With its exposed brickwork and high wooden beams, the historic Otago Steam Coffee Mills building hints at an interesting past.
Built in 1878 by coffee merchant Thomas Gregg, the warehouse became derelict in the 1970s before serving as a place for local bands including The Clean, The Chills and Netherworld Dancing Toys to practice.
And now? The converted boutique waterfront Thomas Gregg Apartments are the perfect base for a weekend in Ōtepoti Dunedin; we are here to make memories, with our toddler in tow.
It seems that Dunedin is constantly evolving and refreshing. We wander through the historic warehouse precinct in the southern central city and find ourselves on a self-guided street art trail, marvelling at vibrant and whimsical works colouring the sides of buildings. The murals – today we count 32 – are created by local and international artists and are progressively added to. A bare wall one day, a masterpiece the next.
An inconspicuous sign guides us down ‘No Name Alley’ to Steamer Basin Brewery and Taproom where we replenish ourselves with a beer tasting. After 20 years in Hong Kong and Sydney, the brewers returned to what they describe as one of the world’s best small cities to make seasonal beer, using fresh ingredients sourced from the Otago Farmers Market.
We discover more of these homegrown delicacies the following morning at the iconic railway station where stallholders gather every Saturday.
With its grand style and ornate embellishments, the station is one of the country’s most photographed buildings. Today, there are no cameras in sight as shoppers’ arms are instead laden with fruit, vegetables, bread, cheeses and huge bunches of peonies.
We take our purchases to the Dunedin Botanic Garden for a morning picnic among leafy canopies and full-bloom rhododendrons. The internationally recognised gardens are a toddler’s paradise. The children’s Play Trail comprises a playground, mini maze and complimentary seeds for duck feeding, while a bright blue miniature train circles the estate offering rides for a small fee.
In search of more fun, we find exactly what we’re looking for at the Otago Museum and Tūhura Science Centre. What’s more, we’ve arrived at the most magical time of day. Every morning inside the Tūhura Tropical Forest is the first flight butterfly release, when hundreds of newly hatched butterflies take their inaugural journey into the indoor forest. The delicate creatures – including one of the world’s largest butterflies, the blue morpho – have been transported from South America and Southeast Asia, tucked up safely in their chrysalises before their release in Australasia’s only three-tier live butterfly experience.
I’m reminded of the metamorphosis of these pretty insects when we visit the Dunedin Museum of Natural Mystery. Owner and operator Bruce Mahalski is an artist and avid collector of all things weird and wonderful who always dreamt of working in a museum. So he established his own, at his central Dunedin home.
There’s much more to marvel at than skulls and preserved animals, including a photocopy of a first division winning Lotto ticket, smashed camera equipment from the 2021 Capital riots in Washington DC, and a jar of butterflies found at the home of local woman Judy Egerton who was coined The Butterfly Lady for her work dedicated to breeding and studying monarchs.
For lunch, we head to nearby Patti’s and Cream, where we feast on cheeseburgers and ice cream, all flipped and scooped using fresh, local ingredients. Owner Olive Tabor’s venture began in a food truck named ‘Betty the Bedford’ and has expanded into two permanent spots, including the retro city diner serving 50 ice cream flavours. It was tough work, but we whittled our choices down to four.
It’s the kind of weather where bluebird skies make the city’s Victorian and Edwardian architecture pop; the kind that sees more than 130,000 Instagram posts captioned with the hashtag #DunnerStunner; the kind that calls for the beach.
We decide on St Clair, with its shoreline edging the wild Pacific Ocean and a surf break considered New Zealand’s most consistent. Surfers carve the renowned waves while we trace the esplanade, browsing a homewares store where a sign on the door says that sandy feet are welcome. The atmosphere of this laidback seaside suburb reminds me of somewhere you’d find across the ditch, especially when we reach St Clair Hot Salt Water Pool, set into the rugged coast like the iconic Iceberg Pool at Sydney’s Bondi. We could have enjoyed a splash in the toddler pool, but instead opt to dip our toes in the tide.
Later, at Harbourside Grill in the historic Customhouse building opposite our temporary home, the restaurant’s stereo plays a melody from another of Dunedin’s iconic bands. As the last of the day’s sunlight bounces off the Otago Harbour, Six60’s lyrics feel just right.
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