After the wilds of Fiordland and the small town charm of Oban, Stewart Island, today the Oceanic Discoverer sailed into the southern city of Dunedin. Our day began with over an hour of sailing down the long Otago Harbor to the city port. Larger ships are unable to berth at Dunedin itself but have to tie up at the deep water moorngs at Port Chalmers. The Discoverer, with only a ten foot (3 meter) draught is able to make it into shallow water ports such as Dunedin. The usually picturesque views of the Otago Peninsula and the north shore of the harbour were denied to us due to low morning fog. However, by the time our parties were ready to head out to the city and the Otago Peninsula, the fog had lifted and a beautiful summer’s day unfolded.
One of our groups set out to explore the city of Dunedin. With a population of 115,000, it is the second largest South Island city after Christchurch. Founded by Scottish settlers in 1848, Dunedin still bears many traces of its Caledonian heritage. Dunedin is the Gaelic name for Edinburgh and the streets of the town bear many of the same names as those in the Scottish capital. The southern city’s churches include a majority of the Presbyterian denomination. The Scots Presbyterian emphasis on education is reflected in the University of Otago, New Zealand’s oldest, which was established in 1869. The University includes the oldest of New Zealand’s two medical schools; medicine being another profession in which the Scots have made a very significant mark. The Scottish influence on New Zealand’s culture is also reflected in the statue of Robert Burns, (or Robbie Burns as he is known in the south), which dominates the Octagon, Dunedin’s city center. While Robbie himself never came to New Zealand, he was a great influence on Kiwi poets ( and their drinking behaviour) including the great James K. Baxter.
The Lindblad expeditioneers visited the magnificent residence known as Olveston, This Edwardian mansion was built from1904-1906 for the successful merchant David Theomin (1852-19330. He lived there with his wife Marie (1855-1926) and his children Edward (1885-1928) and Dorothy (1888-1966). As neither she nor her brother had children, when Dorothy Theomin died she gifted Olveston to the citizens of Dunedin in her will. Olveston is a remarkable place to visit as all the furniture, fittings and paintings are those that belonged to the Theomin family. In its heyday the house was maintained by seven servants and the tour provides an interesting insight into their work in the kitchen and butler’s pantry. The Theomins were a Jewish family and the kitchen is set up for kosher food preparation. Olveston also has a delightful garden and the Theomin’s 1921 Fiat 210 Tourer (still road worthy) is on display.
From Olveston the Lindblad team paid a brief visit to Baldwin street, reputed to be the steepest in the world and then headed to Dunedin’s wonderful Botanic Gardens (celebrating their 150th birthday this month). Here we were guided by Barbara and Shirley, curators of the gardens. They gave an expert account of the many plant sequences on display. The late morning sun gave the gardens a particularly enjoyable atmosphere.
From botanic treasures we then paid a call on the treasure house that is the Otago Museum. The wide range of displays covered natural history, the effect of the recent Cristchurch earthquake, background on the peoples of the Pacific, a maritime scetion that includes a Fin Whale skeleton, a superb tropical butterfly house and a highly informative section on the geology, ancient species, and human history of the southern region. This display and the tangata whenua section reminded us that Otago remains the home for Maori tribes who arrived long before the Scottish settlers.
Meanwhile out on the Otago peninsula, yet another Lindblad group were enjoying the scenery and seeking out the local wildlife. At a wildlife refuge area run by one of the local farmers our team observed yellow eyed penguins (Hoiho) and the delightful little blue penguins (Korora). Fur seals (Kekeno) were also seen. The expedition then visited the Taiaroa Head albatross colony at the tip of the peninsula. Taiaroa Head is unusual in being the only mainland colony of the Royal Albatross (Toroa). A number of these great birds were seen on nest sites looking out over the harbour mouth.