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Things to do in Dunedin

The Author

My name is Norman Wood, I came to Dunedin in 1990, I didn’t come to stay, but 25 years on I’m still here. I love this city and want to share my knowledge about all the great things that are here. Plus I own Hulmes Court Bed and Breakfast, so you can stay with me and my wonderful team of co-hosts so that you can make the most of your stay in our truly interesting city.

Architecture and City Life

Modern Dunedin was founded in 1848 when settlers first arrived from Scotland. During the mid 1800s in was a time of dreaming about a better life away from the trials and tribulations of the industrial revolution in Great Britain. There was a spirit of dreams to found cities and more over societies which were better than those back home. New Zealand was at the cutting edge of this trend. Many Cities in New Zealand were founded on Utopian principles. My own ancestors came to New Zealand with such dreams; however, they settled in north of Auckland and came out independently. Settlers to Dunedin on the other hand came as it was a Presbyterian Church settlement, I’d imagine it was a bit of a theocracy in those early days, until! Gold. In 1861 Gabriel Read discovered gold in Lawrence, not too far from Dunedin with 11,500 people arriving in the first year alone. The city boomed. Huge Victorian buildings were erected, the University founded in 1856 grew fast, and Dunedin became the first and largest and most important city in New Zealand.

Also, during the 1845 – 1872 there were the Land Wars, largely between Maori and the settlers on the North Island. This was a major factor why development was stunted on the North Island; settlers preferred more secure tenure in the south. There is a link to this time in Dunedin, Maori prisoners of war were held in caves at the end of Portsmouth Drive at the beginning of the Otago Peninsula and now within the City’s urban territory. On your way to the peninsula it is worth stopping and looking around. In addition, you’ll find a large 3D Diorama of the peninsula.

Near the caves is a simple memorial, a rock brought from Teriyaki and raised on a plinth with commemorative plaques, was erected in memory of the Maori prisoners from the nineteenth century wars in Taranaki who died in Otago during their term of imprisonment.

*** Picture Rongo Rock ***

Rongo is the god of peace and cultivation. This choice of name for the rock seems significant in the way it seems to elude to the aspirations of the Parihaka movement whose members followed the biblical injunction to turn spears into ploughshares. As part of a campaign of passive resistance to land confiscations, they uprooted surveyors' pegs across their land by ploughing through them. This was agriculture as civil disobedience.

The memorial was unveiled on March 22, 1987 by the Governor General Sir Paul Reeves who was himself a descendant of the Taranaki detainees. There were about eighty people from Taranaki and two hundred from Dunedin present during the two-hour ceremony. Two Maori clergymen blessed the monument, one with water from a sacred stream in Taranaki and the other with water from the slopes of Aoraki-Mount Cook.

*** Two Google maps ***

Between 1869 and 1881 around two hundred men were sent from Taranaki for imprisonment in Dunedin. The first 74 arrived in November 1869 and were held until March 1872. The second group of prisoners were Te Whiti's ploughmen who arrived between August 1879 and January 1880. The prisoners were put to work on the city's infrastructure including the Andersons Bay Causeway that is within sight of the Rongo monument.

It is across this causeway that you will enter the beautiful Otago Peninsula.


However, after the wars, there was considerable land confiscation that was taken up by settlers in the North Island, huge amounts of arable land was developed especially in the Waikato just south of Auckland. Essentially from this point in time the North Island, especially Auckland started to grow and Dunedin stayed in limbo. The great benefit of this is that the city still retains much of its amazing architecture that didn’t fall to newer buildings, motorways and the like.

Scottish Feel

*** Craig in kilt ***

Hence, Dunedin still retains that Scottish feel. Although you are on the other side of the world, almost as far away from Europe as you possibly can get, it feels as if Dunedin and the South Island should be just off the coast of Great Britain, it is truly that similar.

The Octagon and Stuart Street

Some of the best architrave is best scene by standing in The Octagon, Dunedin’s town square and looking up at St Paul’s Cathedral the Municipal Chambers. The Octagon also has lots of bars, restaurants and nightclubs. On a beautiful sunny day it is wonderful to sit and have a coffee or a cold beer outside in the sun. In the middle of the Octagon is a stature of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns. The Octagon is also the location of the city’s public art gallery and the information centre.

