Hidden gems in the sub-suburbs

Bridger St, Maryhill. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
Bridger St, Maryhill. Photos by Peter McIntosh.
The Clifford St Playground in Dalmore.
The Clifford St Playground in Dalmore.
Dalmore’s welcome cat. Photo by David Loughrey.
Dalmore’s welcome cat. Photo by David Loughrey.

Hidden within Dunedin city suburbs are little known lesser sub-suburbs hiding in plain sight, areas some have heard of but to which few can give directions. David Loughrey searches for Maryhill and Dalmore, and does his best to understand their souls.

Clyde Hill, Glenross, Dalmore - they are the suburbs of Dunedin whose location is known intimately only by those who live there, taxi drivers well schooled in the city's quirks and city planners with a love for cartography.

These are the smaller sub-suburbs lost within the greater whole, but each with their own distinct identity.

Two such areas of streets, houses, lawns and cats are:


Maryhill is near Mornington but not of it, it rubs up against but is not part of the nearby, little known and inexplicably named Balaclava.

Nobody can give you directions, and even those who live there have been lost traversing Clyde Hill on the way home.

Maryhill, in the mind of Statistics New Zealand at least, is consumed by that ravenous beast further down the slope, the perplexed Mornington, that suburb of elegant homes and properties in some decline, of aesthetes and innocent children, drunks, vandals, joy and private despair.

The statistics show the wider area is home to 1518 males and 1749 females, of whom 42.3% are married, 29.4% hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and 5.7% are unemployed.

Maryhill itself features, in the gently sloping Maryhill Tce, the thinnest footpath in Dunedin and perhaps New Zealand, a single-file walkway that takes the wide-eyed tourist to the Mornington Presbyterian Church, which, by the way, is in Maryhill.

Across the road is the Mornington Kindergarten, which is also in Maryhill.

But it is further south that Maryhill (which isn't Mornington) really comes into its own.

Maryhill, or course, was once connected to Mornington by the ruthless steel rails of the Mornington Tramway Company, but since the tragic tram shed fire of 1903 it has drifted slowly but surely away, and now sits floating, disconnected atop the city's ridge.

There, close to the dreaming clouds in wide, tree-lined avenues like Benhar St and Bridger St sit some of the most well-trimmed hedges and lovingly painted roofs in the city of Dunedin, connected to the honest earth by ruthlessly plucked gardens and gleaming joyous fences that scream solid decency and the Dunedin way of being.


Every suburb worth its salt has a welcoming committee for travellers, and the very best have an attendant black cat to point out its highlights.

Dalmore has that and so much more.

Dalmore is kind of in North Dunedin, and sort of in Pine Hill, and snuggles up to the slightly wild and flirtatious sounding Liberton, a name that yells loose morals and modern thinking, but Dalmore is none of those.

It balances uneasily on a small hill above the Northern Motorway, and finding it involves chanting its name, closing one's eyes and letting the steering wheel take you where it will.

Dalmore, in the mind of Statistics New Zealand at least, is incorporated within that ravenous beast further up the slope, Pine Hill.

Statistically, its residents are lumped in with the 1140 males and 1194 females in the suburb, 40.3% of whom are married, 25.5% of whom hold a bachelor's degree or higher, and 10.5% of whom are unemployed.

These are all facts.*

But what can we make of Dalmore from a thorough study on a warm morning?

Visitors are welcomed by a sleek and friendly black cat that stretches languid across the warm asphalt, senses their intentions and leads them through the characterful streets.

One follows the enthusiastic animal along the beating heart of Orbell St, where garages are cut into the hill, up Fortune St's well-plucked gardens and overgrown wilds and on through an area that is so very settled with its tumbling nasturtiums and little cottages behind matted jumbles of green and corrugated iron fences with lancewoods and neatly laid high country tussocks.

But it is tripping back down Falkirk St to Orbell St and tumbling over the edge of the footpath and down a dark path that takes you to the awesome deep green lushness of the Clifford St Playground, a moist, spongy field cloaked by trees and hidden from the prying eyes of passers-by.

Best of all, the playground is flanked on its southern edge by a thick bramble of blackberry bushes ripe with fruit, where one can quietly feast, while school is in at least, in the most splendid peace.

Sub-suburbs, of course, to which few can give accurate directions, can hold on to their hidden gems, quietly develop them and enjoy their splendours without the knowledge of the powers that be, in tiny urban paradises hidden in plain sight.

*They are. It says so in the 2013 census.

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