Happy 21st Otago Polytechnic

Having your 21st usually involves an extensive party, but a 21st of a different kind was held at Craigieburn in a much quieter and more productive way. Today’s planting by Otago Polytechnic Horticulture students is the 21st year that the Society and the Polytechnic have planted trees on the reserve since 1994. In that time more than 13,000 native trees have been planted and 600 horticulture students have participated in this vital work at Craigieburn. Today’s planting in bright sunshine represents a significant achievement for everyone involved in Craigieburn and once again the students showed their skill and dedication to the Craigieburn cause. (click in pictures to view in full size).

Project Gold OGHS

Project Gold LogoOver 20 year ten girls from Otago Girls High School undertook the first Project Gold planting in the Town Belt on Tuesday 11th August. The Amenities Society, Department of Conservation and the Town Belt reserve manager the Dunedin City Council have entered into a partnership to plant more Kowhai in the reserve. The Society will fund 5 years of planting valued at $7,500 in areas around the Town Belt. The Kowhai is an iconic tree that provides valuable feeding opportunities for many native bird species, including the Tui and Bellbird. This years planting in Drivers Road should create a welcome additional area of trees that will enhance the visual and biodiversity quality of the area. It was a frosty start for the pupils, but once they got into their work they quickly warmed up. The planting was also an opportunity for the Society to celebrate as close as possible to to the traditional day of Arbor Day in New Zealand on August the 8th. Well done girls and many thanks to Kevin and the team from Delta, Shirley & Gordon from DCC Parks, John Barkla from DoC and Ribbonwood Nurseries for supplying the trees. This is a great start for Project Gold in our city, well done everyone. (Click on pictures to enlarge)



Ocean Beach todayOcean Beach Domain has been in the news over recent years as the city struggles with the erosion of the dunes and beach. What we see there today is something quite different to what it was. That change was brought about by the pressures of a developing city for raw resources, the acclimatisation of marram grass and ultimately the need to tame the coast for the physical protection of the city. This article looks at the early historical change to the dunes and reflects on whether we can learn from our mistakes and actions of the past.

Kaituna – Ocean Beach is a highly modified environment. The normal activity and moveability of sand has been replaced and stabilised. The former back dune areas have been extensively mined and became recreation areas. The coastline still stretches from the St Clair cliffs in the west to Lawyer’s Head in the east, but the sand dunes have become much thinner and steeper. In 1848 in the west around St Clair the sand hills were much smaller and lower, the mouth of a lagoon ran through these dunes. The dunes accumulated and grew as you moved east towards Lawyers head. High ground was in the west at the St Clair hills and in the in the east at the beginning of the Otago Peninsula and beyond them Otago Harbour and its extended tidal areas. Between these features was a low-lying wetland named Kaituna. It was covered with silver tussock, rushes and flax and was an area of traditional food gathering for Maori who sought tuna (eel), pukeko and weka. There is also evidence that the Kaituna area was once thick with trees, probably Kahikatea. They lay buried under the surface of the wetland and were often dug up and used as firewood by early settlers. A significant feature was the track along the inner edge of the sand hills which provided easy access to Kaituna.  

The pre 1848 topography of Ocean Beach Domain

 By 1876 the urban growth of Dunedin had pushed housing to the edge of the sand hills at Ocean Beach. Sand was being removed constantly by the householders to raise the level of their sections. Occasional floods are reported in the 1870s, but mostly from the harbour, into South Dunedin. On one occasion a Mrs Rae and her two daughters were rescued by a gasworks boat crew from Rankeilor Street.  The dog was reportedly was left behind! The coach-builder for Cobb & Co in Reid Road built a flat-bottomed boat in which he used to paddle to the nearest dry land in times of flood. There was once reported nine inches of water in the Hillside Railway Workshops wagon shop that stopped work for several days.

Flooding on the "flat" of St Kilda Borough was not uncommon. Blunderbuss or Horse Pistol – With urban growth came the development of the railways and in 1880 Edward Pritchard won the government contract to shift sand from the Ocean Beach Dunes for fill to the government railway yards development at Crawford and Cumberland Streets. Pritchard laid an extension of the railway line in the St Kilda Borough from the Crescent to the sand hills in January 1880. However permission from the appropriate borough council had not been obtained.  The Mayor of St Kilda, J P Jones was indignant and he vehemently: “Objected entirely to the whole proceeding:  it would never do to allow 50 acres of filling to be taken from the sand hills, which were all the protection St Kilda had from the strong winds and the encroachment of the sea.”  The result was that the St Kilda daymen with the help of mayor and councillors took up the rails the next morning.

