Sunday, May 15, 2011

The Edinburgh of the South

Monday, 16 May, 2011
Dunedin, Otago

Greetings from Dunedin, great city of the South! Pronounced "duhn-EE-din," this is New Zealand's student town, population 120,000, and declared to be the most Scottish city in the country. Given that the name Dunedin is the Gaelic translation of Edinburgh, the streets all carry names like Stuart (yay!), St. Andrews, Moray, and Cumberland, and that one of the city's founders was Thomas Burns, great-nephew of Robert Burns, I'd say this is pretty accurate.

(Click on Photos to Enlarge)
The great Scottish bard himself, smack dab in the centre of the city. 

I should back up a little bit to our journey over from Queenstown with Magic on Saturday. We were up and out of our hostel before sunup, bundled up against the chill for our walk down to Shotover Street, where we were picked up once again by Magic Greg. We drove out of the city just as the sun was coming up over fresh snow on the Remarkables. Wintry, indeed. Magic Greg drove us out of Queenstown the back way, taking us to see Arrowtown, a famously well preserved and scenic gold mining town in a deep, nearly sunless valley about twenty minutes up the Shotover River. I was once again happily surprised by Magic's route, as I had always wanted to see Arrowtown and didn't think I would get to. The town is absolutely beautiful, the main street full of false fronts and historic stores, and the original miners' cottages still intact. We didn't stop but got good views of everything, as well as some of the spectacular red and yellow autumn trees that Arrowtown is famous for. This is the only decent photo I got of the main street:

From Arrowtown, we drove across Otago to the edge of the Southern Ocean with only a couple of short stops, but absolutely gorgeous weather. The landscape through this section of the country is very unique, a rough and steep type of land, very rocky and not unlike Scotland in terrain- I can see why the Scots settled this area (every town we passed through also had a distinctly Celtic feel). Everywhere we went in Otago, from Queenstown all the way across to Dunedin, we saw countless houses and cottages built from the local stone, many abandoned but several still inhabited. The only fertile bits were flat ridgetops along the Clutha River, now packed with orchards and vineyards; the rest of the land was filled with sheep, goats, and cattle. On Saturday's drive we passed through the furthest southern point of our New Zealand journey. At the village of Milton, we drove through 46 degrees, 10 minutes South, then turned north to Dunedin. In calculating this, Matt and I also realized that this is almost exactly the same latitude that our home of Portland sits at in the Northern hemisphere. Talk about being a world away from home! 

We arrived into Dunedin around 1 PM, and immediately felt like we had gone back in time- me to my semester in London, and Matt to the two different times he lived in Edinburgh. Packed with old stone Gothic-style churches, elaborately British municipal buildings, and UK-style rowhouses all build on slopes, this town undoubtedly has the distinctly Scottish feel it is renowned for. The city is laid out around a central octagon, with the main streets spiderwebbing outwards from there, surrounded by hills and build around Dunedin Harbour. Our hostel, a rambling set of Victorian houses several blocks of a very steep hill, is comfortable in a slightly messy way, and it out of the way of the hopping nightlife that the students of University of Otago bring to the central business district. 

On Saturday afternoon we took the long walk to Dunedin's renowned Botanic Gardens, which were worth the walk, although probably more spectacular in spring or summer. 

Yesterday we spent several hours poking around into the incredible old churches of the city, admiring the breathtaking Gothic arches and towers, visiting the world-famous Dunedin Railway Station, and taking in the new and old at the Dunedin Public Art Gallery. Between the ancient feel of the old churches and Cathedrals and the fact that the gallery is home to works by Monet, Pisarro, Gainsborough, J.M.W. Turner, John Constable and many others (the oldest piece I saw was an Italian work circa 1380), I felt like I had beamed back to London and was once again studying the great masters and classic architecture. 

First Church of Dunedin, the Scottish Presbyterian Church that was founded in 1848 by Rev. Thomas Burns.  This was my favorite of all the churches, also very close to my family roots!

 Dunedin Municipal Chambers, on the Octagon. 

St. Paul's Anglican Cathedral, also on the Octagon.

 Dunedin Railway Station. Matt and I were debating what architectural style it was built in, and then discovered a sign outside that told is it was in the Flemish Renaissance style.

Here are some photos of the incredible detail work inside the railway station. In my ideal world, all long-distance travel would be by train, and every city would have a station like this. Who wouldn't want to hang out in a place like this during a layover, rather than in a stuffy airport? This, my friends, is where the romance of rail travel comes from:

After a good run of sunshine, the crappy weather showed up yesterday afternoon, and we are now feeling extra-Scottish amongst the freezing cold wind and rain! We had already done most of our sight-seeing by then, so today have mostly taken advantage of the heater in the hostel lounge, and the free internet here, to get caught up on things and submit a few job applications. Tomorrow we head back inland to the alpine country (after a stop at the world's steepest street-- see Matt's blog for more on this!), spending tomorrow night in Lake Tekapo, just on the eastern side of Aoraki/Mt. Cook. 


Tomorrow also marks only one week left in New Zealand for us. It's really a bit hard to believe, far away in the southern reaches as we are, but one week from tomorrow we'll be on a jumbo jet heading northeast across the Pacific. Apart from family and friends, in this moment the thing I am looking forward to more than anything is moving closer to setting up housekeeping, to having a domain of our own, the ability to have projects and a fully stocked kitchen, not just buying enough food for the next two days like we are now! Can't wait, but also savoring these last few days of soaking up this unparalleled country.

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