Oamaru is a relatively small town located near Dunedin, but has an extremely powerful sense of identity. The town is well known in the region for its pristine Victorian district. While being a small town, it has a vast array of beautifully preserved Victorian buildings and is often used as a filming location. The town has fully embraced this identity and runs Victorian clothing stores, old style pubs, art galleries, whiskey distilleries, hosts Victorian galas and parades, etc. If you enjoy art or history, then Oamaru is definitely worth the stop.
The town has also adopted the title of New Zealand’s steampunk capital, proudly boasting a large steampunk gallery, café and park. Sculptures are all made from recycled metal and old parts. The gallery also features an amazing infinity room timed to three songs and a electronica programmed organ.
The Grainstore Gallery
The Grainstore Gallery is a highly unusual art gallery in Oamaru run and owned by an artist known as Donna Demente who creates all of her own pieces in the gallery. For some highly unusual art pieces, some of which you may wish to buy, pay her a visit. Even if you don’t buy, at least meet the artist, she is a fantastic person to chat to.
Otago Peninsula is full of tourist attractions, native wildlife, and stunning scenery. Amongst the attractions you will find, the only genuine castle in the region (which I sadly never made it to), an albatross center, historic gardens and beaches covered in seals and penguins. The albatross center is definitely worth the drive and is located at the very end of the peninsula. Located there are also historic disappearing cannons which are hidden below the ground and can be toured.
The Pineapple Track is a fantastic hiking trail running from just outside of the city and along the city’s skyline. The trail gives a fantastic view of the city itself and the coastline on one side and the alps on the other side. The trail is easy difficulty and only takes a few hours to complete.
Located just outside of Dunedin, Tunnel Beach is a fantastic way to spend an afternoon, with amazing coastal views and highly unusual rock structures. A historic tunnel carved through a cliffside was once used by smugglers to bring goods up from boats.
Organ Pipes Track
Another track located just outside of the city, with fantastic views. The trail only takes around two hours both ways and gives an amazing 360 degree view of the surrounding area.
Silver Peaks Trail
A short drive outside of the city marks the beggining of the trail. While it is doable in a single day, I recommend taking two days and spending the night in the cabin located on the trail. While one part of the trail can be quite difficult due to its steepness, the rest is quite manageable.
Dunedin is a beautifully historic city with amazingly well-preserved buildings. Wherever you go in the city you will see stunning architecture from the early to mid-1800s onward.
The city center of Dunedin is filled with historic buildings worth checking out. Dunedin was the original national capital of New Zealand, drawing in sealers, whalers and gold mining, and as such housed the national stock exchange and parliament house. However, upon the founding of Auckland and Wellington, Dunedin was stripped of the title. Dunedin was originally founded by Scotish settlers, Presbyterians seeking to find a new home to freely and openly practice and as such the city is filled with cathedrals and churches.
Olevstone Historic Homestead
Olevstone Historic Homestead is a stunning home built in 1879 by David Edward Theomin, a wealthy British merchant who made his money in Melbourne before moving his family to Dunedin and constructed an illustrious mansion. He had two children who never had children, so upon their deaths, the family tree abruptly ended and the house was left to the city. Due to this fact, the house became a historically protected landmark and is perfectly preserved along with its contents.
Cargill’s Castle was another illustrious homestead constructed in 1877 on the city outskirts. The castle was built right on the edge of a cliff to overlook the ocean. However, due to coastal erosion, the building became structurally unsound and became abandoned, falling into disrepair. In order to access the castle, you will need to cut through private property and jump a fence or two in the outer suburbs. Technically the grounds are off limits, but are still accessible.
Speights Brewery was established in 1876 and immediately exploded in popularity. The most famous beer produced in the complex is Speights Gold Medal Ale, which won the Melbourne Exhibition for best beer in 1880, hence the title. An alehouse was also built on the grounds to serve the full selection of Speights beers and ciders.
