A Day in Dunedin City

Are we in New Zealand or are we in Europe? This is what it feels like when wandering the streets of Dunedin. Of course, we have been spending our last few days in Dunedin seeing some rare wildlife and travelling around the Otago Peninsula which was formed by a huge volcano – you can’t get any more New Zealand than that. However, the city of Dunedin itself is packed with grand churches and architecture that you just don’t find in any other city in New Zealand. That’s because the city of Dunedin itself was largely established by the Scots.

the toitu otago settlers museum

Speaking of early settlers, our first port of call today on our “sight-seeing tour” around the city is the Toitu Otago Settlers Museum. Most regional museums in New Zealand have a whole section dedicated to its early settlers – it’s something each region is hugely proud of. But a whole museum dedicated to the people of yonderyears, isn’t that a bit much?! We’re about to find out!

Just a few hundred metres from the Dunedin Railway Station – a building so long and magnificent that you can’t miss it – is the Toitu Museum. In the entrance is a sight too big to ignore: a whopping steam train. What we learn about the green steam engine is that her name is Josephine and that she doesn’t like to be touched.

An epic maori introduction

From there, we wander into the free-entry museum to perhaps the most epic introduction we have ever had to a museum. The largest piece of pounamu (greenstone – you know, the thing we have carved ourselves then and then) is on display for visitors to touch before entering through the automatic glass doors. A blue light with a water ripple effect shines on the floor. Once stood on, the automatic doors shut and a booming voice begins speaking to us in te reo Maori (the language of the Maori). Fast-moving lights and patterns depicting the early Maori’s journey across the Pacific Ocean to the ships of the early European settlers are showing on a large curved screen in front of us. It gives us the feeling of being transported to another time through sci-fi-like visuals! Woah! We were NOT expecting that!

Robin gets a feel for life as an early settler in the Toitu Museum Robin gets a feel for life as an early settler in the Toitu Museum
What happens to Robin when he drinks Tiger Tea... What happens to Robin when he drinks Tiger Tea...
A roam around The Octagon, a.k.a. Dunedin's city centre A roam around The Octagon, a.k.a. Dunedin's city centre
Pretty flowers to go with pretty architecture Pretty flowers to go with pretty architecture

living like the otago maori

Once the voice stops booming at us, we start looking at the displays around the museum. Maori artifacts, such as weapons and pounamu pendants, hang in glass cases. The stories of early Maori told on information panels on the walls leading to a mock-up of an early Maori shelter – much different to those carved solid structures found on the North Island, as the southern Maori made more temporary villages to move around with the more dramatic weather. As expected, we sit in the Maori hut with its pretend fire and baskets weaved out of flax.

Portraits to ocean voyages

The Toitu Museum mostly follows a linear room layout with side rooms to wander off to. The first of those rooms that we discover is the Smith Gallery a.k.a. the settlers’ portraits room. The entire room is covered in old portraits from floor to ceiling. Interactive displays allow you to read about each portrait one-by-one.

Robin, always the ocean enthusiast, is keen to check out the “Across the Ocean Waves” exhibition, telling the story of the first Scottish settlers and their shipboard experience. You can have a look around a mock-up of living quarters or watch reenactment videos of what it would be like on board a ship sailing to the bottom of the earth.

Rooms like these are what 360 cameras were made for…

Grandmother’s house

From here, we look at relics from the days of gold – the gold rush experienced in the Otago region, giving Dunedin the wealth it needed to create such grand architecture it still holds today. Dunedin turned from a poor Scottish town to the Edinburgh of the south!

We then see a rapid change in items on display when we hit the story of Otago during the Twentieth Century. Trams, TVs, ovens, radios: everything you expect your grandma to hoard in her house is right here on display to showcase this change in technology. (Ok, we realise that your grandma probably doesn’t have a tram in her house but you know what we mean, right?)

Petrolhead heaven

Petrolheads can go mad in one of the next exhibitions of old Otago motors, from vintage caravans for that all-famous Kiwi holiday to the prized piece: the Tiger Tea trolley bus. This is just another interactive piece in the museum, where you can get inside the bus and pretend you’ve gone back in time a few decades.

It’s fair to say that everyone has a favourite part to the Toitu Museum – there’s something to appeal to everyone and the part of history they are most interested in. For us, we feel like this day in Dunedin is getting more and more European as the day goes on!

A game of... whatever the hell this is... at the Strictly Coffee Company A game of... whatever the hell this is... at the Strictly Coffee Company
St Joseph's Cathedral: we enjoy a view of this everyday from our hostel! St Joseph's Cathedral: we enjoy a view of this everyday from our hostel!
Isn't our hostel just the cutest? Isn't our hostel just the cutest?

Praising the lord

We find ourselves passing churches on more than one occasion, such as The First Church of Otago which has its doors open to the public. Stepping inside instantly takes Laura back to her “Church of England” school days – a weird feeling considering she couldn’t get any further away from home.

The Dunedin Public Art Gallery

While looking for a quirky place to have coffee – this is always our criteria for coffee drinking, the cafe has to be quirky – we are taken to the Octagon, Dunedin’s city centre. The outside grassy area makes it a great place to hang out on days when its not raining. (Does that happen in Dunedin? We’re not sure). Around the perimeter of the Octagon is the Dunedin Public Art Gallery – free-entry but you cannot take photos. The gallery (at time of visiting, obviously) is a mishmash of bizarre to the creepy. A mannequin of a little boy in his pajamas holds Action Man dolls molded together with a sign above him saying: “Beaver Lodge”. This confirms that we definitely do not have the depth of thought for such art – but with all the contemporary displays, we conclude that the art is whatever you make of it.

Strictly coffee!

Finally, we find our quirky coffee place inside the red brick building of The Strictly Coffee Company. It flows with the “settlers” theme we are experiencing today, with retro seating and coffee grinders on display. What we love most about the cafe though, is that it has games!

Our last night in Hogwartz

There’s so much to see in Dunedin city even on the walk back to the Hogwartz Backpackers. Murals cover the entire sides of random buildings – something hugely popular in New Zealand which reminds us that, oh yeah, we are in New Zealand! Then, we are transported back to Europe again as we gaze at St. Joseph’s Cathedral just outside Hogwartz – a theme from the movie so British that you want to throw tea all over it! On the other hand, it’s so typically Kiwi to not take themselves too seriously, creating a fun theme and environment to stay in. And how can you can say no to signs around a hostel with a cute picture of Dobby’s face?

Tomorrow, we leave Dunedin for the steampunk capital, Oamaru, for round boulders, a Victorian Fete and little blue penguins! See you then!

Laura and Robin

Strictly coffee and serious gaming in Dunedin's cafes
Strictly coffee and serious gaming in Dunedin's cafes Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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See you tomorrow!

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