A walking tour gets to the heart of Dunedin

The city could easily be called New Zealand’s city of firsts: first university, first medical school, first dental school, the first newspaper, first art school, and the first public art gallery.

For Athol, the city is an art gallery and history book and he guides us with enthusiasm around the inner city

IMG_1626Dunedin, New Zealand’s oldest city is apparently drier than Auckland; warmer than Christchurch, and less windy than Wellington. Christchurch’s quakes have also put Dunedin at the top of the list of best historic buildings in New Zealand. The inner city in particular has many Gothic and classical Victorian-Edwardian buildings and I join Athol Parks (founder of City Walks) for a 2-hour stroll around them.

Otaku, as Māori called the area, was first settled by Europeans in 1848 when the Scottish settlers arrived. It quickly became extremely wealthy from gold and state-led investments and is considered to have funded the rest of New Zealand’s growth.

The often considered ‘austere or dour Scots’ community was soon overrun with international gold-miners as well as Jewish and Chinese settlers who have left a lasting mark on the city. This includes the fabric merchants Hallensteins who were among the earliest Jewish arrivals. Interestingly, Dunedin still has the world’s southernmost synagogue. Vogel’s, Bell Tea, the oven-maker Shacklock, Cadbury and Speight’s brewery were all founded here.

The city could easily be called New Zealand’s city of firsts: first university, first medical school, first dental school, the first newspaper, first art school, and the first public art gallery.

For Athol, the city is an art gallery and history book and he guides us with enthusiasm around the inner city.From Robbie Burns and St Paul’s Anglican Cathedral in the Octagon to the Fortune Theatre, which began life as a Wesleyan Church then down Moray Place to the former Jewish synagogue. It then became a Freemason temple, then art gallery, and now a fabulous looking inner city home.

Walking and talking Athol tells us, ‘I want visitors to understand what makes Dunedin a special and creative place’ he says as we head to the railway station. The City Council bought the iconic railway station for $1. Now restored to its full 1906 splendour, it’s now, eclectically, site for the weekly farmers’ market; every year the platform becomes the runway for the city’s pre-eminent fashion show, and the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame lives upstairs.

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Beside the station, an art deco bus station has been restored and combined with the expanded Toitu Otago Settlers Museum, which re-opened in 2012 – and which I totally recommend

IMG_1638The First Presbyterian Church of Otago had been designed to sit on a large hill and the Free Church of Scotland settlers thought they had claimed the city’s prime site and had a 29-year-old architect, Robert Lawson, design an extremely un-Presbyterian-like church. However, by the time his winning plan was built, convict labour had lowered Bell Hill by 12m to provide fill for the reclamation of the harbour below. Although not as prominent as first envisaged, the cathedral-like structure remains impressive. Of course the English Anglican church ended up with pride of place in the Octagon, the city centre – although the Scottish bard, Robbie, stands with his back to it! In those early days the Reverend Thomas Burns, a nephew of the poet provided spiritual guidance for the new community.

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It was the Lay Association of the Free Church of Scotland that founded Dunedin at the head of Otago Harbour. Its name comes from Dùn Èideann, the Scottish Gaelic name for Edinburgh, the capital of Scotland and the city’s surveyor was told to copy the characteristics of Edinburgh.

Athol, under questioning, tells us he studied history and politics at the University of Otago. He also has a historical novel underway. Its beginnings started with history project about the local pie-cart which made him realise history could come alive. Victorian Dunedin is the setting for his uncompleted novel, and considers the relationship between Dunedin’s early architects. (Lawson and Petre)

I liked his comment that ”Architecture is the most public art form, but most people pay it little regard. If you come to appreciate it and learn about it, it enriches your life’.

Walking his dogs around the street every day he thought ‘it would be great to show people this place.’ City Walks started in 2006 after deciding he was going to have to work for most of the rest of my life, ‘So, I might as well do work I enjoy’. Now, for six months a year, for six days a week, he guides walking tours around the inner city – and despite never having lived here I have strong Scottish roots and found this tour well worth doing.

It also reminded me of the huge losses Canterbury suffered during the 2010/11 quakes – I’m glad New Zealand still has its history alive and being preserved in this southern city.

My ten days in Dunedin – was spent traveling in a NZ RentaCar and the City walk ended with us being offered a wee dram and some haggis!IMG_1694

Arras, France & Wellington, New Zealand are connected by tunnels!

IMG_3441Just around the corner from my Wellington, apartment is New Zealand’s national war museum and carillon (1932) and tomb of the Unknown Soldier.

For much of my time in the city it’ been covered with scaffolding and red material – making it very easy to spot my place when I flew in or out of Wellington Airport. Restored and quake-proofed, that has now been removed and by April 25th 2015 (ANZAC day) a new park will spread out in front of it – completing the dreams of the earlier designers.

