New Zealand

Like A Local: North Dunedin

by Benjamin Brown  |  Published November 5, 2018

A melange of Victorian and Edwardian architecture, North Dunedin is among the largest of Dunedin’s districts both in size and stately stature. With its generous quota of bars and bookshops, expressive urban graffiti art and a teeming live music scene, the area is popular with the city’s twenty-five thousand strong contingent of students.

The Octagon, Dunedin (Photo: Philip N Young via Flickr)

Holding the dual honour of being New Zealand’s oldest university within New Zealand’s oldest city, The University of Otago was first founded in 1869 by Scottish settlers. However, today it is thousands of students who settle here every year, with many taking up residence in one of North Dunedin’s many student flats. Mercifully, amongst this burgeoning jungle of undergraduate digs is a modest yet varied assortment of stylish boutique hotels and welcoming, family run guest-houses.


As the name suggests, Bluestone On George (571 George Street) lies on George Street a kilometre from The Octagon, Dunedin’s city-centre. Privately managed by owners who pride themselves on a close attention to detail, the bright, breezy rooms are plushily furnished and the décor is clean and modern throughout. All rooms come with their own balconies or patios offering views of the dark, Gothic Revival campus buildings on one side, and the gently sloping hills of the North East Valley on the other. Spotless and immaculately well-maintained, Bluestone On George offers a compelling case for those who can afford to be a little more cavalier with their credit.

Walk into any of the bedrooms in Amross Motel (660 George St) and the first sight you will be met with is the monolithic, 50-inch plasma TV which comes with free movies and Netflix. Whilst for some travellers such items are mere superfluous luxuries, for families with restless young children having the option of watching a film or TV show at the end of a long day spent sightseeing may be appealing. Varying in line with customers’ needs and wants, studio rooms come with king-sized beds, spa rooms are fitted with spa baths, while access rooms are situated on the ground floor for street-level entry.

Kiwi’s Nest Hostel exterior (Photo: Kiwi’s Nest)

A pretty lemon-coloured brick building with large bay windows surrounded by a small, well-maintained garden and white picket fence, Kiwi’s Nest (597 George Street) is a warm, welcoming abode suited to travellers who are content with foregoing luxury living. Winner of Trip Advisor’s Traveller’s choice award, rooms are suited to all different travellers; from backpackers happy to ‘slum it’ in one of the ample-sized, six-bed shared dorms to lone rangers and couples valuing that little bit of privacy granted by the hostel’s en-suite singles and doubles.

Cafés and Restaurants

Virtually in the shadow of the university, The Good Earth Café (765 Cumberland Street) is a popular hangout for students. With its warm, cosy interior, the café is also an ideal spot to escape the winter chill and refuel by selecting one of an extensive array of delectable dishes. Organic vegetarian meals vie for attention on the menu among an enticing mix of Pacific fusion and Western dishes. The vegan seitan scramble and organic vegetable hash are particular crowd pleasers. Living up to its billing, The Good Earth Café is also big on recycling, with their cups, lids, takeaway containers, serviettes and cutlery all biodegradable.

Good Earth Cafe exterior (Photo: Good Earth Cafe)

Moving from solid earth to viscous liquid, The Good Oil Café (314 George Street) is a small, slightly innocuous looking establishment located at the crossroads of the attractive central thoroughfares of George Street and Hanover Street. A popular meeting place for breezy lunchtime meals, the café features an all-day menu comprising of a mix of à la carte and cabinet food, with their club sandwiches and eggs Benedict honourable mentions. Renowned for their quality coffee, the morning stampede of people looking for a pre-work caffeine fix is best avoided.

Amble a little further along George Street and you will come across Capers Café (412 George Street North), which advertises itself as the home of gourmet pancakes. As such, the menu is pretty pancake-heavy with options including the miners special: pancakes served with bacon, gourmet sausages and hash browns. There are still plenty of alternatives, with the grilled salmon and vegan pan-fried mushrooms garnering particularly high praise. One word of warning, however; Capers closes at 2pm on weekdays and 2.30pm on weekends.