The following day the Otago Daily Times reported that Pritchard had imported from America “one of Otto’s steam excavators with Chapman’s improvements!” It was a massive and powerful steam crane that weighed 37 tons, and was to be fitted up and put to work at the sand hills without delay.” Pritchard was not going to be thwarted by the St Kilda Borough Council. As is customary in local politics, a crisis public meeting of the St Kilda ratepayers was held on March 9th 1880. The Council Chamber was full. The Mayor of St Kilda, J P Jones stated that he had remonstrated with the Hon James Macandrew, Minister of Public Works. The Minister had agreed that probably the engineer had been mistaken in his advice and promised to look into the matter. Nothing more was heard until the announcement that Pritchard & Co had been awarded the contract to remove the sand.

St Kilda Borough Council received a report from the civil engineer George Barr who opposed the removal of the sand. Barr gave an insightful and accurate account of the effects of stripping the Ocean Beach dunes. The dangers of interfering with sands of so mobile a nature as these has long been recognised, because it is found that so soon as the surface vegetation is broken upon, the wind acts freely upon the sand, carrying it in quantities and to distances dependent, of course, upon the strength, duration and frequency of the winds.   Once such an evil sets in, it is impossible to foretell its extent, and the only mode of checking it is replanting …..”  He went on further to describe the nature of the area and its perilous position below sea level. In 1874 I ascertained that…some portions of the Flat are actually three feet lower than the high water of Ocean Beach.   These facts point out then that the sand hills … are really a natural and necessary protection to the low-lying lands against the encroachments of the ocean…”

The government was in a difficult position they had already let the contract to Pritchard and needed the fill to continue with the development of the city’s railways. The government engineer, WN Blair wrote to the St Kilda Borough and reiterated the government position and offered a threat; “The parties who interfered with the rails might be summarily dealt with. I trust, therefore, that the Corporation of St Kilda will assist the Government in carrying out the work by giving free use of the streets.”

The St Kilda Borough Council was condemned in the Otago Daily Times on March 11th for interfering with the rails. The same day, Edward Pritchard again laid more rails across the St Kilda streets. Two days later on the 13th March, the Mayor JP Jones, councillors and the daymen of St Kilda lifted them and put them in an adjoining paddock. Public condemnation in the press drove Mayor Jones to paper, and in a letter to the Otago Daily Times editor he wrote: “Anything which tends to do away with the small hills endangers the first protection, and thus not only endangers the property, but also the lives of the residents of the Flat. It is impossible to say how soon both lives and property may be swamped in one common ruin.”

Here the matter gets more frenetic. On March 16th the Crown gave St Kilda Borough notice pursuant to the Public Works Act of its intentions to construct the railway and take the sand. On March 23rd the council met and resolved to give its own notice that the work is not to be proceeded with. On April 28th Edward Pritchard was charged in the Police Court on the information of John Pugh Jones, Mayor of St Kilda, that on April 23rd, without authorisation by the Council or any act or ordinance, unlawfully obstructed streets by leaving in Victoria Street timber and rails contrary to section 189 of the Municipal Corporation Act 1876.”   The decision was reserved.

Finally, the mayor and 340 other inhabitants of St Kilda petitioned the Government, requesting that the House take steps against the removal of sand as proposed by the Public Works Department, as it was likely to threaten serious injury to property. The petition was considered by the Waste Lands Committee which reported back to the House the matter is one for the Government to deal with and the responsibility is theirs.” Incredibly, the Government ordered that the sand must be taken only from the seaward side of the hills! Pritchard demanded compensation for the longer carriage of sand which was refused. Soon though he commenced work at the old site, and the supervising Government engineer Mr Low ordered the railway engine crews (Government servants) to cease work. In a fury, Pritchard fired them all and hired his own men. The Government railwaymen then tried to take possession of the engines, there was a scuffle on the footplate and the Government men were driven off!

Later, Mr Low in the dead of night brought another engine up to tow away the engines being used by Pritchard now stored in a shed.   Pritchard heard of the scheme and lifted the rails leading up to the shed. The Government men, foiled in their purpose, broke into the shed anyway only to be met by Pritchard who was described in the Otago Daily Times as being “…armed for the fray with a blunderbuss or horse pistol. The Government railwaymen beat a hasty retreat, now it was time to sue Edward Pritchard. On April 14, 1881, the Commissioner of Crown Lands sued Pritchard in the Supreme Court for recovery of £500 for trespass and damages arising from his removal of sand from parts of the sand hills other than as directed by the supervising engineers.   Pritchard contended that his contract was not specific as to from whence the sand was to be taken. The judge agreed, reporting  “they may have control over the works, but they have no power to alter the construction of the contract and as there was no limit in the contract, Mr Pritchard could go where he pleased.” The decision for the defendant, costs against the Crown. Pritchard continued with his contract, excavating where he chose. The damage had been done.

