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Wikipedia | Google | Google Images | FlickrThe second-largest city in the South Island, Dunedin’s strong Scottish heritage and large student population make for a unique personality that guarantees a fun time.
Archaeological evidence shows Maori occupation of Kaikai’s Beach, near the Otago Heads, from around AD 1250-1300. Many sites in what is now Dunedin appear to date from the 14th century. Several pa (fortified settlements) were established in the region around 1650. Several different Maori tribes lived in the region prior to, and during, the arrival of European settlers.
Explorer Captain James Cook was the first European to see the coast of Dunedin in 1770. He reported seeing penguins and seals in the area, which led sealers to visit from the beginning of the 19th century.
William Tucker was the first European to settle in the area in 1815, and permanent European occupation began in 1831, with whalers founding a station on the Otago Harbor. By the 1830's, the harbor had become an international whaling port. Epidemics badly reduced the Maori population.
In 1844, the ship Deborah, arrived at the site which would become known as Dunedin. Known as Otepoti in the Maori language, the name Dunedin comes from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland. The city’s surveyor, Charles Kettle, was instructed to emulate the characteristics of Edinburgh. Captain William Cargill, a veteran of the Napoleonic Wars, served as the secular leader of the new colony. The Reverend Thomas Burns, a nephew of the poet Robert Burns , provided spiritual guidance.
In 1852, Dunedin became the capital of the Otago Province. In 1861, the discovery of gold at Gabriel’s Gully led to a rapid influx of people and saw Dunedin become New Zealand’s first city by growth of population in 1865. The new arrivals included many Irish, but also Italians, Lebanese, French, Germans, Jews and Chinese.
In the late 1800's, Dunedin became the home of New Zealand’s first daily newspaper, as well as an art school, medical school and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Until around 1900, Dunedin was the largest city in New Zealand by population.
During the early 1900's, many large companies were established in Dunedin, including Fletcher Construction and Hallensteins. Population growth fluctuated throughout the 20th century, but experienced a burst at the end of the century as the arts and culture scene flourished, and the city established itself as a “heritage” city, equally home to Victorian style as it was to its thriving student population.
Dunedin now has flourishing niche industries including engineering, software engineer, bio-technology and fashion. The city’s largest industry is tertiary education: Dunedin is home to the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university (established 1869) and the Otago Polytechnic. Students account for around 20% of the city’s population.
Located on the central-eastern coast of the Otago region, Dunedin surrounds the head of the Otago harbor. The harbor and hills around Dunedin are the remnants of an extinct volcano. The city suburbs extend out into the surround valleys and hills, onto the isthmus of the Otago Peninsula, and along the shores of the Otago Harbor and the Pacific Ocean.
A fun geographical fact is that Dunedin is the furthest city in the world from both London and Berlin.
Dunedin is home to the world’s steepest street, according to the Guinness Book of Records. Baldwin Street, located in North Dunedin, is a fully functioning suburban street. Not for the faint-hearted, or for those who lack the courage to perform hill starts in their car. Test your fitness with a walk (or run) to the top, or take part in the annual Jaffa race, where native New Zealand candy-covered chocolates, called Jaffas, are raced from top to bottom.
Larnach Castle is a must-see for any visitor to Dunedin. The castle is set high above the harbor where William Larnach commissioned the construction of New Zealand’s only castle in 1871. The Victorian castle is well known for its 14 hectare garden and grounds, which have been recognized as a Garden of International Significance.
High tea is a popular dining option at Larnach Castle, and is served daily at 3pm. The views from the castle over the city, harbor and peninsula are magnificent. Entry is 29 NZD for adults, and 10 NZD for children. The Castle is open from 9am-5pm, 7 days a week.
Olveston House is a historic 35 room home just walking distance from the city. Showcasing stunning Edwardian design, it was designed for a merchant and his family in the early 1900's. The home provides an accurate display of the early New Zealand lifestyle, and was constructed in a Jacobean style with beautiful attention to detail. Entry is 19 NZD, and it is opened 9:30am-5pm, 7 days a week.
Activities around Dunedin
Dunedin has some of the best beaches and coastal scenery in New Zealand. Arguably the most popular spot is St Clair Beach, a beautiful white sandy beach, with nothing between it and the Antarctic. Boasting New Zealand’s most consistent surf break, St Clair is the perfect place to try out or learn to surf for the first time. The esplanade is lined with cafes, providing a perfect place to watch the surf action, or just take in the majestic waves. Nearby St. Kilda is also a great surf spot.
