Wednesday, February 7, 2007

Dunedin: a real University Town

Dunedin is my kind of town. Approximately 20% of the 122,000 residents are students, and they have wonderful traditions, like dragging their sofas out of their homes during orientation week, and setting fire to them in the middle of the street. Dunedin is also home to the ‘Undy 500’ an annual event that challenges Canterbury students from Christchurch to buy a car for under $500, hence the name, paint it up, and drive down to Dunedin while the passengers enjoy a continuous pub crawl. They finish the event by trying to drive the car up Baldwin Street, which has been named the steepest residential street in the world. Baldwin Street is also home to the ‘gutbuster’ race, in which people run up it, and the ‘Jaffa’ race, in which people roll the namesake spherical chocolate candy down it. I’m sorry we missed these events, although we did see the burn marks from the sofas. We also drove up and down Baldwin Street ourselves, although Sally had to close her eyes while filming. (In places, it has a 36% gradient. Declan Rooney doesn’t like going much over 12%!) It reminded me of Porlock Hill in England, one of the steepest roads in the world, which I attempted to climb in a 1953 Ford Popular in 1968. I remember it well, because after a number of attempts, I only succeeded by putting the car into reverse, and driving up backwards.
Our visit to Dunedin was greatly enhanced, and extended, by staying with John and Ann Barsby. They live in a magnificent Victorian Jacobean home on Royal Terrace, overlooking the city. John is a retired classics professor, and Ann is retired from the Polytechnic, where she did almost everything. Today, she runs a Heritage Trust, which is very appropriate in Dunedin given its significant stock of Victorian and Edwardian buildings. Unfortunately, unlike Vancouver, the local developers have not yet caught on to the benefits of restoration and renovation of heritage properties. Hopefully my stories about Vancouver’s Heritage Density Transfer Policies will help make a difference in the future. If Robert Fung runs out of buildings in Vancouver, he should definitely come down here.

Dunedin is also paradise for anyone who likes the outdoors. The beaches are spectacular, and there are more golf courses per capita than anywhere else I have been. There are wonderful cafes and restaurants, the climate is good, (although it does get colder in the winter) and the housing is more affordable than other parts of New Zealand. If that’s not enough, Speights Brewery, one of NZ’s largest, and Cadbury Chocolates both have major manufacturing plants here. And yes, they both give tours and free samples. I don’t understand why the whole world doesn’t just move here.

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