I had been home from my trip to the Bay of Islands for nearly a week and already my feet were getting itchy. My newly purchased water blaster had proven to be a most useful investment and now that I had almost destroyed everything in sight, my wife was threatening to take the ‘damn thing off me’. I think the turning point had come when in an attempt to remove a flaking piece of paint from a garden wall, I had inadvertently taken out almost an entire garden bed. With my toy taken off me and my list of ‘I’ll do that job during summer’ not being very appealing, I decided a walk was in order. With that, I headed for the delightful harbour village of Port Chalmers.
Located 15 kilometers northeast of Dunedin city, Port Chalmers holds the unique place in history as the landing spot of the Scottish Free Church settlers in 1848, New Zealand’s first successful shipment of frozen meat departed for Britain in 1882 and the ill-fated Robert Falcon Scott expedition to the South Pole left Port Chalmers for Antarctica on 19th November 1910.
Parking at one end of the main street with the intent to walk in a giant loop, I found myself passing a charming mix of both Victorian and Art Deco buildings that make up the main street. The shops are the endearing type that sell pottery, hats, jewellery and fine art. There’s art galleries, community spaces, monuments and the traditional convenience outlets of takeaways, a dairy and chemist. The cafes and tearooms are the charming sort that you can happily pass an afternoon in sharing coffee with friends. On this occasion, I declined the invitations from the street signage to pop on in and happily strolled in the warm midday sun.
I passed various buildings and signs, my favourite of which delightfully read ‘Ye Old Bottle Store’ before turning a corner and starting up the gentle hill. Hoping the carefully placed signs were correct and reliable, I looked forward to seeing the Iona Church, the Lady Thorn Rhododendron Dell, The Port Chalmers Town Belt, The Robert Falcon Scott monument and The Lookout.
Heading uphill the road soon gave way to a footpath, which even soon gave way to a gravelly path. It wasn’t long after I had begun along the steep gravelly path that climbed up hill that I realised I had completely the wrong footwear for such a journey. The next while was spent despairing at my lack of fitness, my feet slipping on gravel and pausing to take in the wonderful harbour views that poked through the bush.
Reaching the lookout I spent some time taking in the view, looking at the Scott monument as well as a giant anchor and contemplating how for such a little port, it had some fascinating links to history that just show how much of an important city Dunedin was at one stage.
On my way back down I came across a sign that said the old cemetery which I simply had to follow. Nestled among the pine trees on a slope that once looked directly down the harbour was the most delightful cemetery. I walked among the trees and listened to the bird life before continuing on to Iona Church.
The church stands on the original site of an old wooden structure that was built in 1852 before it became too small and was replaced by a stone building in 1871 which was opened by Reverend Dr Stuart and William Will. Local church records suggest that the good Dr Stuart married more people than any other celebrant in 19th century New Zealand. In fact, he was so popular that when the man who was once described as enduringly positive, sunny and breezy like a summer’s day died in 1894, all the shops in Dunedin were closed and 6,000 people walked in his funeral procession.
Leaving the church and it’s grand views I was suddenly aware of time. My detour up to the lookout had taken longer than expected but I very much wanted to see the Hotere Garden Oputae. Situated on top of the Port Chalmers Flagstaff lookout, the garden was built in 2005 to mark the return of four sculptures to their home at Observation Point where they had previously displayed at the studio of Ralph Hotere. After another uphill struggle, I walked through the gardens, marvelling at the creative wonder that Hotere’s work invokes. Enjoying the peacefulness and calm of the garden and resisting the temptation to stay for a further hour or two among the sculptures and plants, I took in one last view of the harbour. It wasn’t hard to see how Hotere would draw inspiration from the surroundings. It also occurred to me what a terrible shame it was his studios had to be pulled down.
With the afternoon quickly passing I began the trek down hill and around the streets of Port Chalmers back to my car. I passed places that had delightful names like ‘The Flying Whale’ and ‘The Braking Fish’ and the local Portsider Pub.
Somehow Hotere Garden Oputae and his studio seemed to sum the place up, a delightfully tranquil and charming place with some beautiful touches.The Portsider, Port Chalmers
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