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
The three-storeyed Victorian Italianate building with heavily
rusticated ground floor and giant Corinthian pilasters in
Dunedin's Octagon has a clocktower atop that does not look
On the building otherwise known as the Municipal Chambers,
the tower does rise as high as, perhaps, an eight-storey
But step out on to the small access walkway that surrounds
the top layer of the four-layer cake that is the tower, and
the first and most natural reaction is to either go straight
back inside, or at least cling desperately to stone walls at
Because even if you are not prone to vertigo, the trip to the
top is just a trifle harrowing.
It begins in a hallway behind Mayor Dave Cull's office in the
chambers, where the many photographed faces of the city's
mayors line one wall, and a sculpture of the building made
from icing (honestly) sits quietly in a little perspex
display case by the other.
From there, one proceeds through the Edinburgh Room, out the
back and up, up, up a series of steps that become thinner and
steeper, and turn from steps to ladders, then more precarious
ladders, as you go.
The dust and the detritus of the building trade cover the
floor, and mysterious electrical or telephone cables snake
downwards from the ceiling and end mysteriously unplugged on
the floor, the original use lost in the mists of time.
Speaking of which, from insidethe clock faces, it takes
little imagination to turn back time and re-imagine yourself
as silent film star Harold Lloyd, hanging death-defyingly
from the hands of the clock, high above the city streets.
The clock mechanism itself is a thing of beauty, its shining
cogs tick-tocking reassuringly and historically on.
Towards the top, the distance from floor to ceiling extends
alarmingly, and the almost vertical and very well worn sets
of "stairs" test the bravery.
But the top comes, with one final ladder leading to the
uppermost of the levels, where doors lead out to a balcony
that has one of the city's best views.
The Octagon though, is a long way down, and there is a strong
inclination to hold grimly on to the handrail to keep that
giddiness at bay.
The view, of course, is worth the sweaty palms.
From a fascinating study of the details of the municipal
chambers' roofs, across to the spires of the adjacent St
Paul's Cathedral, it sweeps across the city and up the
harbour, or past St Kilda beach and out to sea.
Dunedin Municipal Chambers Clocktower Chamber:
• Oamaru stone on a base of Port Chalmers breccia.
• Opened for business on 25 May 1880.
• Architect: Robert Arthur Lawson.
• Clock: made by Gillett and Bland Steam Clock Company of
• Designer: Alexander McArthur.
• Pendulum released: Midday, December 2 1880.