The Octagon sits at the intersection of Upper and Lower Stuart Streets, Princes Street and after it passes through the Octagon George Street. George Street has most of the shops along it. From the Octagon walk down Stuart Street to the Dunedin Railway Station, one of New Zealand’s most significant buildings, completed in the early 1900s. At this time it had up to 100 trains a day and was the country’s busiest. The platform is over 1km long. Now a days, there is only the Taieri Gorge Railway that departs. There are no longer any passenger trains between Dunedin and Christchurch. It is a must see in Dunedin, walk inside and see the stain glass windows, but instead of saints, and significant religious events being depicted, it is almost a shrine to the Industrial Revolution. On the floor of the booking hall is 750,000 mosaic tiles. A frieze of Royal Doulton porcelain.

Interestingly the Station is the location of New Zealand’s premier fashion show, with the platform utilized as a huge cat-walk.

*** Cat Walk Photographs ***

Law Courts and Dunedin Prison

As you walk down to the Railway Station you will pass the Law Courts and very conveniently behind the Dunedin Prison, New Zealand's smallest, housing up to 59 medium security male prisoners, usually only local men on remand, awaiting transfer or serving short sentences. The building was completed in 1898.


Located not far from the centre of Dunedin, although up a very steep hill. If you were to walk, starting in the Octagon, walk up Stuart Street, about 1 km. Then when you come to the Moana Pools (also worth a visit, especially the hydro slides), turn right at Littlebourne Rd and walk along Queen Drive, you’ll come to a folk in the road, stay on Queens Drive (essentially take the right folk), walk along here and you can’t miss Olveston, it is on the corner of Queens Drive, Cobden Street and Royal Tce. (Location: 42 Royal Terrace, (03) 477 3320, Tours cost $16 for adults and $7 for children.

Olveston was the home of the wealthy Jewish Theomin family. The house was finished in 1907, so although old for New Zealand, it isn’t that old if you are a European. However, what is interesting is that the family over time all died off, and the estate was inherited by the youngest daughter Dorothy (1888 – 1966), eccentrically she kept the house as it was until her death, when she gifted it and all the contents to the people of Dunedin. It’s all there, as if you’ve been beamed back in time. Make sure you take a tour, each time I go and learn something new from the very informative staff.

*** Location Olveston *** photos Olveston ***

Larnach Castle

Larnach castle which is situated about half way along the Otago Peninsula is one of Dunedin’s most iconic attractions. Built in the 1860s for William Larnach, member of parliament, cabinet minister, businessman, property developer and certainly a person who had ups and downs. While it is dwarfed by European examples both in age and scale it is more like an English country manor, but its position is spectacular, it’s history while short is up there with the best European examples with regard to intrigue and stories. Larnach’s days didn’t end all too well, his son from a previous marriage ran off with his latest very much younger wife and he shot himself in parliament. I highly recommend a visit.

University of Otago and the Student “Ghetto”

The University of Otago is New Zealand’s second largest university and the country’s oldest. It thinks it is the best and due to the fact that it was the University of New Zealand it might be able to claim this, it is certainly New Zealand’s most fun university.

When I came to Dunedin in 1990 there were 12,000 students, 20 years on and the Campus is zooming towards 25,000. Walking around the campus you can see that there were huge sums of money invested to get it going, but it is still doing very nicely thank you… while other institutions struggle, beautiful new libraries are being built and students flock to the city for both academic reasons and some a bit more “riotous”. I certainly enjoyed my time there.

*** undie 500 photos ***

The university is situated right in the centre of Dunedin, about 5 minutes walk form the Octagon to its nearest corner and about 15 minutes walk to the heart. Surrounding the university are all the university halls of residences (hostels or colleges) and the thousands of student flats. This gives it a certain charm albeit a bit of a ghetto feel.

