Dunedin's heritage buildings and splendid views
might make the city's reputation, but behind and beneath is the
often ignored infrastructure that allows the city to function.
Charmian Smith discovers some of Dunedin's hidden engineering
Dunedin Drainage Board workers lay the intercepting sewer
along Cumberland St near what is now Queens Gardens on
March 28, 1906. Photo from Otago Witness
We might admire cities we live in or visit for their
architecture or landscape, but few of us give any thought to
the infrastructure that supports a city and makes living in
Much of it is invisible, such as pipes bringing clean water
and sewers removing waste, but essential to public health.
Underground electricity, phone and broadband cables are
likely to go unremarked, or be taken for granted.
Such things are brought to light in two new brochures
describing engineering heritage trails in the centre of
Both one and a half hour selfguided walks start at the Otago
Settlers Museum and take people around the railway station,
Octagon, Moray Pl and Tennyson St area, and around Queens
Gardens and the Exchange, revealing fascinating snippets of
information about sewers, structures, machinery and large
earthworks, such as the demolishing of Bell Hill and the
reclamation of the harbour mudflats.
The brochures, to be launched this month, are produced by the
Otago Chapter of the Engineering Heritage group of the
Institution of Professional Engineers (IPENZ), and aim to
recognise the vision, skills and tenacity of early engineers
who were pivotal in the city's development and early
Among the fascinating stories told in them are those of the
lowering of Bell Hill, and the city's sewers.
• Bell Hill
Dunedin's landscape 160 years ago had a very different
The shoreline was close to Princes St, and the tides washed
across mudflats that are now Queens Gardens, and around the
foot of Bell Hill near where Dunbar St is now.
This prominent landmark had been reserved by the founding
fathers for building a church, and for a while housed a bell,
a gift from Scotland to First Church, that was rung to mark
working hours or raise an alarm.
It still stands outside First Church. Bell Hill separated the
Octagon and the swampy northern end of town from the southern
end and the main jetty at Jetty St, near what are now Bond
and Crawford streets.
With its summit between Dowling St and Moray Pl, it was too
steep for wheeled vehicles to cross and sloped too sharply
into the harbour for a road to pass around it.
In 1858 a six metre wide cutting was blasted through the rock
to extend Princes St and link it to the Octagon and the
northern part of the town.
However, with the influx of ships and people during the gold
rushes of the 1860s and the need for more flat land around
the harbour for commercial expansion, the Provincial
Government decided Bell Hill, which was still a major
barrier, should be demolished and used to reclaim the
mudflats, starting with the area that is now Queens Gardens.
The owners of 33 houses, nine shops, eight
stores or workshops, a church and a hotel had to be
compensated and work started in 1862.
The earthworks, which took more than a decade, used both
private contractors and prison labour.
Rock was blasted and shovelled into horsedrawn trucks which
ran on rails and emptied on the tidal flats.
As with most big projects, there was controversy and even
some scares, as when in December 1864 a blasting charge
miscalculation meant pieces of rock rained down in Princes
St, according to the Otago Witness.
By 1874, the waterfront was a straight line along the eastern
side of Crawford St, and First Church had been built on the
truncated stump of Bell Hill.