The steepest street in the world and a great way to get your daily cardio.
Upon his visit to Dunedin in 2015, Prince Charles was lucky enough to have met me. I decided to wear a crown and wield a scepter to get into the mood for the occasion and was interviewed by three news stations which were broadcast nationally and made it into the local paper.
As I stated earlier, Dunedin is regarded as a world literary city. As well as this, the city was a hub of art, music and festivals.
Living in Dunedin and being so far south, winter and darkness become synonymous. In winter the sun will go down between 4 and 5pm and only rise after 8 30am. The days are short and cold, giving a real appreciation for summer. During the winter however, around the shortest day of the year is the Midwinter Carnival, celebrating the change of the solstice. This carnival uses light to celebrate the darkness, with a famous parade of lanterns marched through the city center. This is accompanied by live music and street food and in particular some of the best mulled wine you will ever have.
Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room
Dunedin was lucky enough to house Yayoi Kusama’s Obliteration Room in our regional art gallery for some time. This was an interactive exhibit, featuring a completely white room fully decorated like an average home. Everyone who entered received a sheet of coloured stickers to place wherever they pleased, creating an exhibit themselves as they visited. If it ever visits your city, I highly recommend experiencing it.
For a small city, Dunedin has its fair share of live music. The stadium houses plenty of bigger bands while smaller venues in the city host smaller groups. RE-Fuel, a bar/venue underneath the University of Otago has weekly concerts or both local and touring acts and is always a great place to go for a few beers and some live music. The Bog is another Irish/Scottish pub in town that hosts live music almost every other night and has some great acts and some cheap beers.
As a city, Dunedin is full street art. Some of it smaller pieces, others taking up entire sides of buildings. Many of the cities alleys are painted with hidden gems which can be found just walking around the city.
New Zealand in general and especially Dunedin, lives for rugby. The All Blacks are essentially regarded as gods amongst men, being the biggest celebrities and the most revered sportsmen in the country. Aside from the national team, the country also sports five of the world’s eighteen Super Rugby teams, of which one is from Dunedin. The Highlanders are Dunedin’s local team and reigned as the world champions in 2015. Dunedin is home to one of the largest stadiums in the country and hosts a regularly sold-out student section aptly named The Zoo. This is always the loudest and most enthusiastic/drunk part of the stadium.
In 2015 The All Blacks won the Rugby World Cup for the third time, as well as winning t for the second series in a row. This event set off a stream of partying nation-wide, nowhere more so than Dunedin, with the match being watched across the city, both indoor in pubs or at home, or projected on the side of houses. Students dragged old couches together outdoors and made makeshift cinemas to watch the match. After the win occurred the couches were piled together and burned in celebration causing fire damage to several buildings in the city.
As I said, the university was the primary source of income for the city, everything revolved around it and around a third of the cities population were students. Otago University is the oldest in the country and for a long period of time was the southern most university in the world. The central hub of the university named the link housed of the campuses many libraries and a food court for students. The most iconic building on campus was the clock tower, which was one of the first major building constructed in the city and in New Zealand.
