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Dunedin's Heritage and Architecture

Published: 02/07/2012 by dunedinnz.com

While other cities seem to have dashed headlong into the new culture of glass and metal architectural design, Dunedin has decided to pause, catch its breath and preserve its Victorian and Edwardian heritage for all times.
The city was planned in Scotland and by 1849, seven ships had safely landed the founding families established homes, small farms, businesses and, of course, churches.
Dunedin is a city that can boast a true heart.  Its city centre, the Octagon, is where people and traffic merge.
Here an imposing statue of the Scottish poet Robbie Burns presides.  The architecture that surrounds the Octagon combines old and new.  Cafes, The Art Gallery, Visitors' Centre, shops, the Municipal Administrative centre are on the Octagon and at its centre Writers' Walk, which celebrates the work of the country's writers.
From the Octagon, two of Dunedin's most splendid buildings are only a few minutes walk.  The Law Courts are unique as they are constructed of Port Chalmers breccia, interspersed with Oamaru stone.


Across the road stands one of New Zealand's most majestic and most photographed heritage buildings.  The Railway Station's Flemish style earned its architect, George Troup, a knighthood.  Its beautiful garden also features a Flemish theme.  Inside, stained glass windows and mosaic floor tiles by Royal Doulton pay homage to an age of elegance.
Near the Railway Station is the Otago Settler's Museum.  Founded in 1898, this museum celebrates the peoples of Otago and the development of the province.  The Kaitahu Maori settlement, the Scot's pioneers and the Chinese Miner's achievements are all recognised.
Ten minutes north, is the University of Otago it was New Zealand's first tertiary institution.  The cornerstone was laid in 1869 and the original building is built in a Scottish Baronial style.
By 1868, the founding fathers established Otago Museum, close to the university, based on the primary themes of the nature and science of Otago, New Zealand and the Pacific Region.  It houses 1.7 million items in a series of themed galleries.
The Botanic Gardens, a little to the north were laid out in 1869 and features a perfectly restored Edwardian Garden, information centre and shop.  The Botanic Gardens are world-renowned for the Rhododendron Dell, camellias and their roses.  Also set in park-like dells and glades is the city's Northern Cemetery where, Dunedin's founders erected their own memorials.  William Larnach's tomb is a Gothic mausoleum.  Thomas Bracken, composer of the National Anthem and Burley Begg, a visionary mathematician lie nearby.
Running down into the north east valley is Baldwin, the steepest street in the world.
The hills overlooking the city conferred special status upon the Victorian and Edwardian wealthy.  During the 19th Century, Dunedin's economic supremacy was established.  Fuelled by the wealth gold and wool generated, commerce and industry flourished unimpeded.  Fortunes were made and wealth was sometimes ostentatiously displayed, as the homes and mansions of Royal Terrace, overlooking the city, testify.  The showpiece is Olveston, built between 1904 and 1906 for businessman and philanthropist David Theomin.  Olveston is open daily.
Speight’s is both a brand of beer and Otago institution.  Speight’s survived prohibition, fires and competitors and the grand brewery you can visit today was opened in 1940.
Another household name, Cadbury Chocolate, has a long association with Dunedin and in July 2002 Cadbury World opened.  It is a chocolate lover's delight.  Every aspect of their products' heritage and history is revealed.
There are many different ways to see Dunedin's sights.  Much of its heritage and architecture is available to anyone who enjoys walking.  Guided coach tours are the perfect way to visit the unique and beautiful Otago Peninsula.
Larnach Castle, set high above the harbour, should be on any must-see list.


William Larnach commissioned this turreted Victorian masterpiece in 1870.  A self-made man, who revelled in his wealth and power, construction began in 1871, and twelve years were taken by European craftsmen to complete the interior.  The result is New Zealand's only castle.  Yet glamour and recognition were to pass Larnach by.  His political and business career and family life spun towards scandal of Shakesperian proportion.  Infidelity, financial ruin and allegations of corruption drove Larnach to suicide in the Houses of Parliament.  The castle and its gardens, gift shop and café are open daily.
Leaving the Railway Station daily is an excursion that has become one of New Zealand's most popular visitor attractions.  Construction of the Taieri Gorge Railway began in 1878 and this pioneer development is considered one of the finest examples of colonial engineering of its kind.
No matter when you visit, time spent in Dunedin will create the impression that this is a city designed for the 21st Century, and you'll discover that heritage has not been sacrificed for future vision and an elegant history does not necessarily sit uncomfortably with developing technology.


Dunedin is a city of enchanting contrasts; casual, relaxed, yet at the same time vital and stimulating and the nation’s showpiece of heritage architecture.

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Dunedin's Heritage and Architecture