Water, Water Everywhere – Between 1884 and 1886 the St Clair sea wall and esplanade was undermined and destroyed by heavy seas. Further flooding occurred between 1884 and 1894.  In May 1898 the dunes were breached and there was 3 feet of water in Larkworthy Street. By May 11th all of St Kilda between Ocean Beach Domain and Cargill’s Road were inundated and houses could only be accessed by wading through water. In July the sea breached the dunes again and St Kilda was saturated with the Pacific Ocean. The passing of the Ocean Beach Public Domain Act in 1892 provided for the protection and conservation of the area known as the “sand hills”. However, this was a period of public acrimony and recrimination that coupled with public alarm rendered the Ocean Beach Domain Board largely ineffectual. It was not until J H Hancock became Chairman in 1902, that prolonged periods of restoration and recreation development occurred.

Map of the principle events of the mining of Ocean Beach Domain 1880

Conclusions – It seems incredible now that the Government did not realise what the consequences of mining the sand dunes at Ocean Beach would be. The nineteenth century mining of the Domain changed the nature and function of the dunes irrevocably. It also threatened the security of the people who were shaping the new city. The fraught relationship between the Crown and local government as both come to terms with the development of Dunedin is a dichotomy between development and protection. The people of St Kilda (all 340 of them!) stood up to the Crown in an act of civil disobedience that must be one of our earliest environmental protests. It’s a familiar story and something that we still see in environmental management today, the fine line between sustainability and reward and local versus national interests. It’s also a cautionary tale that asks us to consider how we might act today and whether we can learn from its moral. Would we see local politicians like the Mayor of St Kilda Borough, John Pugh Jones take out a sledgehammer and remove railway lines to stop mining? That kind of representative passion for his borough and city is something that would be a rarity today.

The finish line in sight

The ink on the Dunedin City Council’s 2015 Long Term Plan is nearly dry for yet another year and undoubtedly there will be some winners and losers in the community. Annually the Dunedin Amenities Society fronts up to the City Council to promote the values and landscape of the city seeking reassurances that funding won’t be lost or reduced. The other aspect of the Society’s submissions over the years has been the worrying trend of declining standards around, litter, vandalism and general maintenance of the many parks and public spaces reserves enjoyed by the community. In some regards taking similar concerns to the Council each year is a little soul-destroying because of the realisation that it’s almost like a broken record. However, as an organisation the Society have an obligation to act as a voice of advocacy for these issues because of their importance in our community and in the wider recognition of the values of Dunedin.

The Society’s 2015 submission focused very strongly around the growing interest from the public in the two Town Belt Traverse events that it has undertaken in 2013 and 2015. The idea of creating the Traverse into a  permanent interpretative trail has strong appeal. The recreational, heritage and conservation benefits has positive spin-offs for the community and the tourist economy, as well as an opportunity to link social institutions such as Toitu, Moana Pool and Olveston. However, without investment in basic management and maintenance of the tracks and footpaths in the Town Belt the project is likely to stall and founder. Simply put, recreational and commuter walking access is essential to the project and improvements to these assets are imperative to make the Traverse usable and an enjoyable visitor experience. The Society highlighted these issues which are in most cases are no more than minor works in a presentation to Councillors at the Long Term Plan hearings and this can be viewed here. Amenities Society LTP Presentation. A full copy of the society’s submission can also be read here. Amenities Society Submission Annual Plan 2015

Walkers in Woodhaugh

One of the unheralded groups who have done so much for the community and the Dunedin Amenities Society is the Dunedin City Council sponsored Task force Green and Community Volunteers. No matter what the job this group of people are willing and able to put in the effort for the good of the community and its citizens. The Dunedin Amenities Society have had the pleasure of having many of their number undertake a range of work on its projects, always with excellent results. Well led, well organised and always willing, this group have proved invaluable in Dunedin for many years. Recently the Society had six volunteers undertake road marshaling on the Town Belt Traverse. They gave up their Sunday to help our organisation put on a great event and keep people safe. You can’t place a value on that kind of assistance, and the Society would like to publicly acknowledge the team and wish them well in all of the things they do for our great city. (Click on pictures to view in full size).