Pukeahu National War Memorial Park will soon be built on the Mt Cook Hill (Pukeahu) where a ‘cut and cover trench’ has been created and it’s on top of this ‘tunnel’ that the green space and parade ground will be created. See more photos here 

A historical area of Wellington, the hill was a major military space and the Army Reserves, and the Navy still have a presence here: many  1800 artefacts were found during the excavation.

Arras Tunnel opened 5 weeks ahead of schedule (29th Sept. 2015) and I attended the official opening and, along with  many other Wellingtonians, walked through its 130 metres.

The name comes from the 1916 wartime work of some 300 New Zealand miners in the French town of the same name. Some 4,300 metres of tunnels were dug, but  it wasn’t until the 1990s that the tunnels  were rediscovered.

A museum, La Carriere Wellington, providing access to the tunnels opened in Arras in 2008. So  Wellington New Zealand and Arras, France are really connected by tunnels!

 

Disappearing gun in Dunedin

As well as the albatross nesting on Taiaroa Head ( Royal Albatross Centre) the area is also home to the world’s only working Armstrong Disappearing Gun.

I had no idea what a ‘disappearing gun’ was, but it seems it got its name by recoiling back into the pit by the force of  the firing of it.

As well as seeing the gun in its underground circular pit I was also a good place to see other albatross nests that are unseen from the observation room I’d been in earlier. ( see more on my blog)

 

Facts for you gun enthusiasts:

  • 1886 manufactured in Newcastle-upon-Tyne, England
  • 1889 installed in Otago
  • 6-inch breechloading gun on a hydro-pneumatic carriage
  • weight 18.6 ton
  • range *km ( 8,800 yards)

So, if you are a gun or history buff make sure you add the Fort Tour to your bird watching!

New Zealands only historical castle – Larnach, Dunedin

After posting on Facebook how thrilled I was to be staying at Larnach Castle  a friend warns me. ‘Let’s see how chipper we are when the moon is up and dancing amongst them scudding peninsula clouds. Cue spooky noises. Spooky place.’ It sounded like a voice of experience!

Atmospheric mist ideal for talk of ‘spooky sounds’

I check into one of the six guest rooms in the Stables, which were built before the 1871 castle:  they are a charming 140 year old Category 1 listed historic building in the grounds of the castle.

The lower part of the Stables includes the breakfast area, guest lounge, laundry, internet site, and a display highlighting the original Stable horse stalls. I’m amazed at the beautifully cobblestoned brick floor which has remained firmly in place since they were laid: the workers were obviously skilled in their job.

Despite being an historic place this property is privately owned and receives no government or city funding and relies on its visitors and overnight guests to support it. Accommodation ranges from luxury to the more basic, shared-bathrooms, in the Stables. My bedroom was spacious and the bed very comfortable.

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Beside the old coach-house is more accommodation called The Lodge  which has twelve themed rooms (including Scottish, Enchanted Forest, New Zealand, Kauri, Pink, Goldrush and Victorian) and guests staying there join us in the Stables for breakfast – I meet a group of Boston women bikers over our amazingly large breakfasts. They’re in New Zealand for a two-week trip around the South Island with Paradise Motorbike Tours. They’re thrilled with both the tour and the Stables.

Just some praise includes ‘This place is phenomenal’; ‘Not many places a motorbike group can stay as well as families’; ‘Well-run and friendly’ and, they’re proud to be the oldest women’s bike group in the USA.  They (16 women on 12 bikes) tell me about their trip so far:

‘Every hill I go over it’s like a new country, a new world. I saw a turquoise lake I’ve never seen before – I want to paint my bathroom that colour.’

‘New Zealand gets in your eyes.’

‘I haven’t   stopped smiling.’

‘Traffic moves over for us – in Boston they try to run us over!’

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Like me, they love the original floor, the iron mangers, and horse-box still in the stables-come-breakfast room and the baronial-style castle that William Larnach built for his family. Rich from the gold rush era (as a banker) he was born in Australia to Scottish parents, and during a trip to London was appointed as the manager of the Bank of Otago. Three years later he had bought the land with its great views of the Otago Harbour and soon after started work on ‘the camp’ which locals soon started calling ‘the castle’. The road is still called Camp Road.

???????????????????????????????The castle must have been the region’s biggest employer as it had some 200 workers and material was bought from around the world. As well as using local and Oamaru stone, kauri from the North Island, slate from Wales, mosaics from Belgium, bricks from Marseille, he also bought about 20 tons of French glass. All these were dragged, by oxen, up the steep 1000-foot hill (305 metres). He also imported stonemasons from Scotland, wood-carvers from England, and plasterers from Italy to build his dream home that’s well worth visiting!

