High above the passer-by, glass or wire netting-covered
openings give a tantalising glimpse into the towers and
spires of historic Dunedin. Overcoming vertigo, David
Loughrey ventured where most do not get to go. Here,
he explores the magic spaces inside the clock towers of the
Dunedin Railway Station, Dunedin Town Hall, the University of
Otago's registry building, and the spire of Knox Church.
• Otago Towers and Spires
Outside is the procession of tourists who, year after year,
stop to take its picture.
Outside is the outstanding monument to Edwardian architecture
in New Zealand, "Gingerbread" George Troup's basalt and
Oamaru stone ode to the age of rail, the historic Dunedin
But it is inside, high in the domed tower located at the
southwest corner of the building, that the personal history
of the building is literally written on its walls.
Scratched into those walls is the graffiti of long lost
years, where "Butterfield, junior porter, 1955" chose to
leave a reminder of his employment, and "PK" left an echo of
his or her love "4 JT".
The well travelled "Johnny" who "was here" appears as well.
The tower looms large above the pedestrians who walk to the
central city over the railway bridge from Thomas Burns St to
Not far below the domed, fenced rotunda that sits on top can
be seen a sizeable room, with three windows facing out from
each of its four sides, which has an alluring appeal for the
To get there, a mission available to the media though the
offices of Dunedin City Council property manager John Varney,
requires a trip to the first floor of the building, then
through the sort of small door at the back of someone's
office that would suit as a stand-in for the cupboard door
that took the children to Narnia.
The trip to the top begins well enough, with an attractive
wooden staircase that winds its way gently upwards next to
the wall, taking the climber up towards the station clock,
and the clock faces spreading their diffused light into the
tower. As well, there are walls of artless graffiti and
shelves and cupboards obviously once used by railway staff.
The main room is aged and dusty, but the view is a Dunedin
classic, and would be a major selling point if the railway
station was ever let as apartments.
An aged, rickety arm chair bears mute testament to the
decades of railway workers who have, undoubtedly, found their
way to the private but well-lit chamber.
The view from the windows includes a line of sight up Stuart
St to the Octagon.
It is from there that things get slightly alarming. The
stairs turn into rickety ladders, and manholes get steadily
thinner, until access into the tower's larger dome is best
left to the svelte.
Finally, after crawling through the cramped dome, one emerges
outside, in the rotunda, with the view stretching up and down
the rail tracks to the north or south. There is one final
manhole, allowing access to the flag pole on top of a smaller
That final journey can wait for another time.
Dunedin Railway Station
• Competition for design won by George Alexander Troup
• Constructed during period of growth for New Zealand rail
system from 1890s to early 1900s.
• Foundation stone laid 1904; building officially opened 1906
but not completed until 1907.
• Tower strengthened in 1965, again in 1969, and major
refurbishment in 1995.
• Constructed from Kokanga basalt on base of Port Chalmers
basalt, with Oamaru stone dressings.
• Basalt taken from quarry in Central Otago specifically
opened for station.
• Built on reclaimed land in position that caused much
controversy; About 600 piles had to be driven into the
bedrock to support the weight.
• New Zealand Rail sold the building after major
restructuring and retrenchment in 1980s and early
• Dunedin City Council took possession in 1994.