by Rakai Tait
The last time I caught a flight out of Dunedin Airport, I noticed a large LED sign in a corner by the Air New Zealand Kiosks projecting a quite favourable message about the city of Dunedin. I read, in that font that “Dunedin” seems to always be written in, that for some reason is reminicent of a tattoo one could find on a proud individual’s forearm,“Like Bali with Wetsuits”.
I saw this sign well before I became a student at University of Otago, before I really knew what a “breather” was, well before I saw the forlorn and nearly apocalyptic alleys of Castle Street, and certainly before I became acquainted with the damp smell of a North Dunedin flat late into a Thursday night of all nights. For me, at that point in my life, Dunedin was where I came to experience the ocean and so, according to my experience of Dunedin, what the sign read seemed accurate. I had just come from an amazing surfing experience at Allan’s beach where, at the southern end of the beach, a beautiful right hander ropes through clear and turquoise water to meet a shallow sand bar that allows for a steep face and, if you are lucky, a fluid umbrella to shade you from the sun.
It wasn’t until I became a student at Otago that I realised that many of my fellow students had no idea just how close they were to paradise. To many, “Dunedin”, is confined to the University of Otago campus, the bars in town, and North Dunedin, which is a lovely place, don’t get me wrong, but it is not my kind of paradise. Many unversity aged kids who do not attend Otago also have this assumption about Dunedin. They believe that Dunedin is a mostly gloomy, party town that is cold all the time and boring during the day. Anybody who believes this is mistaken.
I won’t deny that Dunedin can be gloomy and that the cold of the place has occasionally affected my usually “sunny” disposition, (I was recenly given a shirt by a friend that has the phrase “Sunny Dunedin” printed on it alongside images of a palm tree grove and I do understand the humour in it), but this place is amazing. Dunedin has a solid standing in New Zealand surf history and the landscape is laid out in such a way that on virtually any day of any given week, a determined surfer could find a wave to satisfy their needs. Even if you aren’t a surfer, a drive up the penninsula towards the albatross colony is incredible in itself. And even if you don’t have a car, the bus system will get you nearly anywhere you need to go. Anywhere you go in Dunedin you are surrounded by salt water and ocean wildlife. Whether it is while admiring group of shag perched on the rails of a rusted boat ramp, the glassy Otago harbour as their backdrop, or watching the sun pierce through the fin shaped rock at Aramoana like golden thread through a needle, I constantly find myself stricken by the beauty of this place.
Not every student has had the experience that I have had of Dunedin. I have talked to so many who say that they are tired of Dunedin or they are sick of it, but I wonder how many have really experienced Dunedin outside the campus and the sometimes horrific conditions one can find in North Dunedin party flats. I do understand that not everybody wants to be a surfer or maybe is not attracted to the ocean as much as I am, but Dunedin can be whatever you want it to be. It can be a grey and damp party town that is perceived at night through the warmth of a box under the arm and in the day through the haze and dust of a hangover… or it can be an incredible seaside landscape of which all the beautiful nooks and crannies could never possibly be explored in a lifetime, nevermind a three year university stint.
So to the university students who are tired of Dunedin and the sometimes overwhelming party lifestyle common among uni students, I urge you to go and have a look around. What is right in your backyard may surprise you and even put you amongst the people who simply dawn a cheeky grin when others tell them of the bleakness of Dunedin.