Explore Port Chalmers. © Dunedin NZ

Loved by the locals: Port Chalmers

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1. Back Beach Writer’s Walk 

Starting from the historic Town Hall and Library building, this four-kilometre constitutional is a rolling cross-section of harbourside life and a popular route for flaneurs and dog walkers alike. After winding past the working port with its logs and containers; the yacht club, fishing boats and old boat sheds; it stretches southwards with banks of native bush and stunning views down and across the Otago Harbour.

Coming back through the township, you can recharge with excellent coffee at Union Co or some hearty sustenance up the road at The Galley, both on the main drag. Apart from its nautical heritage, Port Chalmers has long been a magnet for artists of all persuasions, and the two histories have recently combined in the Back Beach Writers Walk. 

The eleven ceramic tiles are installed on plinths along the foreshore, each celebrating the work of a different poet whose writing is connected to the area.

2. Pea Sea Art / The Flying Whale / Hotere Garden Oputae 

Two new ventures continue Port’s artistic lineage in slightly different ways. Pea Sea Art is the brainchild of Dallas Henley and Robert Scott (The Bats / The Clean), where you’ll find exhibitions by largely local painters and photographers, alongside art supplies and some sneaky local musical offerings to boot. 

Over the road, The Flying Whale is dedicated to the work of local author, artist and award-winning illustrator David Elliot, featuring an extensive range of his books, prints, and merchandise. The titular whale you can find in mural form on the back wall of the Port Passenger Terminal. 

For something a bit more permanent, you can reflect upon the changing face of the community at the Hotere Garden Oputae. Once the site of the late Ralph Hotere’s studio, lost to the expansion of the port in the 1990s, it includes work of his alongside those of Chris Booth, Russell Moses and Shona Rapira Davies. 

3. Kamau Taurua Quarantine Island

From the 1860s until the 1920s Kamau Taurua hosted a quarantine station for incoming European settlers and hosted a military hospital during WWI. 

The historic Married Quarters has been strengthened and repainted recently, one of two striking built landmarks. The other is the small, modernist chapel, constructed to serve the needs of the St Martins congregation, who established a community there in the late 1950s (when it became known as St Martins Island). 

The pacifist nature of the community is reflected in its memorial to the five New Zealand soldiers executed for desertion on the Western Front. 

Now a DoC reserve, it’s free to head over for a wander around or a picnic, or you can stay overnight in the caretaker’s cottage, which can sleep a sizable group. They run open days once a month where they organise boats across, but on any other occasion, your best bet would be to make contact with Port To Port Tours.

4. Futomaki

A recent and welcome addition to the local dining options is Futomaki on George St, in the dormant shell of an old catering company. Serving up authentic Japanese and Filipino dishes, it’s at least as good as anywhere in the city, with the teppan plates, ramen and kimchi fried rice all drawing rave reviews. 

The restaurant is modern and simple, the service humble and helpful, and the whole thing family friendly and affordable. Lat time we ordered a teppan tofu plate; a spicy chicken ramen; and a kids’ meal (including dessert) for under $40. 

They’re open for lunch and dinner Tuesday – Sunday and reservations are recommended at the weekend. Fair warning though, the meal proportions are significant, so come hungry and bring a friend.  

5. The Portsider

At the end of a long day or the start of a long night, The Portsider is good for what ales you. The local clientele ranges from wharfies and engineers to artists and academics, with the common denominator being an interest in seriously good brews. 

If you’re not careful on a Friday night you could end up being roped into a rowdy rendition of the Otago Daily Times’ trivia quiz. 

The nine taps rotate through a broad spectrum of beers – local, national and international – with a healthy supply of curiosities in the fridge to boot. What sets it apart isn’t just the selections themselves, which are outstanding, but Pip’s encyclopaedic enthusiasm for them, which is contagious. 

Wednesday’s Steak Night is a popular local ritual, but they don’t take reservations so you’re best to either turn up early or start working through the beer list by the fire while you wait. There are far worse places to end up on hold!

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