Mike Yardley: Dunedin’s hot-tub of winter delights

Mike Yardley ,
Publish Date
Wednesday, 18 May 2016, 9:28AM
The iconic Dunedin Railway Station (Supplied)
The iconic Dunedin Railway Station (Supplied)

We know winter is on its way, even though it’s been reluctant to flash its fangs. But when it does, take the plunge into the hot-tub of hearty southern hospitality, in delightful Dunedin. You’d struggle to find a comparably sized city that serves up such a spoil of fabulously distinctive visitor experiences.  Richly blessed with flippered possibilities, the wildlife charms of Otago Peninsula are a must, although I also love heading to Portobello and Port Chalmers to embrace the elements, soaking up the panoramas on a coastal walk.

However, if the weather confines you to the indoors, Dunedin’s stash of heritage draws burst with storied intrigue. Savour one of New Zealand’s finest “old house” experiences, Olveston, vividly brought to life by an artfully narrated guided tour. The 35-room historic home, completed in 1906, was commissioned by a Jewish immigrant, David Theomin. The landmark Jacobean-style manor is clad in Moeraki gravel and Oamaru stone. Bequeathed to the city of Dunedin in 1966, the magic about Olveston is that it crystallises the sense of high-society living, from a century ago. The “lived-in” feel of the house, and its authentic, cluttered charm, leaves you wondering if the Theomins have just popped out for the day. 

Larnach Castle, built in 1871 by the gold-rush-flush Australian banker, William Larnach, is always alluring, whether it be for the property or gardens.  Dripping in drama and a myriad of stories, the sprawling property was purchased by the Barker family nearly fifty years ago, restoring the castle and grounds to their majestic glory. In keeping with Dunedin’s seasonal high spirits, Larnach Castle hosts Shortest Day – Longest Night - Victorian Ghost Stories, on June 21. Celebrate the shortest day and the longest night by listening to Victorian ghost stories around the fire in the Castle Music Room. Explore the Castle by torch light, and end the night with a light supper. The Winter Ball at Larnach Castle, a highlight of the Dunedin events calendar, returns on July 22. Soak up the historic castle atmosphere in the stunningly restored ballroom as you dance the night away in Victorian period evening attire. www.larnachcastle.co.nz

Founded in 1860, the Otago Museum is a perennial people-magnet, free to enter and absolutely brimming with treasures, with superbly presented Maori, Pacific and Classical collections. Stand-out exhibits include a moai from Easter Island and a feathered cape belonging to Hawaii’s last queen.  Star specimens in the Natural History section include the complete skeleton of the world’s largest eagle, the extinct Haast eagle, and New Zealand’s largest fossil of a plesiosaur, or fish lizard. And I love the Sir Edmund Hillary Collection, featuring many of his personal items that he ascended Everest with, including his passport and camera. This winter, the museum will be showcasing the pick of the crop from the annual Otago Wildlife Photography Competition, which is always feverishly contested.

Soaking up the beach vibe isn’t normally something you’d associate with winter, but just as Dunedin has revelled in the annual polar plunge for over eighty years, beautiful St. Clair beach is a holiday favourite. The elegant Hydro, is a gorgeous beachside eatery serving tasty southern fare, great coffee and excellent milkshakes. At the southern end of the St Clair Beach promenade, under the shadow of Forbury Hill, the St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool is nestled among the rocks on the ocean edge. The Salt Water Pool was opened in 1884 and heating was added in the 1960s. (Average temp is 28C) It’s a dreamy spot to enjoy a soak while marvelling at the hardy surfers rider the Pacific breakers. Dunedin has fostered a red-hot reputation for its ebullient festivities in winter.

For over 20 years, the city’s Midwinter Carnival has fired up the Octagon and it’s back on June 18. The highlight of the event is the Carnival Procession which includes more than 1000 people, giant lanterns, costumed stilt walkers, dancers and musicians. Many months of preparation goes into the event to celebrate the Winter Solstice.  www.midwintercarnival.co.nz

For a complete change of scenery in the heart of winter, get your chocolate fix by following the hordes to Cadbury World. The high-frequency factory tours are a cracker, primarily guided by effusive university students. Roll up for the big roll down! The iconic event of the Dunedin Cadbury Chocolate Carnival, the Jaffa Roll, is an annual extravaganza. Watch Cadbury Giant Jaffas scramble down Baldwin Street, as part of the Cadbury Chocolate Carnival which will run from July 16 to 22. http://cadbury.co.nz/joy/carnival/

Mike Yardley is Newstalk ZB’s Travel Correspondent on Saturday Mornings with Jack Tame. 11.20am

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