CREA­TURE COM­FORTS

FROM CAFES AND BARS HID­ING BE­HIND HER­ITAGE FA­CADES TO THE WILD SIDE, YOU’LL BE SUR­PRISED HOW MUCH YOU CAN PACK INTO A WEEK­END EX­PLOR­ING NEW ZEALAND’S SOUTH­ERN CITY

Warwick Daily News - - Weekend - WORDS: CHANTAY LO­GAN

Dunedin lo­cals call it the 10-minute city. They may be de­scrib­ing a con­ve­nient com­mute and “traf­fic” that barely war­rants the word, but that’s also all the time it takes to be to­tally trans­ported.

To be whisked into the Edwardian era by im­mac­u­lately pre­served ar­chi­tec­ture and back into the current day through art-splashed al­ley­ways, to feel the sea spray as surfers slice through the waves me­tres from res­tau­rant din­ers, or to peer into the rarely seen world of the wild things.

Crea­tures and com­fort co­ex­ist in New Zealand’s south­ern city with a Scot­tish soul, mak­ing for a uniquely ac­ces­si­ble ex­pe­ri­ence for vis­i­tors who board the three-and-a-halfhour di­rect flight from Bris­bane.

But cities only give up their best se­crets when you get to know them and Dunedin is no ex­cep­tion.

Get a lo­cal guide on your side be­cause things are not al­ways as they seem.

New New New Craft Brew House hides in his­toric brick sta­bles, form­ing a Fri­day night hub for food trucks, fresh brews and live mu­sic where I sam­ple beeramisu for the first (but not last) time.

A lofty, light-flooded ware­house once home to John McIn­doe Print­ers is rein­car­nated as Vo­gel St Kitchen, a com­fort­ing sen­sory cock­tail of cof­fee and wood-fired pizza seep­ing into those her­itage-heavy beams. Even my ho­tel — the suave Dis­tinc­tion Dunedin — has a for­mer life as the city’s Chief Post Of­fice built in the 1930s. It’s on the doorstep of the re­ju­ve­nated ware­house precinct and about a 10-min­utes stroll to the city’s oc­tag­o­nal heart, where I spend a day roam­ing bou­tiques, gal­leries and charm­ing cafes.

Time is un­der a spell on the steep streets that spi­ral from The Oc­tagon, but it’s the an­tique-crammed Olve­ston His­toric Home that brings Down­ton Abbey style fan­cies to vivid life. Built in 1906 by Dunedin busi­ness­man, col­lec­tor and phi­lan­thropist David Theomin and with no heirs to in­herit, the home and its orig­i­nal con­tents were gifted to the city. With chan­de­lier-shad­owed ta­bles set up in all their sil­ver­wear splen­dour, fam­ily life feels but a breath away.

Another of those 10-minute trans­port hops (eas­ily nav­i­ga­ble in my lit­tle Avis rental) takes me to hip sea­side sub­urb St Clair for an early din­ner. From the bay win­dows at rus­tic Ital­ian eatery Es­planade I watch as wet­suit-clad surfers brave the waves while munch­ing on soul-warm­ing pasta and sip­ping wine (and a rather less-adult but ev­ery bit as sat­is­fy­ing Whit­taker’s choco­late shake).

Thanks to au­tumn’s slow-burn­ing sun­sets, I still have time to visit the pho­to­genic Tun­nel Beach, tucked just over the hill amid sea-carved sand­stone cliffs.

The pop­u­lar walk is named for a tun­nel that lo­cal politi­cian John Cargill com­mis­sioned for his fam­ily in the 1870s, de­scend­ing 72 dimly lit steps to a tide-washed beach. I ex­plore ruggedly beau­ti­ful rock arches and se­cret stretches of sand to a sound­track of crash­ing waves be­fore high­tail­ing it back to the car be­fore dark. Dis­tracted by the be­guil­ing blue ocean on the hori­zon I barely no­ticed the slope on the way down, but be warned — you’ll feel ev­ery step on the way back. Fac­tor in time for a breather if you aren’t fight­ing fit.

My sec­ond day in Dunedin delves deeper into its wild side. The road to Otago Penin­su­lar un­winds a whisker from the wa­ter’s edge, the scenic drive an at­trac­tion in its own right. Al­low a full day to ex­plore the many stops along the way, in­clud­ing La­n­arch Cas­tle on its proud panoramic perch. It’s free to stroll through Glen­fal­loch Gar­dens, where you can find a wood­land grove or rose-framed por­tal for a peace­ful pic­nic, but you won’t re­gret splash­ing out on a meal in the lo­cal-pro­duce-fo­cused res­tau­rant.

Con­tin­u­ing to wind my way down the penin­su­lar, clouds charge across the sky, pro­pelled by squalls that mak­ing stand­ing

up­right a chal­lenge. Yet, the re­gion’s most fa­mous res­i­dents are in their ele­ment.

At the end of the road, the stars of the world’s only main­land al­ba­tross colony are show­ing off, surf­ing the cur­rents above the Royal Al­ba­tross Cen­tre on three-me­tre wings.

The largest seabirds on earth nor­mally breed on re­mote is­lands and spend at least 85 per cent of their lives at sea, well away from hu­man view. The breed­ing birds, fly­ing around 190,000km a year, ar­rive at Ta­iaroa Head on Otago Penin­sula in Septem­ber. Lay­ing only one egg per pair each two years, they are won­der­ful par­ents.

I join a small, hushed group that is led to a hill­side hide where four pre­cious white fluff­balls, hatched from late Jan­uary to early Fe­bru­ary, are hun­kered in sil­very grass.

In the words of David At­ten­bor­ough, this “is a place that ev­ery vis­i­tor to Dunedin should see”.

Monarch Wildlife cruises of­fer another per­spec­tive of the penin­sula’s pop­u­la­tion.

Co­cooned in puffy warm jack­ets, with only our eyes peek­ing out, we chart a course through the white­caps with wee blue pen­guins play­ing in our wake.

I’m told these wa­ters are typ­i­cally very calm, with wind speeds more to the lik­ing of peaky pas­sen­gers than adren­a­line-seek­ing al­ba­tross, but bal­anc­ing on the bow and turn­ing chilled cheeks into the wind, con­di­tions turn out to be as in­vig­o­rat­ing as the oc­ca­sional drench­ing of sea­wa­ter.

We skirt breed­ing rook­eries of NZ furseals to watch pups play­ing on the rocks and get an un­par­al­leled per­spec­tive of the unique birdlife, keep­ing our eyes peeled for an en­semble cast of or­cas, dol­phins and sea lions.

Re­turn­ing to shore windswept and in­ter­ested, noth­ing beats know­ing that city com­forts, whisky bars and one mus­cle­melt­ingly hot shower are mere min­utes away.

For more go to dunedinnz.com

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