Getting ready to start

To paraphrase Tennyson “into the Town Belt walked the 600” on Sunday 29th March for the Dunedin Amenities Society’s second Town Belt Traverse event. The Society was overwhelmed and humbled by having 600 people of all ages wanting to explore one of Dunedin’s great heritage landscapes and explore the 8.2 kilometre course. The addition of the 10 interpretation signs along the course  gave information on the history of the reserve and were a welcome addition for the walkers that many found informative and interesting. This year also saw the involvement of different groups at the stopping points including the Air Training Corps and members of the local military vehicles club at Unity Park. Perhaps one of the great surprises for many walkers was an opportunity to visit the Beverly Begg Observatory at Robin Hood. Other highlights included a visit to the beautiful gardens at Olveston and live poetry at the Charles Brasch memorial at Prospect Park. However, the star of the show was the beautiful Town Belt, with its splashes of autumnal colour, native bird song, city views and the lush native bush bathed in a sunny March day. All of these things made the reserve really shine.


At Woodhaugh the Society was rushed off its feet feeding hungry walkers and our thanks must go to the great help we received from the ladies from Portobello School who ran the barbecue. The Traverse was also an opportunity to announce its “Project Gold” partnership with the Department of Conservation. Department staff were really pleased to be able to promote the project and interact with the walkers as they finished the route. Project Gold was established by the Department of Conservation to encourage the revitalisation of local areas with the iconic Kowhai tree. The Society will contribute $1500 per annum for the next 5 years for suitable kowhai planting projects in the Town Belt which will assist in adding new areas of the endemic tree important for wider bird feeding and connectivity in the reserve. The planting of a large specimen tree by Society Chairman Robin Hyndman and Annie Wallace the acting Director of Conservation Partnerships cemented that partnership.

Like any event you need community and business support and the Society must thank all of the generous business and attractions for their support in prizes and in advertising the Traverse. A special mention must go to Adam Cullen and the team from Speedy Signs for the production of the interpretation panels and to Alison Beck at Mitre 10 Mega Dunedin for supplying the timer for the sign stands.  The Town Belt Traverse on Sunday was a resounding success for the Society, but like all events it’s the participants that create the vibe and energy of day. There were plenty of smiling faces, a few tired ones and a few that needed an extra chocolate to get them over the line. For the Society the enjoyment of the Town Belt by so many people was a rich reward that we are proud to promote. (Click on all pictures to view in full size)

Group walking

Thank you to the following businesses and organisations for their support of prizes for the Town Belt Traverse.

Olveston, Moana Pool, Ribbonwood Nurseries, Taieri Gorge Railway, Monarch Excursions, Otago Museum, Cadbury World, Larnach castle, Blueskin Nurseries, Orokonui Eco-Sanctuary, Royal Albatross colony, Nichols Garden Centre, Speights Brewery, Pukekura Penguins, Arthur Barnetts, Coupland Bakeries, Ironic Cafe, Torpedo 7, Cycleworld, Bakers Dozen, and MTF, Speedy signs and Mitre 10 Mega Dunedin.

Thanks to those sponsored adverting.

Bayleys, Slick Willys, Dunedin City Council, The Orchid Florist, Albert Alloo & Sons, Arrow International and Action Engineering.

Thanks to those organisations that have assisted the Society in organising the Traverse.

Task Force Green, Dunedin Rotary, Air Training Corp, Dunedin Astronomical Society, Olveston, Our Poets – David Howard, Alan Roddick, Shae MacMillan, and Carolyn McCurdie, Lyn and Rachel from Portobello School,  and the Department of Conservation.

It was great to have the opportunity to talk about the Town Belt Traverse with Jeff Harford at Otago Access Radio the other day. Click on the radio to hear the full interview for information on the Society and the Town Belt Traverse.


Olveston ProjectThe Dunedin Amenities Society will combine with Rotary and Olveston to develop a memorial site on Queens Drive commemorating the contribution made to the city by the late Les Cleveland. The project will include seating, a memorial and drift planting of daffodils alongside the Olveston stately home. Planting of the daffodil bulbs on site will commence on Saturday 21st of March at around 9.00-9.30 am. Volunteers who wish to assist with the planting of the bulbs should bring a spade or suitable pry bar for opening up the ground. Les Cleveland was a generous and passionate benefactor to Dunedin and his love of people and plants can be seen across a wide variety of areas in Dunedin.