New Zealand Gardens of International Significance  says of this private garden  ‘The scenery is spectacular and though the garden is subjected to wind and low rainfall it contains a unique collection of plants seldom seen elsewhere The plantings reflect the owner’s interest in New Zealand plants and in their southern hemisphere relations.’ Read more here.

No trip to the Dunedin region is complete unless you visit this New Zealand ‘castle’ which of course is not a replica of the European castles but a mansion built as a new-world, down under version of the old-world Gothic revival style.

PS: Spooky noises or ghosts – I never heard or saw them but if you do or have please add to the comments below.

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Eliza’s is one of Christchurch’s grand ladies

Apparently named ‘Eliza’s’ after Eliza Doolittle, played by Audrey Hepburn in My Fair Lady, this boutique B&B Hotel is a very grand lady – and like Audrey – elegant

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Like many buildings in the new settlement of 1800s Christchurch, it just grew.  The land was bought in 1856 and the building started in 1861, predating the Anglican Christ Church Cathedral by some twenty years. This ‘growing’ means it can’t be easily classified as Victorian or any other architectural style: Eliza’s personal style includes gables, bay windows, projecting dormers and door and window hoods.

On the morning of the September (2010) quake, while photographically documenting the quake damage, I had walked past this beautiful building, just a couple of streets away from my apartment. I was relieved to see it too had apparently survived the 7.1 shake. Of course inside it was a different story.

Pleased they had no guests to evacuate at 4:30am, they quickly got to work demolishing the damaged chimneys and multiple fireplaces – involving some 60 tonnes of bricks – then repairing the destruction they had produced.  On the day of the quake they had Russian guests arrive and a week later they were hosting a wedding. Just like the movie, the show must go on!

Nearly six months later it was a different story and during the February 6.3 quake, with all the rooms occupied, nature ripped walls apart, cracked skirting boards, buckled window frames and toppled wardrobes. Luckily the chimneys had gone; there were no injuries to staff or guests; and the foundations and structure were sound. Add another eight months, 1.5 million dollars, heaps of hard work and Eliza’s doors were open once again.

Making jewellery for Christmas
Making jewellery for Christmas

When I arrived Harold and Ann were hosting their staff Christmas party and everyone was busy making jewellery under the guidance of Beadz Unlimited. (Christchurch’s first bead shop and now in historic New Regent Street after being quake-shaken out of the wonderful Gothic Art’s Centre)

When the front door opens, I’m immediately impressed with the ornate staircase that’s in front of me –it was built in Scotland with New Zealand’s native kauri. Over the years many distinct groups of people have climbed these stairs.  As well as guests from around the world Eliza’s previous inhabitants have included mothers and nurses during its maternity home persona; it’s also been a private home, accommodation for ‘genteel ladies’ and a boarding house for St. Margaret’s Girls High.

Ann and Harold bought the building in 2004, and all the rooms have local heritage names – I’m in The Masters which has wonderful leadlight and stained glass windows. (With a hotel of this standing of course the bed, bathroom, fittings, and linen, were all wonderful and spotless – so take that as read!)

Along with the history of the building in each room, they also have a guest-book: I like this as it gives us guests’ time to write a considered response to our stay. From Spain to Switzerland, UK to the USA, France to Australia (and of course us Kiwi), it seems the world has not only stayed here but loved to too! I read many comments on the great hospitality, the friendly hosts, the homemade ANZAC biscuits, and the fabulous breakfasts. Seems Ann is a great believer in the old adage of eating breakfast like a king: it certainly provides enough tasty fuel for the day.

I notice, alongside other framed accolades, a certificate showing they won a 2013 community garden award; the garden is very colourful with wisteria and white daphne providing fragrance alongside the 130 plus roses.

The World Travel Guide says this of Eliza’s – ‘With beautiful period features, Eliza’s history spans three centuries. This grade II historic, wooden house was built during 1861 by one of the city’s founding fathers, was restored in 1981 and has been turned into wonderful accommodation ever since. It’s within easy walking distance of the gardens, museum, and New Regent Street while just around the corner is Victoria Street which has many tasty restaurants and bars. The hotel’s delicious cooked breakfast sets you up for your day of exploring the city.’

I have a vehicle from my favourite rental car company to explore the region, and my first task when I arrived was to feed the lions at Orana Wildlife Park – and, with all the walking I did there I should have had an Eliza’s breakfast first!

