Dunedin: An Ideal Gateway for Exploring New Zealand's Southeast

By dpa, Berlin, May 10, 2011

New Zealand is famous for its stunning nature rather than beautiful cities but Dunedin, located on the southeast coast of the South Island, is an exception.

Nestled in tree-covered hills at the head of a spectacular harbour, Dunedin's rise to prominence as the gateway to the Otago region came with the discovery of gold at Gabriel's Gully, to the southwest, in 1861.

The subsequent gold rush not only led to a rapid influx of population but the region's wealth also saw the construction of some superb Victorian and Edwardian architecture, including First Church, Larnach Castle, Olveston and the Dunedin railway station.

With a population of approximately 120,000, of which nearly 20 per cent is made up of students, Dunedin is the fourth-largest city on New Zealand's South Island and has a vibrant nightlife.

The city on the Pacific is also a centre for ecotourism thanks to the world's only mainland Royal Albatross colony and several penguin and seal colonies, which can all be visited with ease on a day trip.

The city centre of Dunedin is known as the Octagon, an eight-sided plaza bisected by the city's main street. "During the gold rush of the 1880s, Dunedin grew to become New Zealand's largest and richest city," explains tour guide David.

The tour includes a visit to St Paul's Cathedral, Dunedin Town Hall, the only substantial Victorian town hall still in existence in New Zealand, and the Dunedin Public Art Gallery, which includes in its collection works from William Turner and Claude Monet.

It's easy to spend an entire day at the central plaza but there is also so much to see in and around Dunedin, starting with the lighthouse and Royal Albatross colony at Taiaroa Head, on the tip of the Otago Peninsula.

On the following day, a guided tour by David's niece Leagh involves a visit to Dunedin railway station, a massive building of basalt and granite with a 37-metre tower that was designed by George Troup and is considered a jewel in the country's architectural crown. "The station is the most photographed building in New Zealand," says Leagh.

Most of the lines are no longer in use but there is still one to the island's interior, the Taieri Gorge Railway.

The route to Pukerangi, which means "heavenly hill" in the Maori language, winds its way through the rugged and spectacular Taieri River Gorge, across wrought iron viaducts and through tunnels.

The old-fashioned orange and yellow wagons date back to the 1920s, are kitted out with a dark oak interior and are pulled by a diesel locomotive.

The train pulls out of the station and as soon as it leaves the wide valley into the which the Taieri river flows into the sea, the landscape changes markedly as rugged mountains loom into view.