It can be so refreshing sometimes to just head off for a break somewhere for a few days especially if you live in an isolated little village with no car. I’ve been living in Lake Tekapo, New Zealand, as many people know, for the last year and a half and at times I really feel the need to get back to what I call “civilisation”. So when the opportunity came up of getting a free ride down to Dunedin and back, I jumped at the chance.
Lake Tekapo has a small community of about four hundred permanent residents. It is an idyllic alpine location about an hour and a half’s drive from Mt. Cook, close to the Southern Alps in the South Island. I normally take the bus when I head off on my little trips around New Zealand but to drive down to Dunedin by bus would take about five hours. A friend of mine offered me a lift down to Dunedin between the 15th and the 18th March and driving by car meant that I’d be travelling only for three and a half hours instead of five. This meant more time for exploring Dunedin. It was perfect timing actually as it turned out that I’d be there for St. Patrick’s Day: Ireland’s national holiday. I spent a very enjoyable three days in Dunedin and these are my highlights.
THE CHALET BACKPACKERS
The Chalet Backpackers, on High Street, where I stayed, was old but very nice. It was clean and comfortable too. I like quirky places and this hostel has its own interesting story. It was built in 1904 by two nurses, Mrs. Church and Mrs. Sutherland, as the private Chalet Hospital. In 1991 it was converted to the Chalet Backpackers. There is a rumour that the building has its own ghost. An older gentleman smoking a pipe has apparently been seen in the pool room. There are notices in every room about check out time and the facilities there but at the bottom of the notice is a sentence or two stating that if you do see a ghost, it has to be reported to Reception, so that it can be put in the log book. So there must have been some incidences in the past to validate this rumour. I didn’t see or hear any ghosts as I’m not sensitive to those kinds of things unfortunately. I wish I was but I’m not. I just find spooky stories fascinating.
My room was on the second floor, with a slanted ceiling and a view of the hills opposite. There was a kitchen, dining room and some toilets/bathrooms on the ground floor. On the middle level were more bedrooms and bathrooms/showers but what I really liked was the t.v. lounge. This was a bright and spacious room with a great view of the harbour in the distance. It was a lovely, quiet place to sit and read. One unusual feature about the place was the fact that a lot of the lights had pull chords with tassles on them. So you’d have to pull the chords to turn on the lights, like in the old days. I love quaint old places like this. The only drawback about it was that it was cold. They do provide hot water bottles though for those cold nights. It’s only ten minutes walk from the city centre, so centrally located but pretty quiet.
If I’m going to be staying in a place for a few days, I always like to take one of those city hop on/hop off tourist buses or do a walking tour to familiarise myself with a city. I saw a flyer for City Walks Dunedin in the hostel I was staying in and it looked quite interesting. What drew me in especially was the part where it said that there would be a taste of haggis and whisky. Athol Parks who runs these guided walking tours of Dunedin offers three types of walks around the city: the Old Town Walk at 10.30am, the Smart City Walk at 1.30pm and the Heritage Highlights Walk at 4pm. The regular season for these walks is from October through to April but walks may be offered at other times by arrangement.
I decided to take the Heritage Highlights Walk and booked it through the Dunedin i-Site. It cost $30 and lasts approximately an hour. The flyer said that this tour was an abridged version of the Old Town Walk and was an essential introduction to Dunedin’s key sites and buildings. All of these tours depart from Dunedin i-Site so I made sure I was at the i-Site at 3.45pm. Athol introduced himself to me as the guide and it turned out that I was the only person on the tour. So I had him all to myself, which was quite nice actually. I like being part of a group on a tour but sometimes it’s good to do a tour on your own. You get to ask more questions.
Athol was a very informative guide. We walked to the city centre and he explained a bit about the background and history of the city and the Octagon itself. Then we moved on to the Robert Burns statue and from there we carried on to St. Paul’s Anglican Cathedral, the First Church and Dunedin’s Railway Station. Athol pointed out some other very interesting buildings on the way, which I wouldn’t have noticed myself, such as the old-red bricked woolen mill near the First Church, the former Jewish Synagogue which is now a Freemason’s Lodge, the excellent street art and the area where St. Joseph’s Catholic Cathedral is up on Rattray Street.
Dunedin Railways specialise in scenic train trips into the Central Otago Hinterland and up the Otago coast north of Dunedin. The Taieri Gorge Railway, which starts from Dunedin Railway Station, travels through the spectacular Taieri Gorge, offering great views and provides a fascinating insight into the building of the railway line. The foyer of the station highlights a lot of important features in Dunedin’s past. There is a beautiful stained glass window on the first floor balcony with a picture of a steam train on it, which shows the importance of the railway to the city. There is a tile on the floor with a drawing of an electricity pylon, emphasising the role electricity has played in the city and the door handles are designed in Art Nouveau style, which I like.
At the end of the tour we went to a pub called The Al Bar on Lower Stuart Street. This was where we got the opportunity to sample some haggis and a wee dram of whisky. Both were good and even though I’ve tasted them before, I’ll never turn down the chance to try them again, especially as it was included in the price. I really enjoyed the tour and I would highly recommend it.
TWO DOGS TAILS BAR
The bar next door to The Rialto Cinema on Moray Place was hopping with live music when I passed it on Sunday night. The place was heaving with people because a very lively band with a big double bass, guitar player and singer were playing their hearts out to the crowd. The windows were all fogged up and there were a few smokers standing outside. It was too busy to go in but I did go back in there about an hour later and a new singer had just started. The Dunedin Fringe Festival was on between 12th March and the 22nd March, with a varied line up of contemporary music, dance, comedy, theatre and art shows to keep everyone entertained. The Two Dogs Tails Bar was the Fringe Festival Club and it seemed to draw a lot of people.
It has a very Bohemian style with young, student-sort of customers. They certainly were a listening crowd because shortly after the singer started, the floor space in front of her was full with enthusiastic fans who seemed to be enthralled by her music. You could hear a pin drop and everyone was just sitting there with awe on their faces. One unusual feature about this bar was the fact that every now and again a little toy train would roll its way around a track the whole way around the ceiling of the bar. It was so cute. I’ve never seen that before and I should have asked the bar staff where that idea came from but I didn’t.