Also check out the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, an open-air public swimming pool nestled within rocks just meters from the ocean. The pool is open Monday – Friday, 6am-7pm, and Saturday and Sunday, 7am-7pm. Entry is 5.70 NZD for adults, and 3.10 NZD for children.
Further afield, try out the Tunnel Beach Walk. In the 1870's, John Cargill, excavated a tunnel down to a secluded beach so that the Cargill families could bathe in privacy away from the prying eyes of St Clair. The beach has massive sandstone boulders, mysterious graffiti carved into the cliffs, and wild waves. Tunnel Beach is also known as the most romantic spot in Dunedin.
Best at low tide, the easy twenty minute walk from the car park on Tunnel Beach Road through private farm land takes you to a magnificent sandstone sea arch and man-made tunnel, to the secluded beach with fossil-filled cliffs on all sides. Entrance is free.
A visit to Taiaroa Head on the Otago Peninsula is a must for any wildlife-lover visiting Dunedin. Taiaroa Head is the stunning landscape feature proudly denoting the end of the Otago Peninsula, overlooking the mouth of the Otago Harbor. A scenic one-hour drive from Dunedin, Taiaroa Head is not only full of historic significance, but is home to the only mainland colony of Northern Royal Albatrosses in the world. With a population of 140 royal albatrosses, the Taiaroa colony has seen more than 500 chicks hatch since its establishment in the 1930s.
The Royal Albatross Centre is based at the colony, and access is restricted to guided tours. Prices for tours begin at 45 NZD for adults, 15 NZD for children, and 100 NZD for a family. The classic 60 minute guided tour tells the story of the albatross and includes a visit to viewing areas on Taiaroa Head.
A small beach, Pilots Beach, is located just inside the harbor entrance to the south of Taiaroa head, and many forms of marine life, such as New Zealand Fur seals and Hooker’s Sea Lions are often seen. Pilots Beach is also home to the largest colony of little or blue penguins remaining on the Otago Peninsula. From the Beach, you may also be lucky enough to see Dusky dolphins, orcas (killer whales) and migratory large whales, such as Southern Right and Humpbacks.
Dunedin has a burgeoning fashion industry, and is home to many local designers and boutiques. For designer threads, check out Slick Willy’s, Belle Bird Boutique, Carlson and Charmaine Reveley on George Street. Also worth a look is the Cuckoo’s Nest Boutique, which features ethical and eco-friendly clothing, jewellery, accessories and giftware.
For its size, Dunedin boasts a variety of impressive quality restaurants. If you’re ready to splurge, check out Pier 24 (hotel dining par excellence), Scotia (Scottish-themed), Bacchus (historic surrounds), Two Chefs (French bistro) and Plato (Cuisine Magazine’s Restaurant of the Year finalist four years in a row). For delicious brunch check out Capers Café on George Street, and student favorite Velvet Burger serves up exceptional burgers and sides.
If you’re up for a drive, a quick trip north out of the city to Moeraki is a must. Fleur’s Place is a restaurant, café and bar right on the waterfront at the old jetty in Moeraki. Specialising in fresh fish straight from Moeraki Bay fishing boats, Fleur’s place has won numerous awards. When British television chef and restaurateur Rick Stein was told he could choose to go anywhere in the world to write a travel article for English newspaper the Daily Mail, he chose Fleur’s Place.
Dunedin’s compact size means that most hotels are close to the center of town, making it very easy to get around. If you want to get away from the downtown area, there are options available for all tastes and budgets.
Check out http://www.dunedinnz.com/visit/stay for a full range of options and prices.
Dunedin International Airport is located 22km west of central Dunedin. The drive takes approximately 20 minutes. Major rental car companies are available both at the airport and in the city, or else taxi companies operate cars and airport shuttles into the city.
Within the city itself, distances are not great. So get enjoy the fresh air and walk your way around the city, or else public buses and taxis are widely available.
Dunedin has a temperate climate, with mild summers and cool winters. Winter is frosty but sunny, snowfall is common but not usually significant. Temperatures during summer can reach over 86 °F.
Like most of New Zealand, Dunedin is considered to be fairly safe for tourists. Do take the usual precautions, however, like not walking alone at night, avoiding carrying more cash than you need, and locking away your valuables.
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Author: Amanda. Last updated: Mar 20, 2015