My quest to flee to the other side of the world reached its zenith on Sunday 8th February, as Milly the Mitsubishi climbed over her final hill and wound her way down to the South Island’s second largest settlement. Dunedin is the furthest city in the world from London, some 19,100km away from the place I most readily call home. Nestled amidst the beauty of the Otago Peninsula, Dunedin is frequently referred to as New Zealand’s fourth city (after Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch) despite it slipping further down the rankings in terms of population.
As we descended into the centre, I remarked how much it reminded me of Edinburgh, and further research offered a number of reasons why. Dunedin was founded in 1848 by the Free Church of Scotland, and the city’s surveyor was instructed to imitate Edinburgh’s character. Even the city’s name is derived from the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh (Dun Eideann). Planning was largely done from Britain, with little regard for Otago’s terrain, and the result is a quixotic blend of steep, narrow roads, including the world’s steepest residential street.
There’s plenty more to remind one of Scotland, from the unpredictable weather and architecture to the statue of Robert Burns on The Octagon (the centre of the city’s social hub). You can even buy haggis.
After five nights camping, a hostel seemed very much like a luxury, and the complimentary breakfast of cereal and bread could have been a five-star buffet at the Four Seasons (this is the poshest hotel I can name). We were woken by church bells on Monday morning, and – just for a moment – I found myself back in Merton College, listening to the sounds of Oxford through the curtains of my third year room.
Dunedin is a university town, home to New Zealand’s oldest university – The University of Otago – as well as Otago Polytechnic (the word polytechnic has not yet become a pejorative here). In fact, Dunedin’s economy is largely based around tertiary education and the makeup of the city reflects its status as a centre for higher education. The city also boasts a couple of tremendous free museums and an impressive public art gallery. Although talking of free, it’s taken me all this time to realise something that I find a little odd. I’m sitting in Dunedin’s public library, taking advantage of the free wi-fi, and I’ve only just noticed that borrowing books costs money, like renting films or games.
On the day we leave Dunedin, we drive east to the Otago Peninsula, home to yet more pristine beaches and promises of sealife. The peninsula is also the location of New Zealand’s only castle, as well as the world’s only mainland Royal Albatross colony. It’s not windy enough to see albatrosses on the day we visit, although reading about them makes me realise that I was fortunate to see one on the day I went dolphin swimming (at the time I thought little of it). These majestic birds are now endangered and in need of significant conservation.
We walk to the top of a lookout and survey the streaks of sand and clouds. Then we get back in the car and head south, with the peninsula behind us, to the very bottom of the other side of the world.
Snapshots of NZ