Dunedin: Scotland South

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Yesterday we had a wonderful visit to New Zealand’s most Scottish city, Dunedin (pronounced, as I found out, Done-EE-dun). The Maori know it as Otepoti. Maori inhabitation begins approximately 1250 CE.

The Otago Penninsula had been the location of fierce inter-tribal fighting for some time.

Europeans were attracted by sealing and whaling (neither of which we would approve of today), and began settling in the area in the early years of the 19th century.

Scottish settlers arrived at Port Chalmers (where we were docked) in 1848, and founded Dunedin as a center of the Free Church (i.e., not Anglican) Community. The name comes from the Scots name of Edinburgh, Dùn Èideann. Among their numbers was the nephew of Robbie Burns, the patron saint of Scots poetry.

The discovery of gold in 1861 had similar effects to the same phenomenon in California. The area boomed, rapidly increasing in population and wealth. 1868 was the foundation of the University of Otago, NZ’s first University, and higher education remains Dunedin’s top industry, now including its Otago Polytech. The Arts flourished as they still do today. Museums, theaters and other evidence of the Arts are everywhere.

Dunedin boasts the world’s southernmost Theatre company, many choirs, a symphonia, and many other Arts constituencies.

We visited Burns’ statue in the center of town, The Octagon, arriving before 10am. The weather was cool and pleasant, calling for warm clothing on our part. The young inhabitants went about in flip flops, t-shirts and shorts, so apparently this was warm for them. We should not have been surprised…it was very similar to a San Francisco summer day.

Branching out from the Octagon, we climbed the steps to the Anglican Cathedral, St. Paul’s, an impressive 19th century Gothic Cathedral with a surprising, but very nice, modern interior. The many robed ministers were preparing for the Sunday morning Eucharist, and there was a peaceful atmosphere overall.

From there, we walked around the Octagon, and then down one of the main business streets, Lower Stuart Street, to the renowned Railway Station (1906), apparently the 2nd most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere.

The Station is a sterling example of Edwardian architecture, with stained glass and tiling, surrounded by well-kept flower gardens in the front. It is an active Railway terminal for the Taieri Gorge line, and also houses the NZ Sports Hall of Fame. Sadly (!) we did not sample the Haggis pie upstairs.

Strolling back to the Octagon, we took a short cab ride to St. Joseph’s the Roman Catholic Cathedral, where a very well attended Mass was just finishing. Another classic Gothic exterior was complemented with a modern interior. A shrine to the Icon of Our Lady of Perpetual Help in the front left kept the space in touch with its heritage. The NZ Catholic Newspaper was filled with details announced by the headline: Papal Abdication! With the exception of the tragi-comedy of the “Great Schism” when there where 3 Papal claimants just before the High Renaissance in Italy, this is the first resignation in 700 years!

Outside, across the street, was the historic Bishop’s residence, now a hotel, which is named (and has been for its history)….Hogwarts!

The combination of the wonderful Victorian and Edwardian Architecture, a vibrant Arts Community and great University student life make Dunedin a spot at which one can spend many an idyll day, or week! The city has mellowed admirably into a little bit of Scotland far away. In fact, it is the farthest city in the world from London, putting a smile on a Scot’s face (19,100 km away) and 188,200 km from Berlin. Thus it really is the Other Side of the World from Europe.

If the Americas are The New World, this must be The Newer World–and so far, they seem to have done it better than we have! Dunedin’s motto hints at one part of this success:

Maiorum Institutis Utendo

That is.

By the Use of what our Ancestors Established


Using the Path our Ancestors Laid Down.

Putting aside all of the evils and imperfections that plague any human communities, the inhabitants really seem to have seen through to the core values of past generations, and have chosen the best and highest ideals to perpetuate.

We walked back down to the Octagon to catch the shuttle bus to Port Chalmers, also a charming town.

Dunedin was once NZ’s largest city, and now has about 120,000 residents. Timber is a major export, as evidenced by the massive stores of newly felled trees everywhere. Of course, this is operated sustainably.

We do not know if we will ever be this way again, but if so, Dunedin would be a favored destination, along with Auckland, Wellington and Akaroa (and a rebuilt Christchurch)!

With mixed feelings, we rounded the southern tip of the Southern Island, and are now crossing the Tasman Sea to Australia! Farewell New Zealand!

… Sorry for the brevity and typos: Sent from remote on the phone.

Thank you!

Steven A. Armstrong
Tutor, Editor, Consultant, Member and Customer Services

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