Waking up on day two of my “Go Natural, Go Dunedin Garden Tour”, my first move was to scoot downstairs at the Scenic Hotel to tuck into a brilliant buffet-style breakfast along with a selection of other early risers from the tour. I’m slowly but surely getting to know my fellow travellers and I’m finding the predominantly female crew (let’s face it, Jamie Durie is undoubtedly going to attract a pretty lopsided crowd when it comes to gender), to be a lot of fun.
With tummies full and expectations for a beautiful day under semi-clear Autumn skies at a pretty high level, Midge and Brad pulled up in the Citibus coach and welcomed us aboard for another day’s touring. I think Brad was especially excited this morning as he was going to have the opportunity to kick off the day with a quick whip around a few of the more notable parts of Dunedin that we simply don’t have the time to explore at length during our stay here.
City Sights Tour
There’s no chance I can possibly communicate the history of Dunedin with the same amount of knowledge and passion as Brad, but here’s a quick (and I mean real quick) historical overview for those of you playing at home.
Records suggest that New Zealand’s indigenous Maori people roamed the lands surrounding the Otago Peninsula and Harbour from as early as the 1600’s and perhaps even earlier.
Scottish Presbyterian settlers first arrived on Otago Harbour’s headlands aboard the “John Wickliffe” and the “Philip Laing” in 1847. The migrants, arriving from London and Glasgow, brought with them a large number of carpenters and bricklayers who quickly set about constructing a new city amongst Dunedin’s wooded, fertile, wildlife abundant hills.
1861 brought with it the discovery of gold at “Gabriel’s Gully” and a subsequent rush of migrants from Ireland, Italy, France, Germany and China. This wave of fortune seekers helped make Dunedin the richest and most populace province in New Zealand.
The city now has a population of roughly 120,000 which is partly fuelled by a healthy resident student community who attend the University of Otago, New Zealand’s first university (1869), and also Otago Polytechnic which is pretty much the same thing as an Australian TAFE Institute.
In addition to the University, the city of Dunedin can lay claim to a wealth of other firsts including possessing New Zealand’s first girls’ school, first chocolate factory, first public botanic gardens (more on that tomorrow), first daily newspaper, first cable car transport, first kerosene street-lighting, first public art gallery, and even supposedly the steepest road in the world – Baldwin Street.
First stop today, however, was the iconic Dunedin Railway Station.
Dunedin Railway Station
Anzac Square, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Built in 1906, the Dunedin Railway Station handled over 100 trains a day at its busiest, accommodating passengers travelling from Dunedin to Christchurch in the north, and Invercargill to the south. There has been much debate over the unique design of the impressive building with its distinctive mix of Kokonga dark basalt and lighter Oamaru stone facings. So much so that the building’s architect, George Troup earned the perhaps fitting nickname of “Gingerbread George”.
No matter the popular opinion, the Dunedin Railway Station is considered the second most photographed building in the Southern Hemisphere after the Sydney Opera House. With that in mind, we simply had to jump off the coach and take a look around, so Brad cracked open the doors and let us all out to play for around 20 minutes or so.
Although the design, and in particular the 37m high clock tower, were impressive from the generous lawn and garden area out front, I was perhaps most blown away by the booking hall just inside the main entrance which features a mosaic floor comprised of something like 750,000 Minton tiles.
Next it was off to a couple of other scenic spots around Dunedin’s inner city area with a quick visit to “Lookout Point” at the top of Caversham Valley where we were able to take in from the coach, a sweeping view of the city and Otago Harbour stretching out towards the Otago Peninsula.
Of note was the prominent shape of the city’s new Forsyth Barr Stadium, a 30,000 seat rugby and entertainment stadium which is set to replace Carisbrook Stadium (affectionately referred to as the “House of Pain”) for a number of games during this year’s New Zealand hosted Rugby World Cup.
On the way down from the lookout and on our way to the first of our garden stops for the day, we passed by the Otago Boys High School which features an architectural style not unlike that which we witnessed earlier at the Railway Station.
