Posted by: scribe9 | March 3, 2010

Dunedin, the whirlwind tour

In Dunedin there was a cool breeze, and it’s dry: a nice change from the northern humidity. The season is later—agapanthus and hydrangeas are still in bloom, and apricots and peaches are still in season.

The city has lots of great old houses and other buildings, having been a wealthy city in late Victorian and Edwardian times. It had started early in the nineteenth century as a supply point for sealers and whalers. Then the Scots arrived—it’s southernmost Scottish city in the world. (Down here there are lots off “southernmosts”). Then there was a gold rush, with a lot of the miners having already been to California and Western Australia. For a while, it was the largest city in New Zealand, and hasn’t grown too much since then, so a lot of the old buildings are still here, not all in the best repair. We’re staying in a bed and breakfast in a restored 120-year-old house.

Our first stop was the 1909 train station, a big stone pile that was once the busiest station in New Zealand.

Now it’s just for excursion trains, but the terra cotta interior walls and terrazo floors,

 and the stained glass windows and skylight are still there to admire. 

 The pressed tin ceilings are painted to look like unglazed terra cotta.

Think this is too many pictures? This is the most-photographed building in the country, and you’re actually getting off easy.

We parked behind the Cadbury factory.

Last year’s big candy scandal was Cadbury shipping in creme eggs from Britain (where they make them differently) rather than continuing to make them here. No doubt Kraft, which just bought Cadbury, will cut the staff. Many big businesses have outsourced jobs, or have moved wholly or in part to Auckland (as if more resentment of the Big City was needed). But the university and the hospital keep growing, as New Zealand educates ever more young people who promptly head to Australia for better jobs, and has to hospitalize more people who are living longer or aren’t taking good care of themselves.

The Scots naturally built Presbyterian churches, including two major Gothic structures, First Church:

and Knox Church:

Knox Church, from its website

St. Andrew’s, up in Whangarei, has a minister who grew up Baptist, and uses no paraments and is ignoring Lent while singing old-time hymns out of the Church of Scotland hymnbook. Knox, which I attended Sunday morning, is definitely observing Lent and using paraments. It also has a small but marvelous choir, which sang excerpts from Mozart’s Requiem and some Bach cantatas. The congregation, on the other hand, had to sing—without benefit of a hymnal—some modern New Zealand hymns with less than wonderful words and music. Knox is near the University of Otago, and about 150 people attended, with many students, some families, and some older people. Probably a third were Asian. The University itself is the oldest in New Zealand, having been founded right away by the Presbyterians, who have long encouraged education.

There have been Asians here since Chinese came to the goldfields a hundred and fifty years ago. In 2008, Dunedin built a classical Chinese garden (no doubt the southernmost), in partnership with its sister city, Shanghai. Shanghai is in the same area (near the mouth of the Yangtze) as Portland’s and Vancouver’s Chinese sister cities, so all of their gardens bear a family resemblance.

Dunedin also has a nice large botanic garden. In both Australia and New Zealand, young colonial cities started such gardens, so more than a hundred years later those cities have marvelous mature gardens with plants from all over the world and lovely arboreta.

The English built an Anglican cathedral here:

St. Paul's Cathedral, from the diocesan website

We went inside but didn’t take pictures, as preparations were being made for the installation of a new bishop. There were lots of clergy dashing about wearing purple shirts for Lent, carrying wardrobe bags with their formal regalia. The cathedral is famously schizophrenic: most of it is Gothic, built in stone in the late nineteenth century, but the chancel is concrete, built in the 1970s.

The cathedral is in the Octagon, the old city center. As we sat having tea on the opposite side of the Octagon, the celebration of 150 years of the New Zealand Army in the area started, first with a bagpipe band. Then came a parade of new and old army vehicles (including two old US Army jeeps), and a brass band.

We ate dinner at the restaurant Scotia, which of course had haggis on the menu. It  was far more edible than I thought it would be. We enjoyed the salmon much more.

We drove out on the Otago Peninsula to check out the penguins. The round trip involved a hilltop route and a harborside route, neither one of which had guardrails. Instead of having mobs of tort lawyers, this country funds its own accident scheme, but one wonders how long it can keep that up.

We went to a private reserve to see two species of penguins. It’s not that New Zealand doesn’t have a healthy national conservation scheme—it started back in the 1800s—but the government can’t do it all. A local farmer gave some land and a beach to protect the local penguins. The little blues, which also live up in Northland near us, nest in little boxes:

Since the early settlers logged virtually everything to turn New Zealand into pastures, the reserve is replanting natives and providing little huts to shelter the penguins. Right now they’re molting. They bulk up beforehand, essentially stand still for four months and drop feathers:

and eat a lot afterward. It shares the $5 bill with Sir Edmund Hillary.

Finally, a couple of the cute and varied bus stops around Dunedin: 



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