually at the very end of New Zealand – Antarctica would be next.

Arriving in Dunedin, though, the usual discussion between Morten and myself aroused: “Drive on or stay” – I call it usual because we had the same discussion last time we went to Dunedin, and we chose to stay longer and missed out on Invercargill. This time was going to be different. Or was it? Well, as we arrived in Dunedin we were both reminded of its beauty and of all the stuff we didn’t get to do last time, and of all the experiences we really wanted to have here, and so we both probably knew what we wanted but no one dared bring it up. To cut a long discussion short – we decided to drop Invercargill again and just enjoy more of Dunedin. The good thing about that is that there still remain areas in New Zealand we haven’t yet explored and that of course calls for re-run of a round the world trip where New Zealand will be included at a later stage.  I am really glad we took the trip down there, and happy to say that our stay was extended by a couple of days.

130.000 people inhabit Dunedin, of which 40 % are directly connected to the different educational institutions that set their mark on the town. The thriving tertiary student population has led to a vibrant student culture. Students are popular and well taken care of by the rest of the population. They are referred to as ‘Scarfies’.

Students from all over New Zealand and other countries contribute to Dunedin’s never-ending nightlife, the pubs, the music scene and the many bookstores. The music scene is highly strung and varied. There is no lack of live bands and musicians performing their high quality music out on the streets, in Dunedin’s parks or in night clubs. The term The Dunedin Sound was coined to describe the 1960s-influenced, guitar-led music which flourished at the time. Bands and musicians are still playing and recording in many styles.

More recently a burgeoning boutique fashion industry has been established in Dunedin. The number one world’s leading position in eco-tourism, which actually has its roots in Dunedin. . The world’s only mainland Royal Albatross colony and several penguin and seal colonies lie within the city boundaries on the Otago Peninsula. To the south, are the Sinclair Wetlands, one of the most beautiful areas formed by nature and should not be missed. Especially since you’ll get to see more kinds of different birds here than anywhere else. Medical research is another large interest in Dunedin’s academic institutions, as well as technical and information technology.

The cityscape glitters with gems of Victorian and Edwardian architecture – the legacy of the city’s gold-rush affluence. Many, including First Church, Otago Boys’ High School, New Zealand’s only castle, the Larnach Castle were designed by one of New Zealand’s most eminent architects R.A. Lawson. Other prominent buildings include Olveston, and the most fabulous of them all is definitely the Dunedin Railway Station. It is an architectural gem, and is totally unlike any other railway station I’ve ever seen. It is built in Flemish style; beautiful bricks in brown, grey and yellow colors, a proud building as it beautifully frame the limit of the city center. The interiors of this station are even more beautiful than the exterior. This building is Dunedin’s tourist attraction number one, and the most photographed building in the South Island. Quite understandable.

The downside is that the building doesn’t serve its real purpose any longer. There are no scheduled passenger trains out of Dunedin. The narrow-gauged railroads northwards, eastwards and southwards are not sufficient for passenger transportation since roads and airplanes are so much more effective.  Luckily, a privately-owned firms have started touristic  train excursions, offering everything from a 2 hour coastal drive to one day excursions to the mountainous hinterlands of Dunedin where the offer fantastic scenery, and good food on board. These trips are very popular among visitors, and it is a great pleasure to see that the old train station has some practical use, and that there are actual trains running more than once a day.

The second floor of the railway station is used as an Art Gallery, there are two cafes with old-fashioned interior and every Saturday the railway station area bustles with life. Farmer’s Market is one of the finest markets there is. All the local products are offered for sale. Merchandise you simply cannot get in any stores. You’ll find ecological products in masses, eggs from free roaming hens, meat from well treated animals, homemade jam, home baked bread – and lots and lots of other stuff. The whole of Dunedin seems to be present on Farmer’s Market days, something which is easily observed if you stop by the large supermarket. On Saturdays before lunch, they might as well close up. No one is there.

Of course I had to buy apricot jam from an Armenia woman who grows Armenia’s national fruit in Dunedin and makes the most delicious jam – no added sugars she assures her eager customers.  Other unusual or memorable buildings or constructions are Baldwin Street, the world’s steepest street; the Captain Cook tavern; Cadbury Chocolate Factory and the local Speight’s brewery. Cadbury offers tours and samples, and kids of course love a day at Cadbury’s.

Then there is the best part of Dunedin. I have to mention that Dunedin is no doubt extremely Scottish. Not that I am in love with Scotland, but when Scotland is moved to the South Island, and when the people kind of manage to construct a city more beautiful than Edinburgh one can’t help being impressed. The first settlers in Dunedin were Scots, and more of them kept coming in the years to follow. First of all Dunedin means Edinburgh in Gaelic, and second of all the main accent of Dunedin’s inhabitants sound more Scottish than anything else, especially since many of them insist on rolling the rs. The central streets of the city appear to be like a kind of post card where houses in lush colors are mixed together, kind of like Shetland, Edinburgh and Aberdeen simultaneously. Small cafes, pubs, smooth restaurants of all kinds intermingle with the typical Fish and Chips and hamburger stands. There are no high-rise magazines, just a kind of Scottish feeling a hundred years ago. The odd guy with a guitar or with his accordion or even bagpipe entertains passers-by on the corners of the busy streets of the town. The meeting place for all seems to be the Octagon Square – the actual center of Dunedin. It is a kind of a geometrically constructed octagon with a small park in the middle, a market and small cafes and pubs surrounding it.

Food and drinks are usually consumed outdoors, even on chilly evenings because here is where the music plays – every night until early morning. The party in Dunedin never comes to an end. Many of the convenience shops are open 24/7, so are Mc Donald’s and other fast food restaurants. And the customers? Not only Scarfies. The rest of the population doesn’t mind a late night once in a while. This is what Dunedin is all about!