Jamie Durie and his gorgeous Mum, Joy, had joined up with the tour back at the Railway Station earlier in the morning and he was now keen to jump on the mic as we made our way towards our first garden stop for the day – Olveston Public Garden.
Olveston Public Garden
42 Royal Terrace, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Olveston’s one acre of beautiful gardens and large mature trees surround a grand 100+ year-old (1906) 35-room stately home which is listed as one of Dunedin’s “Category 1 Historic Places”. The garden features various pathway connected terraces containing rhododendrons and native plants, flowing lush green lawns and a great little conservatory which was chock full of plants that Jamie explored with his Mum and other tour members.
With all of this beauty at our finger tips, we had a good half hour opportunity to stretch our legs and leisurely peruse the grounds.
10 Hoopers Inlet Road, Dunedin, New Zealand.
Back on the coach, it was time for Brad to lead us out of the city limits on a 40 minute drive along the spectacular Otago Peninsula “high road” through rolling green sheep paddocks en route to Hereweka, a garden retreat and eco-lodge managed lovingly by Peter Cooke and Anna Moore.
A fantastic morning tea was immediately on offer as Anna greeted the tour group and proceeded to give us a quick rundown on what botanical treats were to be found throughout the grounds. Jamie jumped in at the conclusion of Anna’s piece to add his own pearls of wisdom regarding the property, showing that he had done his homework and also revealed how impressed he was by Peter’s expertise when it came to structure and design of the garden.
Breaking into a couple of smaller groups, everyone scurried away to explore, eventually meeting up to be led through one of the far corners of the garden where both Peter and Jamie pointed out a number of notable native species including the famous New Zealand Silver Fern.
Hereweka’s extensive garden continues to evolve and it’s definitely a place that would be at its most spectacular in the colour-drenched Spring. If the comments I heard on numerous occasions this morning are anything to go by, a majority of the tour group already have their eyes fixed on a return journey to the area, and indeed Hereweka, later in the year.
Jamie and his Mum, Joy (above).
Winding our way further along the picturesque Otago Peninsula, rising as we progressed, we eventually arrived at the grounds of the stunning Larnach Castle, 300m or so above sea level.
145 Camp Road, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand.
If ever there was a stop today that was going to remind us all of the significant Scottish heritage of Dunedin, it was going to be the spectacular Larnach Castle. In saying that, however, the castle was in fact ironically built by an Aussie banker by the name of William Larnach, back in 1871.
The grounds are so big, the castle so grand and the gardens so extensive that I can’t possibly cover them all in this blog post, so I’ll have to direct your attention to the fantastic Larnach Castle website which will take you through the history of the castle, it’s inhabitants and the surrounding gardens which are one of only 5 gardens in New Zealand considered a “Garden of International Significance”.
What I can tell you is that the historical account of the castle is one worth checking out. As explained to us by both current owner Margaret Baker, and later by Brad our coach driver, William Larnach led a life filled with extravagance, intrigue, scandal and ultimately tragedy – all perfect elements for a good story. So check out that website – www.larnachcastle.co.nz.
First task within the grounds was to file into the spectacular ballroom (below) for a buffet lunch. Yum!
Being on the last table to receive meals, I shovelled down the tasty offering along with Eliza, my fellow 30-something traveller, and a half dozen other ladies before we were instructed to head to the stables for a formal greeting from Margaret, the castle’s current owner.
The stables, which have now been converted to guest lodgings, have been beautifully restored and proved the perfect location for a quick history lesson and botanical tour via slide projection.
Breaking into smaller groups, we then headed out into the garden and explored. There was plenty to be seen across a number of themed areas including a temperate rain forest featuring an avenue of mountain cabbage trees, a rock garden, a formal garden featuring a Laburnum tunnel used for weddings in the warmer months, and the most recent addition, an impressive South Seas garden.
Midge, Joy and Eliza (above).
