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Dunedin New Zealand
"The Edinburgh of the South". The finest Victorian city, according to the locals, in the Southern Hemisphere. Whatever else it might be, Dunedin is one of our too-often overlooked travel gems.
If you can convince the average tourist to go there at all, they usually make it an overnight stop on the road from Milford Sound to their return flight out of Christchurch - an alternative to "been-there-done-that-bought-the-T-shirt" Queenstown and the road through the centre of the South Island.
On a busy travel schedule you can only afford to stop for the things that are unique, different, important - right?
How unique do you want? This is the only place in the world where you can take a short drive to see an albatross colony.
How different? Here's a city - built by men of power and property at the height of their gold-rush affluence - that has never been upgraded with a bulldozer, it's 19th-century architectural heritage preserved by fickle prosperity.
How important? If you are into "green tourism" how important is the nesting site of the world's oldest and rarest penguin species, the yellow-eyed penguin, whose numbers dwindle each year, crunched by the impact of habitat changes, introduced predators and lately a particularly devastating viral plague.
Or, if you are into trains, how important is it to take a ride on a restored Victorian railway masterpiece, along tracks driven by Scottish engineering skill through some of the most rugged and spectacular scenery in the region?
How about some history? A mad Member of Parliament, William Larnach, built Larnach's Castle. in the 1870s. It took 200 workmen five years to do the job - and that was before the advent of the 40-hour working week. It fell into disrepair, was used as an asylum for a while, until the Barker family took it over some years ago and gradually restored the property to its former grandeur.
Otago Peninsular - or, to give it the original Maori name, Otakou - is a full day's work even on the tightest schedule.
But there are other treasures too precious to pass by in this city.
Probably the most important is Olveston, home of a pioneer merchant prince. The Theomin family built it in the early years of the century. They were a wealthy lot and travelled widely, collecting all sorts of exotic and expensive trinkets, baubles and bright shiny objets.
While you're doing the history round have a look in at the Otago Museum. As Otago rode high on the floodtide of gold streaming out from the hinterland valleys, the museum directors were able to indulge their passion for collecting.
If Dunedin has anything to give the nation it is the heritage of its beautiful buildings. They survived the barbarity of redevelopment because nobody wanted to redevelop Dunedin. As a result we have a treasure trove of Victorian architecture. In particular, the railway station, built when railways were at the apogee of their commercial and technological power. The Dunedin station is a celebration of the confidence and certainty of its masters. It is a paroxysm of Victorian design excesses. Little wonder that they christened George Tripp, the designer of the place, Gingerbread George.
Near the railway station. are the Law Courts, designed and built in 1899. If you can sneak in, take a look at the High Court. Notice the statue of Justice above the doorway - she has no blindfold and is believed to be only one of three in the world where Justice is not blind.
Just along the road from the station on the same side, is the Otago Settlers Museum, one of the best in the country.
Air travel may be the way to go these days, but some of railway's splendour lives on. The line through the Taieri Gorge is not only a step back into that history, but it also takes you through some of the most dramatic landscapes in the country. Rugged is the adjective usually used. But it's not quite right. It's more than that.
You'll marvel at the engineering and stonemasonry skills that drove the rails through such a sheer-sided rough-cut canyon.
Finish your stay in the city with a tour of the local chocolate factory and brewery. Take my word on this - they are well worth it.
A New Zealand Travel Guide is written by David Morris and published by
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10 March 2012