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Let’s dock and drop into Dunedin

By Joycee Smith

Sometimes you just can't beat a tour

“Aye laddie, the name Dunedin is Gaelic for Edinburgh!”

This was the introduction from our tour guide, although his pronunciation was quite different to mine. (The Scottish brogue takes a bit of practice!)

Dunedin is a favourite city on the South Island. Our first visit was by motorhome – but this time found us hanging over the balcony of the majestic Celebrity Solstice (courtesy of Travelat60) waiting to dock and enjoy a pre-booked tour.

Let’s face it, sometimes you can’t beat organised tours to learn local knowledge shared by the guide – so many more interesting stories than you ever read in a brochure.

So, we donned our kilts and headed off to enjoy the “Highlights of Dunedin” tour.

Read more: 5 New Zealand wine regions worth saying cheers to

Port Chalmers

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Port Chalmers at Otago Harbour is where the cruise ships dock and interestingly it has 13 pubs to service a population of 3,000! That means a pub for every 270 people — not bad for the locals who like to bend their elbow frequently!

An interesting snippet was that the first frozen cargo left the port in the late 1800s. And, yes, you guessed right… it was the delicious world-renowned New Zealand lamb.

Dunedin - What’s in a name?

On the bus, our guide gave us a run down on Dunedin that was settled by Scottish colonists during the 19th century Gold Rush. The story goes that architects from Scotland were asked to design a city on the same plan as Edinburgh. This proved a challenge, but there is stunning Edwardian and Victorian Architecture on every corner.

The first, the smallest and once the largest

Our bus driver and tour guide was quick to point out that Dunedin is New Zealand’s first, smallest and once the largest city until Auckland amalgamated a couple of its boundaries and took over this crown.

Here are a few snippets of local knowledge:

With the first Scottish settlers arriving for the Gold Rush in 1848 the city quickly became rich and built a university. Although there was a hiccup when the top floor of the library wasn’t built strong enough to bear the weight of the books!

Next came the Otago Girls’ High School in 1871 — the first public girls’ high school in the southern hemisphere. 


The Otago Museum rose from the ground in 1876 and is worthy of more time that we could spend there. Did you know some of those ancient birds, like the heavy-footed MOA bird, had feet as big as rubbish bin lids!

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The extinct MOA bird with massive feet!

Baldwin Street – the steepest in the world

A stop at Baldwin Street was an eye opener. The Guinness Book of World Records agrees this is the steepest street in the world with a grade of 35%. Even those of us who aren’t mathematicians know that’s STEEP!

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So glad there was a tree to hang onto

Annual events to celebrate this phenomenon of a street are:

The Baldwin Street Gutbuster - a footrace (held in September) that goes only one way – UP! Contestants would be dicing with death to think about running down the hill.

The record is1.58 minutes, but wait for it - there is one local man that JOGS up and down daily (he obviously hasn’t got a pacemaker fitted), and many residents walk up and down regularly to buy their groceries!

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The Jaffa Festival – part of the Cadbury Chocolate Festival.

Each year 25,000, larger than usual, Jaffas are made– to roll down the steep hill. This is a charity fund raiser and Rotary members, painstakingly number each one of them – yes, all 25,000.

The first Jaffa to reach the bottom of the hill intact wins. This event sees thousands of contestants enter each year.

(Has anyone rolled Jaffas down from the canvas seats at the back of the old picture theatres?)

Cadbury World Factory

Sadly, the Cadbury World Factory wasn’t included on our tour, but we did enjoy a good look around on our first visit to Dunedin. That was the time we bought enough chocolate for Santa to deliver to the world on Christmas Eve!

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The working factory moves to Australia this year (2018) but Cadbury World will remain and become a mega tourist attraction. Plans include a massive Chocolate Fountain – what better reason to cruise back into Dunedin!

Olveston Historic Home on the Royal Terrace

This stop on the tour really took us back through the ages. Olveston was built by Mr David Theomin and was (is) the epitome of all things in grand design. Sitting high on a hill along the Royal Terrace it’s set among truly spectacular flower bedazzled grounds.

Sadly for the family, there were no heirs and their daughter (Dorothy) bequeathed the home to the City of Dunedin for the general public and visitors to enjoy. And enjoy they do with more than 30,000 walking over the threshold each year.

The house is full of priceless treasures collected from family travels and you could honestly spend hours exploring every nook and cranny.

My mind kept wandering off to the drawing room where I could sit and pull on the bell chord for a cup of tea (or maybe a glass of port). Ah, life was so different in the Edwardian days. (I’m sure I’ve been born in the wrong era!)

If and when you do visit, there are no high heels allowed (to avoid damage to the wooden floors), and no photos allowed in the house.


Dunedin historical railway station

In the 1900s this grand old lady was once bustling with train commuters – Dunedin was then the commercial centre of New Zealand.

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The Flemish Renaissance-style architecture is impressive and the booking hall alone has a mosaic floor created with 750,000 tiles of Royal Doulton porcelain – makes you feel guilty for walking on them!

But Dunedin makes the best of its assets, and every year the one-kilometre long platform is turned into a catwalk for the annual South Island’s main fashion show.  

Note - this isn’t just any old fashion show, it attracts high profile national and international designers and thousands of fashion lovers each year. (Note to self – return to Dunedin in March– I could do with a fashion revamp!).

Botanical gardens

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A quick walk around the lush Botanical Gardens brought us to the end of a fabulous half day tour. With many sights still unseen, Speight’s Brewery and Lanarch Castle that are at the top of the list for our next Dunedin visit.

Back on board the Celebrity Solstice for Sail away.

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Settling into the Sunset Bar on the 15th deck, we felt like royalty as locals along the way were waving goodbye. Sailing out of one of the most spectacular harbours in the world on the Celebrity Solstice will remain forever a happy memory.

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Bye for noo, Dunedin!

Need to take ashore:

  • Cruise Key Card and photo identification
  • Camera (except for inside Olveston Historic Home)
  • Flat shoes – so much easier for getting on and off the bus
  • Sun protection
  • Local currency (NZ dollar)
  • Practice your Scottish brogue!
Joycee Smith
Have you paid a visit to Dunedin?