The Edinburgh of the South

We got up in the dark. When we opened the curtains, the sky was a dark grey and the sea a slightly lighter dark grey.

Moeraki is a small fishing village. The name means ‘a place to sleep by day’ but you wouldn’t really want to sleep during the day – we saw great scenery and wildlife on our small cycle ride. The other main attraction there is the Moeraki Boulders on Koekohe Beach.

We took our chance with these – we think we’re coming back here in a few weeks so we opted out of the 7am walk down the beach to the boulders.

Instead, we left the campsite at 8am, and drove 10 mins down the road. This gave us a ten minute window to walk down the beach a little and catch a glimpse of these large spherical rocks scattered on the beach. They were formed in sediment on the sea floor (mud, pebbles and shells) and gradually buried something like 55 million years ago. They were only revealed as a result of shoreline erosion. Some stand-alone; others are in groups. One had imploded. They’re approximately 1m wide, and can weigh several tons.

We got back to the bus under spitting rain and drove on towards Dunedin, stopping briefly in Palmerston en-route. The memorial to Sir John McKenzie on the hill was a clue to the origins of the early settlers in this part of New Zealand.

Our first stop on the outer part of Dunedin was Baldwin Street – the steepest street in the world. So, we got dropped off at the bottom; walked up and walked back down. Yes, it is steep and yes, we took photos which show how wonky the houses look against the street. But no, we did not spend £2 NZD to get our certificates.

In Dunedin, we had just over four hours to ourselves… enough time to have a decent look around. We started with flat whites at Strictly Coffee Company; it was good to have the time to sit down and people-watch. And then, we went on Mission Sightseeing. The gothic Victorian buildings around the Octagon (the central square) were very reminiscent of Edinburgh. Dunedin has its own tartan. And outside the cathedral, there’s a statue of the poet Robert Burns. Presumably, he was recently yarned up as we’re heading into autumn.

According to Lonely Planet, Dunedin is derived from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh: Dùn Èideann. The city was founded when a group of breakaway Presbyterians – passionate about their Christian beliefs and their identity as Scots – were looking for a ‘vigorous new community where members of the Free Church of Scotland could live out their faith and advance themselves’ (text from the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum).

There was an organ concert in the cathedral when we visited; the organ is meant to be one of the finest in the southern hemisphere.

With so much time on our hands, we made for the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. All the art galleries we’ve visited so far have had great art, and they’re free. Our usual strategy worked well – we went to the information desk, stated how long we had and the woman manning the desk gave us her top five must-dos.

We started with Kushana Bush, a New Zealand artist whose work is intense. Her works are all extremely demanding and full on. She is known for producing highly detailed paintings, with multi-ethnic characters and open-ended narratives. Looking at one of her painting in depth could take hours; they are complex and often they contain references to many historical manuscripts. The next gallery was taken over by Australian artist Rebecca Baumann. The space contained huge colourful Plexiglas panels. We really enjoyed how the colours took over the room and how they mixed depending on where you stood. The works of New Zealand artist Nicola Jackson were contained in a small gallery and that was insane. The works – all with anatomical subjects – and the colours were all too much for us. They reminded us broadly of the works of Frida Kahlo we saw back in Mexico. We had just enough time to take in the permanent exhibition which had a few treasures, including a sculpture made of pencils that Andy can’t stop talking about.

Leaving the gallery behind, we walked to the first church built in the Otago region. The inside is quite plain and vaulted which we weren’t expecting from the tall spire. It was built in 1848 with the arrival of the first permanent early settlers, pious hard-working Scots.

We had about one hour in the Toitū Otago Settlers Museum. Highlights were many but we concentrated on the history of the settlers. We’ve been fascinated by this question since we got to New Zealand: what made these people leave everything behind and embark on a three month sailing to New Zealand? Poverty? The prospect of a better life? Gold (from 1861)? But it’s clear too that the New Zealand propaganda machine had been working overdrive. They arrived and faced hardship. It would all come together for them if they were prepared to put a lot of hard work into it. One of the rooms contains floor-to-ceiling portraits of early settlers. Each wall has a dedicated machine with all the portraits on that wall and by selecting a portrait, you could learn the name of the person and when they made the journey across. There’s a reproduction of a passenger-ship cabin and some artefacts. There were a few other displays which caught our eyes such as the Maori and the old transport sections.

Dunedin Railway Station, a few minutes away, is the most photographed building in New Zealand and allegedly in the southern hemisphere. The interior is well preserved.

And this is where we were picking up our tour for the afternoon. After a 40 mins drive along the Otago peninsula, we boarded our boat for a wildlife cruise. We saw so much: royal albatrosses; white-capped albatrosses; Buller’s albatrosses; fur seals; New Zealand sea lions; white-fronted terns; cormorants; a royal spoonbill and a handful of little blue penguins!

Our camp was in St Kilda, on the outskirts of Dunedin. After dropping our bags in our cabin, we walked to the Esplanade in St Clair for dinner. This was the first time in weeks we had dinner in a restaurant, with proper cutlery and everything. The sea outside was wild. There was a shark warning bell on the promenade, the surf was so loud we wondered the futility of it.

6 thoughts on “The Edinburgh of the South”

  1. Do I see an example of an eighteenth variety of penguins amongst these photos? Don’t worry Andy the George borough will be very happy to hear all about about that pencil sculpture in due course.

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