Down Dunedin way: A stunning station and a gorgeous gorge

21 November 2019

I’ve already driven several thousand kilometres since arriving in New Zealand, and although the car is comfortable and the traffic mostly light there are days when I feel the need for time off from behind the wheel. So today, having battled hard to find somewhere to park in central Dunedin, it’s time to let the train take the strain while we spend the afternoon on the Taieri Gorge Scenic Railway.

Dunedin station, built in the first decade of the 20th century

But before we set off there’s time to explore Dunedin station. And what a stunner it is. Built in the first decade of the 20th century, it’s said to be the most photographed building in New Zealand. Well, I’m not sure about that – how the hell would you prove it? – but it’s definitely worth a snap or two.

The booking hall, a celebration of the tiler’s craft

Wikipedia describes the style as “eclectic revived Flemish renaissance,” and who am I to argue? Externally, the distinctive light and dark patterning is common to many of the grander buildings of Dunedin. Internally, although no longer used for its original purpose the booking hall is a celebration of the tiler’s craft, including a mosaic floor of almost 750,000 Minton tiles.

File:Dunedin Railway Station Foyer.jpg

PHOTO CREDIT: User Grutness on en.wikipedia [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons(http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-sa/3.0/)%5D

Once, when Dunedin was one of New Zealand’s busiest stations handling over 100 trains a day, the booking hall would have bustled with the coming and goings of passengers. Today it’s just tourists like us who come, admiring the architecture before joining a train excursion to explore the countryside beyond Dunedin.

The Taieri Gorge Railway was built in the late 19th century, after the goldrush. The get-rich-quick days of prospecting were over, and new, longer term strategies were required to generate wealth. One of the country’s greatest assets was the agricultural and pastoral potential of the land. To make use of it the interior of the country had to be opened up, but in some areas road transport was impossibly difficult. Railways seemed to offer the way ahead.

Not that it was easy to drive a railway through this landscape. In a country that was just a few decades old it was a major feat of engineering to build here. To enable the laying of a track through the Taieri Gorge, ten tunnels had to be hacked out of the bedrock, and 16 bridges constructed. One of those bridges, the Wingatui Viaduct, remains the second largest wrought iron structure in operation in the world.

The gorge is spectacularly scenic, and also very, very yellow, thanks to the gorse and broom that’s flowering at present. But it wasn’t always like this. Neither the gorse nor the broom is native to New Zealand, and like so many other introduced plants they’ve made themselves at home here. We’ve heard them described as noxious weeds, but although clearly not popular with everyone they’re here to stay.

It’s worth pointing out that the grass that is the staple diet of the country’s (introduced!) sheep, cattle and deer isn’t native to this country either. The fact is that New Zealand’s landscape has been changed out of all recognition by the plants and animals that Europeans introduced in the 19th century, and although from one point of view this may be a matter for regret it’s also a fact of life and isn’t going to change.

Humpty Dumpty has fallen from his wall and lies shattered on New Zealand’s ancient bedrock, and however much some well-meaning but impossibly romantic folk might wish it were otherwise, nobody can put him back together again.

Postscript: Dunedin Station. In January 2020 Ms Liz, who blogs out of Tapanui in West Otago, posted a number of photographs which show in more detail the glories of Dunedin Station. You can see her posts here and here. And earlier in January Liz posted about her own trip on the Taieri Gorge Railway, travelling further than us – all the way to the end of the line at Middlemarch. All of Liz’s posts are definitely worth a look!

22 thoughts on “Down Dunedin way: A stunning station and a gorgeous gorge

  1. Jane Dougherty December 23, 2019 / 1:54 pm

    No, it isn’t. Bar banning human activity (sheep rearing) I don’t see how they could even try. Maybe when the call for meat decreases. But then I suppose it’ll be oil seed rape so the yellow won’t be going away any time soon.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man December 24, 2019 / 8:05 am

      You’re right, even if meat consumption falls people will still need to eat, so intensive monoculture of rape, soya beans and whatever else will blight the landscape instead. Of course the real problem is human overpopulation, but I don’t see that being resolved anytime soon. Meanwhile, they say that rearing and eating insects may offer some respite, so do spare a thought for me as I tuck into a Christmas dinner of locusts on toast ☹ .

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      • Jane Dougherty December 25, 2019 / 4:10 pm

        Erk. We had fried potatoes today and I enjoyed it. The fizzy helped probably.
        Yes, there are too many of us, and I suppose that is doomed to continue. I should hide my head in shame for contributing to the overload, but none of them show any signs of wanting to reproduce (none of their cousins either) so maybe I’ll be forgiven.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man December 26, 2019 / 8:43 am

        Fizz always helps. I was on the wagon yesterday – driving to family – so today’s the day. Hic! And yes, you’ll be forgiven for the scale of your family because they, imbued with the values you’ve communicated to them, will do their bit. There are no quick fixes, only long term commitments to doing stuff differently. To quote a (former) colleague, the only way to eat an elephant is one bite at a time … Not that I’m suggesting pachyderm pudding for your Christmas dessert, of course!

