But generally, the scenery in the rural areas of New Zealand far outweighs the offerings of the major towns and cities. Plus of course, when you live in a van, cities are unfriendly places, with non-central campgrounds and the ever difficult issue of finding somewhere to park. Which usually means our stays are short.
I was, therefore, somewhat surprised to find myself rather awed by the wonders of Dunedin, the city tucked away at the bottom right hand corner of the South island.
There are a multitude of reasons to like Dunedin, ranging from the art museum, where a large picture of a naked black chap sporting nothing except a Darth Vader helmet takes pride of place, to the obsession with coffee. Dunedin is the kind of town I imagine I could end up spending a great deal of time in.
Of course, what actually happened on our visit was that we parked on a hill, just outside the cities pay meter zone, and spent one day wandering around. Here, if you happen to be whizzing through as we were, are some ways you could spend your time on a day out in Dunedin.
Visit the art gallery
Dunedin’s central art gallery is pretty epic, and not just for the display that caught my attention. There are a whole number of galleries to peruse, from the classic museum style art that you would be expect, to a series of ever changing, thought provoking installations.
The item I referred to, for example, was from a series of photographs detailing the film industry in Nigeria, known as Nollywood. How can you not want to visit an art gallery on that basis alone? Entry, conveniently, is free.
Drink some coffee
New Zealand is, to put it mildly, a bit obsessed with coffee. Per capita, New Zealand drinks more espresso than anywhere else in the world, after Italy. Coffee is taken very seriously, with many cafe’s roasting their own, and decent baristas worth their weight in beans.
So take some time out to spend some time in one of Dunedin’s cafes. You won’t be disappointed. Unless you don’t like coffee. In which case…
Hit up the Speight’s brewery for a tour
I’ve given you a run down of the main Kiwi beer brands before, of which Speight’s is one. In the south of the south island, Speight’s is the beer of choice, drunk by the legendary “southern man”, who from what I can tell, largely appears in rather amusing beer commercials. Anyhow, you can do tours of the Speight’s beer factory. Which is all about, as you would imagine, beer.
Go Chocolate Crazy at Cadbury’s
If neither beer nor coffee are your thing (I have no idea why you’re still reading to be honest), then you could opt for a tour of the Cadbury chocolate factory instead. Here you can be amazed by all kinds of chocolatey wonders, as you sail down chocolate canals and through magic tunnels pulsing with candy coloured light. Actually, that could be something totally different. Anyway. Chocolate. Go nuts.
Walk up the world’s steepest street
Randomly, Dunedin is home to the world’s steepest street. You’d think a town with so much to give would let some other, less exciting town, have a draw card like this, but that would appear to be the way the dice roll. Maybe when the street was built Dunedin was a shithole*. Who knows.
As it is, Baldwin street in Dunedin is seriously angular, with a muscle aching gradient of 1 in 2.78 at its steepest point. I have no idea why it was decided to pop this little gem here, but I assure you, it is worth going to find so you can walk up and down it and know that you, too, have conquered the worlds steepest street.
Find some live music
When bands tour New Zealand, Dunedin is often on their must visit list. I wasn’t too sure why this was previously, but it rapidly became apparent when visiting that Dunedin is seriously into its live music. Flyers advocating the next big thing liberally pepper the walls here, and there is no shortage of gigs to choose from. So find yourself something you like the sound of (or are largely ambivalent towards, your decision), and rock out.
Take a walk
Dunedin’s main city centre is really compact, and perfect for taking a stroll. When you’re not being drawn into one of the myriad coffee houses, you can look at some really excellent (and, for a change in this part of the world) almost old buildings. You may, for a period of time, even think you are wandering some part of the old world rather than the heady, bustling, new.
The train station is definitely worth a visit (I never thought I’d write that anywhere) as are a number of the churches (I’m actually turning into my parents) and other civic buildings. So take a stroll, and just soak up this remarkable city.
Once all of the above has really saturated you with the joys of city living, and you are aching for rolling hills, lapping waters and quaint country pubs, you will be pleased to learn that the rather splendid Otago Peninsula is right on Dunedin’s doorstep.
Jutting out into the ocean, and home to New Zealand’s only actual castle and an albatross colony (not in the same place sadly, I don’t believe it would be a happy pairing), this has everything you need to wind down from your days of debauchery and excitement in the city of Dunedin.
So that was Dunedin. Remarkably, no-one paid me to wax lyrically about all of the above, despite it sounding like a tremendous tourist advert (if someone wants to pay me, do get in touch).
I seriously believe Dunedin to be possibly the finest example of a Kiwi city out there. So don’t leave it off your itinerary when you’re heading through, and make some time to do a few of the above. You won’t regret it.
*clearly Dunedin wasn’t a shithole. In fact it was a New Zealand leader in all kinds of things, having the first university, the first tram, the first gas lamps, the first refrigeration units and the first art galleries. So there.