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.


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.


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

Seal Coast Safari, Wellington, New Zealand

 Joining the Seal Coast Safari, which ‘they’ say is the ‘best tour in Wellington’  I want to check it out again and see if ‘they’ are right.

I’m picked up at the Wellington i-Site (downtown visitor centre) along with two other locals – Claire & Alice – both Bluebridge employees.   Seems this is the first time our driver-guide, Billy, has had locals-only on the off-road Seal Coast Safari. It’s a compliment when locals love our coast so much we go out in the middle of winter to see it from a different perspective.

I get the front seat in the Toyota Cruiser and we’re off – before long we’re at the top of the Zealandia (Karori Wildlife Sanctuary) predator proof fence and site of New Zealand’s first wind turbine: at 33 metres tall it is dwarfed by those built today.

It’s amazing that within such a short time we are well out of the city – for non-Kiwi readers, this is New Zealand’s capital, and the site of our parliament.

Some of the highlights of the trip for me (apart from my always-favourites, the seals and bird life) were the wildlife which included Kaimanawa horses and domestic deer. The horses originate from domestic horses owned by early settlers and which are now a large (problematic) wild herd in the middle of the North Island.

I also loved the views of the city, harbour, Cook Strait and the snow-capped mountains of the wonderful South Island. As you can imagine, traveling along a fault line, and with exclusive access through private land, provided many photo opportunities, and our surf-loving, singing, meditating, and artist (painting) driver loved sharing his knowledge with us.

So local or visitor I can recommend this. (See another piece I wrote about this tour and Maori myths)

Here are just some of the photos I took during the morning.

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Join the kiwi travel writer in Turkey?

Fancy joining the kiwi travel writer in Turkey – read on . . .

“I can’t wait to go back in May next year.  When I rave about this tour people ask me what I liked most, I think I exhaust them with so many highlights” so says Anna, director and owner of 50plustravel when talking about her recent trip to Turkey.

She continues. “We had lots of fun strolling around the Grand Bazaar, exploring many small and humble shops. It is one of the largest covered markets in the world with 5,000 shops – which is why we only visited a few! There are whole streets of shops specialising in jewellery, leather goods, ceramic and spices to list just a few. There are thousands of things you can find, bargain for, and then buy in the Grand Bazaar. It’s also an opportunity to discover the utterly fabulous Turkish hospitality and of course drink their sweet apple tea.”

Now I’m excited too … I am joining her New Zealand team for the 20-day tour of Turkey in May 2012.  As a travel writer it will be fun to be able to help anyone on the small group who wants to improve their writing about their travels by passing on some tips that I’ve learnt over the years of writing about travel for newspapers and magazines. (See my webpage for more information about my writing, my book, and some of the publications I’ve appeared in. Note: my book, Naked in Budapest, was read, in seven episodes, on Radio NZ National earlier this year and the book has a chapter of Turkey – it will be fabulous to get back there.)

One of my favourite photos from my last trip: taken in Safranbolu - home of the 'best Lokum (turkish delight) in Turkey

What I’m looking forward to see  again is Cappadocia, then Konya, home of the Whirling Dervishes; and Karavanserai where we will see a resting house used on the ancient Silk Road and having a Turkish Folklore evening with its “all you can eat and drink” Turkish meal, local folk dancers, and a belly dancer!

I’m particularly looking forward to watching the sunrise from our Hot Air Balloon ride – this will definitely be one of the highlights of the tour for me.

Anna’s newsletter saidWe did not want to leave Turkey! I can’t wait to take you there in May next year. I’d love you to have the same experience as we had and see for yourself this marvellous destination.  Please book NOW as our groups are small and places are limited.” (See the map here)

Discover Turkey Tour
Istanbul Gallipoli Selcuk Kusadasi Kas Antalya Cappadocia Ankara Bursa

20 outstanding days. Depart NZ 20th May 2012 – Originally $6,975 now $6,775

SAVE $200 … see the webpage for more goodies

Of course you don’t have to leave from New Zealand – I can meet you in Istanbul!

Kiwi thoughts on life, travel, politics & everything else!: Want to join me in fabulous Turkey?


join the kiwi travel writer with a small group for 20 days in Turkey .. May 2012

Katherine Mansfield: guided walk Wellington

Love the writing of Katherine Mansfield, if so take this guided walk to trace her steps here in Wellington, New Zealand during New Zealand book month 2011.

This walk will take about 90 mins and will be guided by NZSA (NZ Society of Authors) member Kevin Boon – a man who has written about Katharine’s life in Wellington.

Visiting Katherine Mansfield's Birthplace is part of the tour

DATE: Sunday 20th 2011 at 1030

COST: $20.00

Bookings required: for more details  contact k.boon@clear.net.nz

bike riding in my city (plus food!)

Spent a wonderful Saturday morning in Christchurch recently … here are just a  few of the photos from that day – for your enjoyment. Read the story here

Simply Scrumptious, Victoria St

market in Poplar Lanes
Poplar Lanes
Cupcake Parlour, Salisbury St
C1 espresso, High St and Poplar Lane - Sam pours Samoan hot chocolate

Read the this story here

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