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      • Jane Dougherty December 26, 2019 / 9:01 am

        The three who could get here for Christmas are vegan so elephant was off, as was anything traditionally festive (except sprouts which I tolerate only with roast chicken and stuffing). The second and fourth children had a plan to work in an elephant sanctuary in Indonesia but you need funds to work for free, pay your own board and lodgings, so that was out. Shame. It would have been a wonderful experience.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man December 27, 2019 / 10:19 am

        A shame they missed out, would have been a good experience. It’s important to have adventures when you’re young, before life gets in the way, but you need money for many of the best adventures. It’s a bit of a conundrum.

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      • Jane Dougherty December 27, 2019 / 11:31 am

        Money is in short supply round here. We as a family don’t seem to have the knack of making any.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man December 27, 2019 / 12:19 pm

        Money doesn’t equal happiness! (although, as in the case of your kids, it sometimes opens up opportunities)

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      • Jane Dougherty December 27, 2019 / 12:34 pm

        No, it doesn’t and I know any number of people with a dozen times our income who never stop complaining about how poor they are. There’s a point of material comfort though below which it’s impossible to be happy. The poor have been fobbed off with inheriting the kingdom of heaven or whatever for too long.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man December 27, 2019 / 1:37 pm

        Many years ago we toured Madagascar. At one point our bus drove past a hut where a group of people sat in a circle, hitting rocks with hammers. A massive pile of rocks lay off to one side, waiting their turn. We asked our guide what was going on. He explained they were breaking up big rocks into small chippings to be used in road construction and if, that day, they made enough chippings they would earn sufficient to buy the rice they would need to give them the energy they would require to break up tomorrow’s delivery of rocks into chippings. Now that’s poverty. ¡Hasta la revolución!

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      • Jane Dougherty December 27, 2019 / 2:13 pm

        Sounds like the make-work schemes in Ireland during the Famine.
        No doubt some would say they were poor in monetary terms but so much richer than we are in the authenticity of their way of life. How we should envy them.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man December 27, 2019 / 2:31 pm

        They might be right if you could feed your family with authenticity, or clothe your kids in it or cure your malaria with it. However …

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      • Jane Dougherty December 27, 2019 / 2:39 pm

        I have yet to see a wealthy person give his/her wealth away to be able to join the happy ranks of the poor. Yet it would be so easy. Why do they deprive themselves?

        Liked by 1 person

      • Platypus Man December 27, 2019 / 2:57 pm

        It’s the ultimate noble sacrifice, don’t you think? Foregoing the pleasures of poverty by voluntarily continuing to suffer the indignities of luxury, thereby saving the poor from having to endure the pain of similar luxuries. So magnanimous, so selfless, they all deserve medals or MBEs … oh, silly me, they’ve already got them.

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      • Jane Dougherty December 27, 2019 / 3:27 pm

        Ha ha! Too true. The next time I meet a rich person in Lidl I’ll tug my forelock…oh, except they tend not to share the joys of Lidl do they?

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Ms. Liz December 27, 2019 / 7:21 am

    Hi.. you beat us to do the Taieri Gorge trip! We’re doing it on Sunday right through to Middlemarch – hope we get nice fine weather. Something we’ve wanted to do for a long time! I’m a great fan of Dunedin Railway Station, it’s gorgeous 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man December 27, 2019 / 7:42 am

      We only went as far as Pukerangi, so you’ll see more than us. Fascinating to spend several hours travelling through an area where there are (almost) no roads Make sure you’ve got your camera handy (as if you’d forget it! 🙂 ), there are some fantastic shots for you to get. I look forward to enjoying the highlights of your trip in future posts on your blog!

      Liked by 1 person

  3. tanjabrittonwriter December 27, 2019 / 11:45 pm

    The railway station is very handsome. I wonder who did the dirty work of laying railroad tracks in N.Z. In the U.S. it was underpaid, overworked immigrants and their lives were dispensable.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man December 28, 2019 / 7:55 am

      Don’t know about NZ, but in the UK Irish men fleeing the famine made up a significant part of the workforce.

      Liked by 1 person

    • Platypus Man January 29, 2020 / 7:34 am

      Thank you for the link, Liz. I’m going to back into my Dunedin post and will add a link to your two posts, so that when I (and anyone else) read back over the account of the trip there will be a more complete record of that fabulous station. Like you I wish we’d spent more time there! Best wishes to you and Nigel from Mr & Mrs P!

      Like

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