I can well recommend Eliza’s Boutique Hotel for a wonderful few nights in Christchurch; New Zealand’s 2nd largest city. With so few buildings of this age, Eliza’s is a real asset in the city – tell them I sent you:)

 

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New Zealand women have been voting since 1893 (for 120 years)


Women’s suffrage 1893:  120 years ago, New Zealand became the first country in the world to give women the vote.

Every 19th September  women in New Zealand celebrate and remembered with gratitude, the struggle for the right to vote – long before the term suffragette was in vogue in the UK and USA.
(For more detailed information of this see New Zealand’s online encyclopedia http://www.teara.govt.nz/ )
We Christchurch women are proud that Kate Shephard, a Christchurch woman, was the prime organiser of the 31,872-signature petition (collected over seven years) and annually we have gathered at the memorial (cnr Worcester Boulevard & Cambridge Terrace) which depicts those wonderful women and the wheelbarrow in which the petition  was taken to Parliament in Wellington.
Suffrage day is often also called White Camellia day, as women who supported enfranchisement wore a white camellia, yesterday women both wore the flowers and lay them at the wonderful memorial. The memorial was unveiled at the 100 year anniversary and a new camellia verity was also created then and named ‘Kate Sheppard’.  Today we celebrate 120 years of all NZ women being able to vote.
Kates home in Christchurch
Kates home in Christchurch

So far, from my research, it seems only one of my ancestors,  my great-grandmother Elizabeth Rowe, (married Herbert Bunny) signed the petition and during that same year, 1893, her daughter, Mabel, my maternal grandmother was born.

One of the great things about the 1893 Electoral Bill was passed was that Maori women were given the vote too … not just women with land. Unfortunately Chinese women, in fact all Chinese people, did not get the vote until the early 1950s.web KATE detail

Don’t waste the courage and strength of those brave 19th century women – make sure you always vote.

Gum diggers, fish, and great accommodation in Northland, NZ

Doubtless Bay Villas
Doubtless Bay Villas

Northland has it all – you are spoilt for choice and today it’s gum diggers history, fish, swimming, and great accommodation.  I check out the fabulous, add-to-your-list Kahoe Farms Hostel and head off to the historic seaside village of Mangonui – home of the famous Mangonui Fish Shop. Browse the little craft shops and walk the Heritage Trail around the village. ( for a map see here, or buy one at the little visitors centre.)

Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui
Beautiful and peaceful Mangonui

The walkway is dedicated to the men and women, Maori and European, who sailed vast oceans to make a new life. The Polynesian navigator Kupe visited the area about 900 AD and later, another canoe, the Ruakaramea, was guided into a harbour by a shark. The canoes chief, Moehuri, named the harbour Mangonui, which means ‘large shark’.

This was known as a safe harbour for whaling vessels by the late 1700s and in 1831 the first European settlers arrived. By the mid-1800s, Mangonui was a centre for whalers and traders with sawmilling, flax and gum industries flourishing.

the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop
the World Famous Mangonui Fish Shop

Now, it’s better known as the home of the ‘world-famous’ fish and chip shop’ but I’m sad to say, for me, the tagline did not live up to its food on the day I was there – but as it gets many rave reviews perhaps I was just there at the wrong time!

Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay
Cable Bay beach in Doubtless Bay

After the disappointing lunch I continue in my rental car  onto the lovely Doubtless Bay Villas in Cable Bay  and where I immediately head for the golden sands and blue water.

Travelling alone it’s not always easy to go swimming: where do you put your car and accommodation keys? Mostly, in NZ, I just leave them with my towel, but when the keys belong to someone else I find it easier to pin them inside my swimming gear, or on a chain around my neck – what do you do when alone and wanting to swim at the beach?

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I spend the evening, night and morning relaxing, reading, just soaking up the view and great accommodation before heading off for Kaitaia and the Mainstreet Lodge, taking a side road and stopping for lunch at the fantastic Karikari Estate. For wine buffs make sure you have a sober driver when you tackle the samples of tasting wines.

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My very yummy sundae

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I continue along SH10 on to Awanui then turn right and head north for Gumdiggers Park , an authentic Kauri Gum digging site that’s over 100 years old.

Amazingly, 40,000 to 150,000 year old Buried Kauri Forests have been exposed by the gum diggers and the Gumdiggers’ village, equipment & recreated shelters brings the stories to life.

Newly formed tracks show extensive ancient kauri deposits and the  bus tour tourists who  were also visiting told me they too enjoyed the walk around the very natural park.

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With the scenery around Northland, as I said in a earlier blog  with other photos  –  no wonder TV shows like The Bachelor and Top Model have used this area for some of their programmes.

Sometimes it's hard to be a travel writer with view like this. Not! My view from Doubtless bay Villas
Sometimes it’s hard to be a travel writer with a view like this. Not!
 Doubtless bay Villas