Smug in the city of dreams

Dunedin, a place that people come on their holidays and wish they were living here. Photo:...
Dunedin, a place that people come on their holidays and wish they were living here. Photo: STEPHEN JAQUIERY
There are few things I like more than gloating. It is an emotion that you can luxuriate in and really enjoy, writes columnist Kate Oktay.

Often, though, you only really get to experience this when you have just done something not entirely pleasant. Like going on a run and then coming back to find your family and friends sprawled slothfully in the living room wearing Cheezel-crumb chins. "Ahh", you think to yourself as you gaze on their prone forms with your knees hurting, "I really am a better person."

Lately, however, I have been getting this warm self-satisfied feeling just from having visitors from other places stay with me.

"It is a great little city, isn't it," enthused London.

"Gosh, the view is just fantastic," said Bangkok.

"It is so beautiful," sighed Istanbul, "and the weather is lovely."

"Yes," I said, averting my eyes, "It's always like this."

Dunedin's green loveliness is breathtaking. Long beaches of every variety, beautiful architecture and a seriousness about coffee. We have fantastic galleries, excellent restaurants and tiny cocktail bars stuffed with good whisky and swaying with Friday-night cheer. Surprisingly, we even have a strain of music named after us. Even more surprisingly, it's not blindingly awful.

The morning sea mist rolling off the glassy stillness of the harbour fills my soul. I love the little houses tucked among the trees with the sound of bellbirds trilling out over the water. The way people live here is a different world for my overseas visitors, with vegetable gardens and chickens in the yard. Pop-up restaurants in community halls and a patchwork of community organisations where good people give time to help others. The small schools that are amazingly well run by efficient and educated women, who even, when viciously provoked by your offspring, don't scream "Oh, for God's sake, you have pretended to be a cat for over three hours, can you bloody stop meowing".

It is a really great place to live. The city has an entrepreneurial soul and community spirit. If you want to start something new here, you will be surrounded by clever and canny Dunedinites, like the lovely Petridish folks, willing to lend a hand. Plus, when a place is one-third youth, it gets swagger and a sniggery sense of humour. The students weave across the one-way, joyous and partly inebriated, unaware and uncaring about the oncoming traffic barrelling towards them. They give our town a jolt of youth and merriment that does our dour Scottish roots good.

I delight in telling friends how ridiculously safe it is here. It took our household some getting used to. When I first came back after over a decade of big-city living, I went to visit a friend.

"You left your keys in the front door," I said, handing them to her.

"I know. I leave them there, it's just easier. The door has one of those automatic lock things," she replied.

"But your car keys are on it," I said, confused.

"Yup, I know," she said, clearly wondering why I was stating random but unrelated facts.

"And your car is out there," I said, talking slowly and pointing to the car.

"It's Dunedin," she said, once she finally understood I was talking about the possibility of having her car and house contents being co-opted by some enterprising passer-by.

We live on the peninsula, which is an unacceptable (by local standards) 15-minute drive into the central city. Coming from my last abode, where I had a one-way commute of one and a-half hours, it has been heaven. Now I have a zip down one of the more beautiful roads in the world instead of being stuffed inside a subway at peak hour with people (people!) touching you on every angle. The only time there has ever been traffic here was when a demented sea lion decided that the tarmac provided a much warmer place to rest than sand and the locals had to take turns using the only lane that didn't have a giant seal sunbathing on it.

When I was living in a high-rise, this is what I dreamed of. A backyard with home-made health and safety hazards for children to swing on, grass under your feet, and a shed in the garden where you can hoard second-hand rubbish that you have bought online.

I love Dunedin. It is a place that people come on their holidays and wish they were living here. And, even more than that, it is a place that people come to visit me on their holidays and I can be annoyingly smug that I am living here.



What they said:

'Dunedin is comfortable as an old boot'. Jules Older, book, 1977.

'Great library, top floor in particular'. Bruno Ganz, "Wings of Desire".

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