Taiaroa Head, Otago Peninsula, Dunedin, New Zealand.
All castled out, we once again boarded the coach and travelled another 40 minutes to a special parcel of land out at Taiaroa Head owned by a very special human being, Perry Reid, and his family.
Called “Natures Wonders” for good reason, the self-funded wildlife conservation area is home to a large selection of wildlife including New Zealand Fur Seals, Sea Lions, Cormorants, Gulls, Hawks, Blue Penguins and the world’s rarest penguin – the “Yellow-Eyed”.
Perry has tirelessly worked to ensure that the wildlife living within the natural environment on his land is protected for all future generations to enjoy. Through the installation of kilometers of predator proof fencing and designated predator traps located throughout the property, Perry has managed to effectively protect the delicate ecosystem in his care from pests such as possums, stoats, ferrets and wild cats.
The best way for us all to see exactly what “Natures Wonders” is all about, was to throw on some water/wind resistent overcoats and climb aboard a number of 8-wheel ARGOs and head off into the undisturbed, natural wilderness.
“Wonder” number one was a breeding colony of New Zealand Fur Seals and their pups. Despite being a good, safe (for the colony) distance from the rock pools and cliffs the seal colony populated, inquisitive pups still approached our viewing positions giving us an incredible up-close encounter with these gorgeous little creatures.
A pretty special experience for sure.
Moving back to our ARGOs, the engines fired up and we continued further along the pristine coastline until we dropped down into a beautiful protected bay where we were instructed to keep our voices low and head down into an all-weather hide.
Set into the hillside overlooking a beach crawling with seals and sea lions, the hide afforded us the rare treat to view one special little fella whom we were all hoping to catch a glimpse of – the Yellow-Eyed Penguin.
But back to Perry…
You simply must spend a good hour in this man’s presence to get a real appreciation for just how passionate and determined he is to achieve his dream. After having done just that this afternoon, I can say without hesitation that he is one of those rare and special eco-warriors just like Australia’s own, late, Steve Irwin. The world certainly could do with a lot more Perry’s, that’s for sure.
Back at the reception building, we all had the chance to sit down with a hot drink and a bite to eat and listen to Perry address everyone one last time about his life project – “Nature’s Wonders”. Stirring stuff.
Eliza, Jamie, Joy and I all opted for the attractive option of a beer instead of a tea or coffee and we somehow jagged a comfy corner lounge to take a load off and have a chat about all that we had seen and done throughout the day.
With the light failing fast, all that was left to do was to cruise back along the edge of the beautiful Otago Harbour towards town where we all headed to the “Etrusco Italian Restaurant” for dinner. I can’t speak for everyone else’s tables, but I can assure you on our table pasta and pizza was enthusiastically consumed, Eliza, Jamie, Joy and Geoffrey got stuck into a few bottles of red around me, many laughs were shared, and I fell in love with a new beer – the locally brewed “Emerson’s London Porter”. Wow – what a drop!
To close out what was a pretty full day, Eliza and I opted to skip the optional outing to Dunedin’s “Fortune Theatre” to catch the show “God of Carnage”, and instead head to a bar for a few more drinks. Under Jamie’s advice, we headed around the corner from the restaurant, down a dark alleyway and eventually came across a fantastic hole-in-the-wall lounge called “Pequeño”. Great news for me – they had Emerson’s London Porter in the fridges! Sweet!
Needless to say the evening picked up a notch with a few wobbly-pops under our belts (that’s being fairly truthful eh Eliza?) and it kicked on even further once the theatre show finished and we were joined once again by Jamie, Joy, Hamish (CEO of Tourism Dunedin) and a few other prominent Dunedin “suits”.
I don’t know why I felt really intimidated by him at the beginning of the tour (mega-celebrity status no doubt had something to do with it), but it turns out Jamie Durie is indeed a normal human being just like the rest of us.
He loves a glass of wine, loves a chat and LOVES everything to do with horticulture.
Awesome day capped off by a really fun night. Bring on day three!