Students attending the university are referred to as Scarfies due to the iconic yellow and blue scarves worn by students. However, in Dunedin, Scarfie had its own connotation, referring to a lifestyle lived by many students of share housing in old dilapidated houses, living week to week on student allowances and excessive drinking and partying. It was Scarfies that made the nationally famous Baldwin St party an annual event. Students at Otago University often has what was referred to as a ‘red card event.’ Each person in a household had one per semester. This red card allowed each person one decision that had to be followed by the rest of the household. This decision could be anything from a dare or challenge that either an individual in the house or the entire household had to follow. Alternatively, this decision could be a party on a set date and a theme for that party. For example, red card challenges I have heard of include forcing your three male housemates to all take Viagra, then put on full body spandex morph suits and attend a mixed gender yoga class. Another challenge that occurred was two households full of guys taking LSD, each filling a backpack with fireworks and then having a fireworks firefight in the cities botanical gardens on Guy Fawkes day, resulting in a fire that destroyed several bushes, due to the decision to have this fight in the savannah land area of the gardens. Another red card which I witnessed myself was student being forced to run naked into the university river in mid winter on a Monday afternoon in front of a crowd of onlookers. Events such as these gave Dunedin a unique culture of its own. Another famous trend amongst students of the university was that of couch burning, which usually occurred when graduating and no longer requiring your old furniture. Dunedin was famous for students having couches that were very much intended to be indoors used as outdoor furniture on peoples porches and balconies. Once they had served their purpose they were stacked and burned. Speights was the drink of choice for students in Dunedin as it was cheap, plentiful, tasted fantastic for the price and was available everywhere, due to being manufactured in town. No evening or afternoon of drinking was ever complete without a carton of speights on hand. If you want to know more about Dunedin and Scarfie culture, then I recommend watching the movie Scarfies
So while I moved to NZ originally when I was 2 years old, I left when I was too young to have done much worth writing about. So even though it isn’t technically in chronological order, I’ll write about the second time I lived in New Zealand from 2015-16.
I moved back from Australia to New Zealand to complete my second degree at the University of Otago at the bottom of the earth. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the University, it’s based in Dunedin which is a nationally famous college party town. One of the few places I’ve ever been where entire streets can be closed off for 1,000 person alcohol fuelled parties. The only place I’ve lived where 3-400 person parties can break out in housing blocks on a Thursday night. Dunedin itself is a beautiful city, filled with old colonial buildings and is located amongst stunning coastal and mountainous scenery. The city itself has countless hiking trails and within a short driving distance there almost a limitless supply. One of the nation’s greatest tourist hubs, Queenstown is only a four-hour drive from Dunedin itself. The city has a rich Scottish settler history which is shown in its architecture and culture. Additionally, the University of Otago which is the central source of income for the city is well-recognized in the international community and has helped Dunedin to become one of only 20 World Literary Cities, as designated by UNESCO in 2014. The city itself also houses countless bookstores and several impressive libraries. As well as literature, Dunedin has a rich history of dramatic and musical performances, both of which are frequent on evenings throughout the week. If you’re looking for somewhere to eat or drink, the cities central hub, the Octagon houses numerous bars, clubs, and restaurants. Most people will start their Saturday night drinking at home in student share housing, before heading to one of the numerous Scottish or Irish pubs throughout the city and usually end up at one of the cities three main nightclubs, Suburbia, 10 Bar or Innocent Bystanders. Usually, whichever one of these clubs the evening ended at would define how the remainder of the evening would play out, with Innocent Bystanders usually meaning that everyone had a good night and went home at a reasonable time with nothing happening. 10 Bar would usually mean that you would either go home early or over to another club because after about an hour of being there you would want to leave. Finally, there was Suburbia, which usually meant that the evening was going to end messily or you wouldn’t be sure exactly how your evening ended when you woke up at home the next day with about 10 missed calls. It’s probably worth mentioning that two of these three night clubs were actually subterranean as a lot of Dunedin was. The city itself was literally built onto and into the harbour hillside, resulting in it being the home of the steepest street in the world Baldwin St. Thursday nights would usually mean that we would spend the first half of the evening at a friend’s house who lived closer to the University. Predrinks would occur at that house until it became suitably late in the evening, at which time we wold make our way to whatever party a member of the group had heard a rumour of or been invited to. Dunedin is one of those places where you literally have to know someone who knows one person who is going to another persons party to essentially have what is considered an invite. These parties would usually be in a housing complex meaning that they were outdoors and would always escalate to a ridiculous level or in a large share house in which case they would normally reach about 100 people. Being a University City, only around 1/2 of the people you would meet at any given party would be from New Zealand and of those who were, about 1/3 of them would be from Dunedin. You would usually see at least a handful of people from each party you attended at some point in the coming semester.