New Zealand’s Oldest City

We took our leave of Manapouri on Saturday and set out on the 300km drive to Dunedin. In New Zealand, a town officially became a city when its population reached 20,000. Dunedin breached that threshold in 1865, three years before Christchurch and six before Auckland, making it the country’s oldest city. The city enjoyed(?) a major influx of Scots in the mid-19th century in an expedition sponsored by the Free Church of Scotland it and derives its name from the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh. In fact it was originally going to be called New Edinburgh but the city fathers preferred Dunedin. After the Scottish immigration, gold was discovered nearby in 1861 and it was the associated population boom that pushed Dunedin to 20,000 people and cityhood.

This was to be our last stop on the South Island and we had a couple of things we wanted to see here. First was the colony of Royal Albatrosses that nest out on Taiaora Head on the Otago Peninsula. We made good time on our long drive and drove straight out to the Royal Albatross Centre to get booked in for an official tour. We were lucky enough to see not only a couple of the chicks who hadn’t yet fledged but also some adults returning from feeding expeditions.


I was surprised to learn that these graceful, elegant birds weigh around 7kg, and make very ungainly landings.

As part of the Centre’s tracking program, they put steel rings on the legs of the chicks at this stage before they leave the nest, but add coloured identification rings only when they return. I questioned the wisdom of this since I thought it would be easier to catch a young albatross before it could fly. The guide told us that when they leave the nest in New Zealand they spend 5 years on the wing or on the water. When they get back to Dunedin, it’s the first time they’ve been on land in all that time and they have what she described as “severe jelly legs”, making it easy to catch them and put on their identification rings.

After our highly educational tour, we went for a short stroll along the headland and spotted a group of fur seals sunning themselves on the rocks below. To be honest, I’d been looking at them a little while before I realised what I was looking at. Can you spot all nine in this picture?


Having enjoyed a healthy portion of fresh air, we made our way to our AirBnB stop for the night and had a quiet evening. The following morning, we were packed and ready for our flight to Auckland but still had a couple of hours to spare. We decided to use our time taking a look at Dunedin’s centre.

We strolled around the city’s streets, which are laid out around a central octagon, called The Octagon. The city’s layout had, apparently, been planned from Scotland during the first expedition, with no attention paid to the hilly landscape.┬áThis meant that the vision on a two dimensional map doesn’t quite translate on to the contours, one impact of which is that the town contains the steepest street in the world – Baldwin St.

We took a look at the Renaissance Revival masterpiece that is the railway station.


This construction earned for its architect, George Troup, the nickname Gingerbread George. The interior is full of decorative elements that reflect the design aesthetic of the time and has a preponderance of ceramic tiles from floor to ceiling.


After seeing the town from street level, we drove up to Signal Hill to get a look at it from above.


As we looked at the town and tried to identify what we could see by comparing it to points on a map, I was struck by just how many Edinburgh associated names have been used for different suburbs: Musselburgh, Portobello, Leith, Corstorphine and Calton Hill all appear, and I’m sure there are many more. The Scottish influence and fraternal relationship continues.


We finished our Dunedin reverie and headed for the airport, dropping off our trusty Rav4 at the Thrifty desk before checking in for the Air NZ Auckland flight. Once again, everything went smoothly and we took off and landed on time.

We retrieved the one checked bag we had and headed for a shuttle bus to our car hire provider here: Ezi Car Rental. I was a little nervous as I’d never used this company before but I needn’t have worried. The pickup worked fine and we were processed quickly at the rental centre and were, once again, back in a white Toyota Rav4 for the next part of the journey.

The first task we had was to get to the Luggage Hotel to pick up the suitcase and instruments we had left with them the previous week. We phoned ahead and the gear was waiting for us when we arrived. Then we were off to Whangaparaoa, just north of Auckland for our next AirBnB. The reason we chose this town was that Ishbel’s sister’s husband’s sister and her husband live there. For convenience, I’m going to refer to them as Wynn and Linton as I’m not typing all that out again.

The evening was wearing on by the time we got there, so we checked into our AirBnB then just grabbed some takeaway food which we ate up at their house. They have a lovely view over the bay and we sat out on the terrace and relaxed while we ate and made plans for the following day.

We were going to take Linton’s boat over to Tiritiri Matangi, an island in the bay from which all introduced mammalian predators have been eradicated and that is now home to a number of New Zealand’s endangered species. We agreed a start time and called it a night.

The following morning dawned bright and breezy. The breezy part was a concern. Landing at Tiritiri Matanga would be problematic if the wind didn’t either abate or shift. Even if it shifted, it might shift back after we landed and leave us stranded ashore. The decision was taken to sail out there and make a decision closer to the island.


We sailed out in this 12m yacht and, once the sailors on board (of which I am not one) assessed the situation, the decision was made not to attempt a landing on the island. We chose instead to sail across the bay and anchor for a while to have lunch. And very pleasant it was too. We had killed the diesels and were travelling under sail only, which was very peaceful. We returned to harbour using wind power as well, only starting the engines again to manoeuvre back into the berth.

While it was slightly disappointing not to have landed on the island, we knew it was the right decision for the conditions and we had an excellent day on board in any case. For the evening, we headed back up to their place for dinner and relaxed as the sun went down over the water.

We had a lovely time in Whangaparao, but the following morning it was time for Ishbel and I once again to strike out on our own. We would be saying goodbye to family and driving due north.