Opinion: Unsung Dunedin a city of hidden riches

Tunnel Beach in Dunedin. Photo: Getty Images
Tunnel Beach in Dunedin. Photo: Getty Images
Dunedin has numerous treasures that are sometimes little recognised, Peter Lyons writes from Auckland.

I love Dunedin. She is one of my favourite cities, like an ageing relative you love for her beauty, familiarity and quirkiness.

I lived here for many years a long time ago. Whenever I visit it is like slipping back into a very comfortable pair of shoes.

I am staying at a slightly seedy establishment in Suffolk St. A mixture of halfway house and tourist hostel. It is a big old house, dingy, ramshackle and a bit rundown. It's me. I could stay with friends but I hate the idea of imposing.

The evening I arrived was a beautiful summer's day which always showcases the city at its best. This necessitated a few quiet beers with a friend at St Clair. The chill soon sweeps in. People complain about Dunedin's fickle weather but if it had the climate of the Gold Coast it would likely be a bland crowded tourist Mecca. It would no longer be Dunedin.

I love the big rambling houses of Dunedin. Whenever I pass I wonder who lives in them? What is their history? Every house must have many personal stories. Stories of families, births, childhoods, love, marriages, hopes and happiness and losses and tragedies.

I visited Moana Pool for a workout. Over the years, the women at the counter have always greeted me with pleasant familiarity despite my not having lived here for many years. My trips to the gym generally give greater pleasure to other gym goers. They feel more comfortable with their own physiques.

I then adjourned to the spa pool while considering Archimedes' theorem of displacement as I watched the water lap over the sides.

I walked through the lush green Town Belt, a beautiful feature of this city. I was going to visit an old teaching friend at St Hilda's but then decided I looked a little too much like an old derelict to enter a prestigious school for girls. I imagined the caretaker being called upon to arm himself.

So I ventured down to the uni bookshop, a must-do for me when visiting. As I passed the Cook I genuflected sadly. Student life appears to have become more sanitised and controlled. The sterile corporatisation of education continues.

The uni book shop was its usual treasure-trove of delights. I was saddened to see the philosophy and economics sections have been diminished to a few small shelves. Definitely a regression that should have entailed significant public outcry.

The first-year students were in evident abundance, like overzealous puppies inhaling their newfound freedoms. There is something delightful in their obvious enthusiasm.

I wandered back down George St reflecting on how difficult retailing must be in this city. Yaks and Yetis is still going after all these years. But apart from the chain stores and banks and certain eateries the retail churn is huge.

I sat in the Octagon at beer o'clock. Pretty young women scampered nervously past. I need to work on my smile. At my age I am a threat to no-one. Unfortunately, what I regard as an avuncular smile comes across as a leer. Being partially sighted doesn't help. Shapely silhouettes with pony tails often reveal themselves to have goatees.

I considered dropping into the Otago Daily Times during the day. I have contributed articles to the ODT for almost 20 years. yet I have never actually met anyone from the paper. On reflection that is likely why I have managed 20 years of poorly paid semi-employment with it. Familiarity can sometimes breed contempt. I have written for various publications over the years but the ODT has always impressed me with its quirky and independent editorial stance. Yet another treasure for this city.

But Dunedin has numerous treasures that are sometimes little recognised. I read recently that Gran's Remedy was taken over by Ebos. Gran's Remedy is a very successful business founded in Dunedin more than 30 years ago by several locals. It makes a product that is highly effective in combating foot odour. It is sold locally as well as exported to numerous markets.

Funnily enough, it is based on an actual grandmother's remedy.

Then there is McKinlays Footwear, an iconic Dunedin brand. I have worn McKinlays boots for decades. They suit my bog-Irish wide feet. They are comfortable, stylish and very robust. In fact, I only remove them to sleep or to indulge in amorous adventures.

They remain on for long periods these days. But whenever I am teaching my students about the future of manufacturing in New Zealand I remove my boots to display how local manufacturers can still compete, based on quality and niche marketing.

Fortunately for them, I also use Gran's Remedy.

Dunners still can and does produce successful businesses and real winners.

I love this city.

Peter Lyons teaches economics at St Peter's College in Epsom.

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