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
If you are clinging, slightly panicked, to the side of the
substantial wooden superstructure that holds the massive Knox
Church bell, it is well worth looking over your shoulder,
through the fragile wooden slats that are the only thing
between yourself and a fatal 50m plunge to your death.
Nothing reminds you of your own mortality, and perhaps the
spiritual dimension that lay behind the construction to which
your sweaty hands are clinging so tightly, as the outcome of
such a fall.
To help things along, once you get to the top of that dusty
bell housing, the thinnest, most fragile and wobbly ladder
awaits to take you to your final destination - in this case,
fortunately, the stunning room at the top of the spire.
To get to the top of the Knox Church spire - and access is
only through locked doors - requires overcoming one's fear of
heights, but making the effort is very worthwhile.
The topmost accessible space is tall, lit by four arched
windows, dusty, brick and fantastically, excellently
To get there requires the help of church officer Benjamin
Thew, who said few people now got the opportunity to access
From the main doors of the church, four flights of stairs
rise upwards, past beautiful stained glass windows, before
you arrive at a cramped, locked half-a-door set into the
corner of a stair well.
Through the door, one enters the bell tower room, where the
wind howls through wooden slats, where huge wheels are
attached to pulleys attached to thick wooden beams
criss-crossed across the room, creaking ominously with each
Further upward travel involves pulling yourself through and
on to the outside of the bell structure, bracing arms and
legs against the diagonally placed beams, and dragging
yourself upwards to the top.
From there, you are faced with the ladder - the thin, wobbly
ladder that takes the fearful and disturbed up to a tiny
manhole in the roof.
Through that manhole is the top storey, with a dust-covered
floor that has clearly been dinner to some form of insect or
another beneath your feet, and a mass of cobwebs above your
Movement is restricted in the room by steel bars fanning
across between the walls, evidently added to strengthen the
T.R. Markham scratched his or her name into concrete in the
room in 1996, and DMK in 1876 - the year the church was
opened - if the graffiti is to be believed.
While the return 50m journey was no less alarming than the
ascent, the Knox spire is a remarkable, magical Dunedin
• Category one listing with the New Zealand Historic Places
• Designer: Robert Arthur Lawson Original
• Construction: 1876
• Spire height: 50m
• Style: 13th century
• Gothic Materials: Port Chalmers breccia basement, Leith
valley andesite walls with Oamaru stone facings, and
Ballyhulish quarry slate roof.
• Inside, four cast iron pillars help support the gallery and
• Seats 900 people
• Bell weighs about 350kg