Trail of the unexpected: Dunedin, New Zealand

Dunedin will host England's next two rugby matches – but it was designed by the Scots, says Adrian Mourby

Should you ever be asked the location of the world's southernmost statue of Robbie Burns, the answer is: in the middle of an octagonal piazza in the city of Dunedin, New Zealand. I know this because the only substantial human settlement south of Dunedin is on Antarctica and the treaty of 1961 forbids such structures.

After last weekend's victory over Argentina, followers of English rugby will focus their attention on Dunedin twice more, as the team attempts to negotiate its way past Georgia (tomorrow) and Romania next Saturday. However, any fans who've made the 12,000-mile journey to the city to witness the games will soon learn that their traditional rivals got here much sooner. The octagon on which the Bard of Ayrshire sits was designed in Scotland in the 1840s, at a time when Dunedin was a home from home for Scottish emigrants to New Zealand.

A plan for the city was laid out on paper in Scotland and given the old Gaelic name for Edinburgh, Dun Eideann. There were high hopes of this port settlement, tucked away for safety inside the sea-washed crater of an extinct volcano. At first life was hard, but then came the Gold Rush of the 1860s. Rich seams in the Otago Peninsula made Dunedin's fortune.

Even today, Dunedin impresses. The railway station by Sir George Troup was built without a budget. The Edinburgh architect was just told to build the best, so he shipped in granite columns, Royal Doulton tiles and Italian mosaic. It's not surprising the local tourist board claims this is New Zealand's most photographed building. The platform, with its delicate glass and iron canopy, is so long that you are already well on your way to the South Pole by the time you've walked it. Sadly no trains arrive these days.

Much of Dunedin was constructed in a similarly baronial style. The main university building resembles Sandringham. Larnach Castle – home of the tragic banker William Larnach, who killed himself when he faced ruin – is as rugged as the promontory on which it stands. Olveston House, in Dunedin's sumptuous suburbs, is a time capsule of Victorian New Zealand. This immaculate mansion was built by a Jewish merchant who moved to Dunedin from Bristol and increased his fortune importing pianos for the city's ever-growing bourgeoisie. The daughter of the house kept it unchanged after her parents' death, and today it is much-visited by tourists.

On nearby Hawthorn Avenue – but closed to the public – stands the last house that Captain Scott stayed in before departing New Zealand on the expedition that cost him his life. Much of Dunedin is a memorial to the days of Empire. The main thoroughfare of Dunedin is Princes Street. Before strolling down this I peek into the cathedral, which looms over the octagon and is tellingly incomplete. The mock-Gothic nave was begun before the First World War but by 1918 there was no money to complete the original design, which was on the lines of a Hereford or Worcester. The cathedral was eventually finished – without its steeple or transept – in 1971. At the end of the Victorian nave visitors find themselves among angular concrete. A large Perspex cross hangs over the altar.

Princes Street managed the transition to the 20th century more successfully, mainly because its monumental banks remained in situ, gathering dust as the city gave up its aspirations to dominate New Zealand's economy. The Savoy, once the finest place to dine in Dunedin, is now being slowly restored. The Old Bank of New Zealand, a splendid neo-Renaissance structure from 1883 with not a single stone undecorated, is to be redeveloped as an apartment and restaurant complex. Donaldson's Department Store (established 1862) still dominates one city block, with the Salvation Army and Speight's Brewery visible behind. Poor Hotel Central was cut in half along time ago for an aborted new development. Its once impressive facade now reads "Hotel-".

Wain's Hotel, now the Mercure, has fared better. Its brightly painted, bay-windowed façade looks as if it belongs in Eastbourne while the old granite Post Office appears heavy enough to sink the whole city. There have been talks about turning this building into a hotel, but Dunedin's problem is that people come en route to the Antarctic or the Otago Peninsula. The city is a gateway to superb outdoor holidays. That kind of clientele are not looking for bellhops and five-star luxury.

What saved Dunedin after the gold ran out was cheaper Art Deco constructions in the 1920s, neatly filling in the gaps between banks. The long white bus station built in International Art Deco extends below the Post Office on land reclaimed from the sea. It looks like a film set.

After Art Deco, this strange, Scottish city couldn't afford to rebuild further, which is why it's still such an architectural delight today. The one major exception is the Otago stadium, which lies close to Dunedin's Water of Leith. It was opened by New Zealand's Prime Minister John Key just last month. It's a long way from Murrayfield Stadium.