A previous winner of the New Zealand ‘Café of the Year’ and a surefire contender for the entirely nonexistent prize of best café name ever, the Ironic Café & Bar is an ultra-sleek, ultra-modern outfit incorporating lots of gleaming steel and hard-edged concrete. Close to one of New Zealand’s most visited sights, Dunedin Railway Station, the café enjoys a steady stream of visitors, which at peak times turns into more of a deluge. With most ingredients sourced locally from the weekly Otago Farmer’s Market, the food is often homegrown and contemporary. Among the hot picks are the seafood chowder and six-hour lamb.

Ironic Cafe & Bar’s Interior (Photo: Ironic Cafe & Bar)

Book Stores

Specialising in rare and antiquarian texts and stocking more than 30,000 titles, Scribes Books (Cnr. of Great King and St David Streets) is another port of call for students frantically seeking a second-hand copy of War and Peace ahead of next week’s lecture. One of those good old-fashioned bookshops that are hard to come by in today’s climate of market homogeneity, books are piled high across the floor.

Technically residing across the imaginary border in Dunedin Central, Hard to Find Secondhand Bookshop (20 Dowling St) none the less deserves a mention, if only for the name. Starting out in a garage in 1983, the bookshop has since expanded to incorporate initially one, then two, fully-fledged stores. Housed within a characterful old multi-storey 19th century building, the book store has oodles of charm, and with an arrangement of comfortable leather sofas it makes for an agreeable place to let one’s mind wander for an hour or three.

With a sign on the exterior wall that reads ‘Ye Olde Book Den’, Galaxy Books (841 Great King St.) is quite the unconventional find. As a second-hand bookstore located only a short stroll from the university campus, Galaxy Books attracts many a wayward student and houses an armoury of academic textbooks. The interior might be deemed shabby chic were it not for the fact that it is genuinely so. However, the general messiness of the store is negated by the impressive variety of books on offer.

Otago University Bookshop (Photo: Otago University Bookshop)

Home to a number of New Zealand’s celebrated writers and poets, including Thomas Bracken, author of the country’s national anthem, Dunedin has a proud literary history dating back to the mid-19th Century when the city was first formed. One can read all about this in the University Bookshop (378 Great King Street) which, as well as attending to the needs of students, stocks a veritable cornucopia of books suited to all ages. As expected, the Children’s Room contains a variety of books ranging from old classics through to works by recognised contemporary children’s authors.

The Music Scene

Blessed with an electrically charged music scene, Dunedin has long been a hotbed for musicians. Touted as the best-equipped music venue in Dunedin, Union Bar (Underground, University Union 640 Cumberland Street), formerly Re: Fuel, is located within the University Student Union building and plays host to cool new indie and alternative rock bands. While the venue caters principally to students, the wider general public are also permitted, and there is a fully licensed on-site bar open until 3 am.

Regarding themselves as ‘purveyors of musical artefacts’, Relics Music Store (86 St Andrew Street) source a wealth of new and second-hand music to suit both sweet and sour tastes, from catchy bubblegum pop through to soulful Mississippi Delta blues. Run by a dedicated muso couple with over 30 years’ experience in the music industry, the store contains a veritable treasure trove of vinyl and has a similar retro look and feel as the Chicago record store from the film High Fidelity.

Hidden away from the main drag of George Street on the outermost reaches of the district, Inch Bar (8 Bank Street) is generally frequented by those already hard-wired into Dunedin’s music scene. Influenced by the famed Spanish architect Antoni Gaudi, the bar’s overall aesthetic is dominated by luscious curves, with wrought iron and stonework featuring throughout. However, there are two key reasons why people flock to this bar: the first being for its high-quality selection of craft ales, and the second for its live music sessions running three nights of the week, which includes Sunday afternoon jazz performances.