Dunedin is a cool little city, a web of old buildings embraced by rolling, emerald hills with a view over the spectacular Otago Harbour. My boyfriend and I just spent ten days there, and even though we didn’t have much money to spare we had an absolutely brilliant time.
We stayed with my boyfriend’s brother, so our accommodation was free, and we were allowed the use of his van, which saved us the cost of hiring a car. If you ever find yourself in Dunedin, though, I really do recommend hiring a car, as the best experience we had was the day we took a relaxed drive around the Otago Peninsula, going at our own pace, discovering breathtaking views and interesting nooks and crannies.
We flew directly to Dunedin from Auckland Airport, and as we were coming in to land I marvelled at how green the landscape below was – green with patches of wonderfully bright yellow. I later asked what these striking yellow bushes were – gorse – and was told that people were trying to get rid of them. Dunedin was settled in the nineteenth century by Scots, and they brought the gorse with them to use as hedges, but it spread like the triffids. I hope it doesn’t get eradicated. It’s part of what makes the landscape around Dunedin so different from Auckland.
So anyway the plane came in to land on a runway that was surrounded by cows and we were picked up by my boyfriend’s brother, excited and eager to show us what life in Dunedin is all about: drinking.
Dunedin is a city populated by students. It’s apparently “dead” during the summer holidays, but during the semester time it hums with live music and a party atmosphere. Now my boyfriend and I aren’t the sort to get drunk and party, (in fact on our only Saturday night in Dunedin we stayed in and did work,) but I can state confidently that the pub scene in Dunedin is heaps better than in Auckland. The alcohol is cheaper, the bars have more character, the people are more interesting and friendly and the music is better. Also, you don’t see so many young girls dressed like sluts, but that’s due to it being way colder in Dunedin. What you do get is more hipsters.
One pub I have to mention is Queens. It’s a cosy place with hardly any tables, but lots of old couches and pouffes, an antique lift that serves as a sound and lighting booth, a complimentary platter of chips and lollies (translation: crisps and sweets) and a small stage in a corner. It plays host to a variety of talented musicians, some that are so talented I won’t be surprised if they end up famous – Dunedin’s one of those proving grounds for up-and-coming performers. It was at this bar that I met a young woman with blonde dreadlocks and a nose ring who told me that you shouldn’t shower because the fluoride the government put in the water kills off the brain cells that allow you to dream. Gotta love Dunedin.
So when you’re in Dunedin, get yourself down to the city centre one evening and browse the bars.
At the very centre of the city is the Octagon, sort of like a town square except it’s an octagon and it has a road going through it. It’s got nice buildings around it and feels quite British.
In fact, the whole city feels quite British. I suppose that’s due to it being settled by Scots. There are heaps of old, stone churches, which is unusual for New Zealand and made me feel like I was home in England.
The shopping in Dunedin is great. There’s pretty much one road of shops that stretches off from the Octagon and I groaned at the fact I didn’t have any money to spend. Happily, Dunedin has lots (and I mean lots) of second-hand shops – clothes, antiques, books – and I managed to make a few purchases I didn’t have to feel guilty about.
There’s lots of things to do in the city centre besides drinking and shopping. You could gawk at the old railway station and catch the sightseeing train that goes through Taieri Gorge, take a tour of the Speight’s Brewery or the Cadbury Chocolate Factory, (which has a giant chocolate waterfall and smells heavenly,) or if, like us, you don’t have money, you could visit the botanic garden or drive up and down Baldwin Street, the steepest street in the world.
(Good for me, I’d already been on the train and round the chocolate factory anyway, as my family visited Dunedin on our South Island campervan hire tour when I was a kid, back when I had Mummy and Daddy to pay for everything. Those were the days.)
I’ve just realised that this article is already over eight hundred words long and there’s still so much more to say, so I think I’ll wrap it up with a ‘to be continued…’
Join me next week for a drive into the rural backwaters of Dunedin, in which we discover an evil overlord’s secret lair and a xenophobic ice cream lady. And possibly the beauty of the Otago Peninsula, if I don’t run out of words again.