Travel essentials: Dunedin

Getting there

* Air New Zealand (0800 028 4149; airnewzealand.co.uk) has the only direct flights from the UK, with daily departures from Heathrow to Auckland via Los Angeles and five flights a week via Hong Kong; you can include these cities in a round-the-world itinerary. Other airlines offering one-stop flights to Auckland include Cathay Pacific (020-8834 8888; cathaypacific.com), Malaysia Airlines (0870 607 9090; malaysiaairlines.com) and Thai (0844 561 0911; thaiairways.co.uk). Emirates (0844 800 2777; emirates.com) serves Auckland and Christchurch from its hub in Dubai, with connections from Heathrow, Gatwick, Manchester, Birmingham, Glasgow and Newcastle. Singapore Airlines (0844 800 2380; singaporeair.com) has one-stop links from Heathrow to both cities.

Staying there

* The writer stayed at St Clair Beach Resort, Dunedin (00 64 3 456 0555; stclairbeachresort.com), where doubles start at NZ$195 (£102), room only.

* Mercure Dunedin (Wain's Hotel) 310 Princes Street (00 64 3 477 1145; accorhotels.com). Doubles start at NZ$139 (£72), room only.

More information

* Tourism New Zealand: 020-7930 1662; newzealand.com

The Independent travel offers: Discover a world of inspiring destinations

Arts and Entertainment
books
Voices
Caustic she may be, but Joan Rivers is a feminist hero, whether she likes it or not
voicesShe's an inspiration, whether she likes it or not, says Ellen E Jones
Arts and Entertainment
The Doctor and the Dalek meet
tvReview: Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Sport
Diego Costa
footballEverton 3 Chelsea 6: Diego Costa double has manager purring
PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
3D printed bump keys can access almost any lock
techSoftware needs photo of lock and not much more
Arts and Entertainment
The 'three chords and the truth gal' performing at the Cornbury Music Festival, Oxford, earlier this summer
music... so how did she become country music's hottest new star?
Life and Style
The spy mistress-general: A lecturer in nutritional therapy in her modern life, Heather Rosa favours a Byzantine look topped off with a squid and a schooner
fashionEurope's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln
News
Dr Alice Roberts in front of a
peopleAlice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Star turns: Montacute House
tv
Travel
ebookHow to enjoy the perfect short break in 20 great cities
News
i100Steve Carell selling chicken, Tina Fey selling saving accounts and Steve Colbert selling, um...
Arts and Entertainment
Unsettling perspective: Iraq gave Turner a subject and a voice (stock photo)
booksBrian Turner's new book goes back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
News
The Digicub app, for young fans
advertisingNSPCC 'extremely concerned'
News
i100
Arts and Entertainment
Some of the key words and phrases to remember
booksA user's guide to weasel words
Independent Travel Videos
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Amsterdam
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in Giverny
Independent Travel Videos
Simon Calder in St John's
Independent Travel Videos
Independent
Travel Shop
the manor
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on city breaks Find out more
santorini
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on chic beach resorts Find out more
sardina foodie
Up to 70% off luxury travel
on country retreats Find out more
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs Travel

    Business Development Manager / Sales Pro

    £30 - 35k + Uncapped Comission (£70k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Business Develop...

    Graduate Sales Executive / Junior Sales Exec

    £18k + Uncapped Commission (£60k Y1 OTE): Guru Careers: A Graduate Sales Exe...

    Web Developer / Software Developer

    £25 - 60k (DOE): Guru Careers: A Web Developer / Software Developer is needed ...

    Oracle 11g SQL 2008 DBA (Unix, Oracle RAC, Mirroring, Replicati

    £6000 - £50000 per annum + Bonus+Benefits+Package: Harrington Starr: Oracle 11...

    Day In a Page

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

    Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
    The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

    The model for a gadget launch

    Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
    Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

    Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
    Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

    Get well soon, Joan Rivers

    She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
    Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

    A fresh take on an old foe

    Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

    As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

    Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

    ... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
    Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

    Europe's biggest steampunk convention

    Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

    Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

    Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

    The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor
    She's dark, sarcastic, and bashes life in Nowheresville ... so how did Kacey Musgraves become country music's hottest new star?

    Kacey Musgraves: Nashville's hottest new star

    The singer has two Grammys for her first album under her belt and her celebrity fans include Willie Nelson, Ryan Adams and Katy Perry
    American soldier-poet Brian Turner reveals the enduring turmoil that inspired his memoir

    Soldier-poet Brian Turner on his new memoir

    James Kidd meets the prize-winning writer, whose new memoir takes him back to the bloody battles he fought in Iraq
    Aston Villa vs Hull match preview: Villa were not surprised that Ron Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Villa were not surprised that Vlaar was a World Cup star

    Andi Weimann reveals just how good his Dutch teammate really is
    Bill Granger recipes: Our chef ekes out his holiday in Italy with divine, simple salads

    Bill Granger's simple Italian salads

    Our chef presents his own version of Italian dishes, taking in the flavours and produce that inspired him while he was in the country
    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    The Last Word: Tumbleweed through deserted stands and suites at Wembley

    If supporters begin to close bank accounts, switch broadband suppliers or shun satellite sales, their voices will be heard. It’s time for revolution