Knox College

One of my favorite places to visit is Knox College. This is a private institution affiliated to the University of Otago. It was founded in 1909. The college is set in an 11 hectares (27 acres) landscaped site just north of the Botanic Gardens. The site is shared with the much newer Salmond College (originally the “sister” college catering for female students). Both colleges are now mixed. Other Colleges of Architectural merit are Selwyn College, St Margarets College and also I think City College, while being much newer it fits nicely with its student villa feel.

*** Knox College Photo ***

St Josephs Catholic Cathedral

Construction was started in 1878. Situated about 5 minutes walk from The Octagon, it is a beautiful building. Sunday mass starts at 10am. The Cathedral is only about 2 minutes flat walk from Hulmes Court Bed and Breakfast.

*** Photo St Josephs ***

St Pauls Anglican Cathedral

This Cathedral is much newer being consecrated in 1919. It is the most central of all the churches situated on the Octagon next to the City Council buildings.

*** Photo St Pauls ***

First Church

An amazing church designed by Dunedin’s most famous architect Robert Lawson, like so many Dunedinites born in Scotland. A Gothic masterpiece. However, I must say, once inside the beautiful wooden ceiling, floors and seating give it a degree of intimacy and warmth that is often missing in the larger stone cathedrals. It is worth visiting all three cathedrals while in town, they are so close to each other.

First Church dates back to 1862, at this time Dunedin was a new city, but a boom town with the discover of gold. However, it was still a Presbyterian theocracy and something suitable needed to be built to stamp their authority on what was becoming a bit of a “wild west” town. A competition was held to design the “first church” — a cathedral for the rapidly expanding city and now New Zealand's commercial.
From Scotland Robert Lawson entered the competition and won. Lawson moved to Dunedin in 1862 and established an architectural practice. First Church was finally completed in 1874. During the period of construction Lawson was commissioned to design other churches, public buildings, and houses in the vicinity including Otago Boys High School, Larnach Castle, many of the banks in the city and near by towns such as Oamaru.

Knox Church

Farmers Market

Night Life
The Dunedin Sound
The Fortune Professional Theatre
The Globe Theatre
Regent Theatre
24 Hour Book Sale

Ice Skating
Moana Pool
Salt Water Pool St Clair
Golf Courses


George Street
Wall Street/Golden Centre/Meridian interlinked Malls
Second Hand Shops, Op Shops
Book Shops
Susan McPhedran Style Consultant

The New Zealand Shop
The Scottish Shop

Museums and Galleries

Early Settlers Museum
Otago Museum
Tropical Forest and Life Butterfly House
Children’s Museum
Dunedin Public Art Gallery
New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame
Hocken Library
Speights Brewery
Cadbury Chocolate Factory
Fletcher House
Gallery de Novo, the Milford Galleries and the Temple Gallery.

Gardens, Scenery and Walks

Botanic Gardens
Chinese Gardens
Glen Falloch
St Clair Beach
Tunnel Beach
Mount Cargill and the Organ Pipes
Lovers Leap and the Chasm
The Pyramids
Victory Beach
Signal Hill
Baldwin Street

Otago Peninsula
Once you've done all these, head out onto the Peninsula to the New Zealand Marine Studies Centre and Aquarium and view marine life from the southern NZ waters including Octopus, seahorses, crayfish, sharks and many more. Enjoy getting your hands wet in the spectacular touch tanks. Visit their website: > (open in new window) for more details.
Penguin Place
Natures Wonders


Double Decker Bus
Elm Wildlife Tours
Monarch Wildlife Cruises
Natures Wonders Naturally
Twilight Wildlife Tours
Taipei Gorge Railway
Otago Explorer
Prestige Transfers


Moraki Boulders

Port Chalmers



Host: Norman Wood, and his group of friendly co-hosts

Street Address: 52 Tennyson Street, Dunedin, New Zealand

Postal Address: PO Box 6361, Dunedin North, New Zealand

Freephone 0800 448563 (0800 4 HULME) New Zealand only

or Ph : 64 3 4775319 Fax 64 3 4775310

email us at

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