Dunedin (Port Chalmers), New Zealand
We docked at Port Chalmers, the sea gateway to Dunedin, on the morning of February 6. With a population of about 3,000, this small dock town is located about 5 miles inside Otago Harbor. Called Potakere by the Maori, this was where the first Scottish settlers of Dunedin landed in 1848. This is also the port from which Sir Robert Scott set sail on his ill-fated trip to Antarctica in 1910.
We had signed up for a private tour of this area and were supposed to meet in the cruise terminal. But our passage through the narrow entrance to the bay was delayed because of high winds and another ship ahead of us. Then the disembarkation was a mess, with large numbers of people crowding the single exit, and HAL’s tour groups moved ahead of everyone else. It was also gray & wet, with rain off & on all day. Eventually we found our group, only a little bit late. We boarded the small bus & headed for our first stop, Lanarch Castle. Our route took us along the Dunedin waterfront and around to the other side of the large bay, across from Port Chalmers. On the way we passed a set of stone sculptures along the waterfront of . . . huge molars. Our guide thought this might have been there because Dunedin has the only dental school in New Zealand, but we weren’t sure whether he was being serious.
While Maori have lived here since at least the 14th century, Scottish settlers founded Dunedin in 1848. Dunedin is gaelic for Edinburgh and the new town was modeled on that city, with many of the street names the same. There was a gold rush nearby in the 1860’s and by 1870 Dunedin was the largest & richest city in New Zealand. Today its population is almost 130,000, with about a fifth of that being students at the University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest.
Lanarch Castle, our first stop, was built in the late 1860’s atop the hills across the bay from Port Chalmers. William Lanarch was something of a financial wunderkind, director of a bank at age 17 (according to our guide). Building this edifice took more than 10 years & he spared no expense. Lanarch was married 3 times: his first two wives (half sisters) each died at the age of 38 and his 3rd wife outlived him but made his final years miserable by carrying on an affair with Lanarch’s son. He was the finance minister of New Zealand when he committed suicide.
The house itself is quite impressive. It is full of very beautiful carved wood details, particularly the ceiling in the ballroom that took 6 craftsmen about 10 years to complete. The house has the only Georgian hanging staircase in the Southern Hemisphere.
On the second floor a door that looks like a closet opens onto a stone circular staircase leading to the roof. It was windy up there, but there was a spectacular view of the bay. We could see the Amsterdam docked at Port Chalmers across the way.
We drove back down into Dunedin, stopping at a couple of scenic overlooks and passing the tiny Pukehiki Library on the way.
Our next stop was for a tour of Speight’s Brewery. Established in 1876, this brewery now produces only kegs & barrels, the bottled beer being brewed in Auckland. The beer is made from water brought up from a pure underground spring beneath the brewery. Outside the front entrance is a tap in the wall from which locals can freely access water from the underground spring (but not beer). After learning all about the history of the brewery & its beer making process we proceeded to the main event: tasting of the beer. We were settled in a taproom & invited to taste as many of their beers as we wanted. It was really quite good.
It was past lunchtime, so they took us next to Dunedin’s iconic train station & left us there for about an hour & a half, which some used to eat lunch. Built in 1906, it is in Flemish Renaissance style, but it sure looked Scottish to us. It was once the busiest station in New Zealand with up to 100 trains per day but now it hosts only tourist trains. You can see the clock faces on the tower, but there are only three of them. The fourth side of the tower faces an area that has been reclaimed from the harbor; since no one was living there when the clock tower was built they saw no need to put a clock facing in that direction.
Inside the main entrance is a large two story hall. The floor is covered with a mosaic of more than 225, 000 porcelain tiles, the center of which is a railway engine. Upstairs are two large stained glass windows with locomotives pictured at the center hurtling toward the viewer.
In front of the station is Anzac Square, planted with flowers and formal bushes.
Across the street were two other magnificent old buildings, the Law Courts, which were recently renovated, and the old prison.
We had enough time to walk up a couple of blocks to the Octagon. This park is the center of town & gets its name from its shape. It is surrounded by significant buildings, including the Municipal Chambers (like a city hall) & the Anglican (I think) St Paul’s Cathedral.
We walked over to the next street to see the city library. It was closed because this was a national holiday. Waitangi day commemorates the signing of the treaty in which the Maori agreed to British control of New Zealand. The Maori protest rather than commemorate this event, since it was the beginning of the end for them and some say that not all of the agreement had been translated into Maori before they signed. In a city with a number of impressive buildings, the library was not one of them.
We hurried back to the train station to reboard our bus. The sun was out, for a little while, & there was a nice view of the Law Courts & the train station on the way back.
For the next hour or two our guide drove us around town. We visited the University of Otago, the oldest university in New Zealand & still one of the largest with more than 25,000 students. A beautiful old clock tower built in 1878 sits in the center of the campus. We also visited Baldwin Street, the steepest city street in the world (Lombard Street in San Francisco is the crookedest, but not the steepest). But it was raining again so photographs are from inside the bus.
We passed by the botanical gardens high on one of the hills. Our guide told us that a hospital was built at the base of this mountain, but they found that people were getting sicker there instead of recovering. It turned out that the water supply for the hospital passed under a cemetery that was where the botanical garden is now. So (he said, not I) the water taps in the hospital supplied a stiff drink.
We passed two more libraries, at least one of which is associated with the University, then we finished at a lookout point where you could see all of Dunedin below. But it was raining again, so we boarded the bus & returned to the port.
Port Chalmers is a major port for wood exports, most of it headed for China. While we waited to set sail we were serenaded by a single bagpiper.
We left the dock & headed out of the harbor. On our right on the way out was Taiaroa Head, a protected area that is home to Blue Penguins, sea lions & fur seals. Most noteworthy, though, it is a rookery for Royal Albatross. This is the only place in the world where albatross nest on the mainland. Our guide suggested that this is because they think this is an island, since it is connected to the mainland only by a small stretch of land (yes, I know southern New Zealand is itself an island, but you get my meaning). Albatross are huge & graceful birds when flying. No pictures of penguins here (Rick didn’t see them, but Mary did).
This was our last port in New Zealand, even though we would spend one more day in this beautiful country.