Walkers in the sun

Its time to get your walking shoes on again and explore one of Dunedin’s great natural and historical landscapes. The Town Belt Traverse is an 8.2 kilometre from the Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens taking in the heart of the Dunedin Town Belt on Sunday 29th March. The great thing about it is its absolutely free!

The route is a pram friendly event for people of all ages stopping off at five points along the way. Participants will receive a map and ticket at the car-park inside the Southern Cemetery. The traverse starts at between 10-10.30 am and all participants must complete the traverse by 1.30. Collect a stamp at all five marshal points and you can be eligible for some great local  prizes. The route is marked and there will be marshals at road crossing points along the way.

The Dunedin Town Belt is one of New Zealand’s oldest reserves and plays a special part in the physical and historic landscape  of Dunedin. It has a rich history  that dates back to the planning of Dunedin before settlers arrived here in 1848. The Town Belt covers 203 hectares and includes the two historic cemeteries and the Botanic Gardens. With its extensive parkland and forest remnants it creates a green corridor through the heart of the city.

Today the Town Belt is an important recreational and ecological asset for the city and provides invaluable habitat  for kereru, bellbird, tomtit, tui, rifleman, morepork, and shining cuckoo. The vegetation is an eclectic mix of exotics that dominates the southern area of the ‘belt to the more kanuka and fuchsia dominated ridges and gullies of the northern areas. At Woodhaugh an old stand of kahikatea remains as a reminder of a significant wetland forest that once stood there.

For the Dunedin Amenities Society the protection and enhancement of the Town Belt was the beginning of its foundation in 1888. The Society was founded through the energy of Thomas Brown and Alexander Bathgate to protect, enhance and promote Dunedin’s landscape and biodiversity. The Town Belt Traverse is your opportunity to explore through a self guided walk one of New Zealand’s great reserve sites.

Lower Unity Park

Traverse Highlights

  • The outstanding views from Admiral Byrd’s lookout at Unity Park
  • Walking through Jubilee Park (Thomlinson’s Paddock) the site of the foundation of the Society and a  temporary camp for miners on their way to the goldfields
  • Serpentine Avenue where toitu stream once flowed
  • Learn about the old tram line running through Robin Hood Park from the High Street cable car group.
  • Learn more about the cosmos from the Beverly-Begg Observatory
  • Take a free visit the gardens and grounds of the Olveston stately home
  • Experience the lushness of the fuchsia dominated forest of Queens Drive to Cosy Dell
  • Hear local poets perform at the Clear in honour of Charles Brasch at Prospect Park
  • Enjoy lunch at the old wetland forest remnant at Woodhaugh (Free BBQ supplied)
  • Get a kowhai seed kit and learn more about Project Gold in the Town Belt

Family style

What to Bring

  • Comfortable walking shoes
  • A warm jacket (you won’t need it because it’ll be warm and sunny!)
  • A drink and a snack for energy (we have a chocolate bar to get you started)
  • Your camera
  • Your inquisitive nature
  • Your friends and family (dogs on leads thanks)
  • A costume (you might win a prize)

You can use the Normanby bus from opposite Woodhaugh to return to your vehicle at the Southern Cemetery. Check out the bus timetable here.

The Town Belt Traverse Route

The Town Belt Traverse follows the red line on the map from the historic Southern Cemetery to Woodhaugh Gardens. You can find out more about the unique features of the ‘Belt by clicking on the icons of the map and enlarging it with your mouse. This map is interactive and can be used on a smart-phone.


The Dunedin City Council announced on the 19th of September its intention to consider selling 149 parcels of land across the city for a potential return of $10 million dollars.The sale of a variety of city properties has probably not come as news to Dunedin residents as the city struggles to find ways to meet debt repayments. However, analysing the list of properties that the City Council is considering for sale makes for sobering reading. What is clear from the proposal is the possibility of shedding undeveloped recreational open space, playgrounds and esplanade strips which are designed for accessibility and conservation of waterways. One site in particular that provides essential access to waterways and the wider track areas of Ross Creek falls into this category. So, the sale of such properties deserves closer examination of the public use of such land assets for suburban and rural community’s alike.

For an organisation like the Society it raises questions of the value placed on improvements undertaken by community groups and whether that investment will be returned for redistribution to other projects after any potential sale. In one example the Society have invested significant time and capital planting an area proposed for sale which the Council and community have benefited from. It could be argued that the land value has been increased and if it is sold does the value of those improvements get appraised and returned to the Society or the community? Many community organisations who make contributions in a variety of ways to public lands may have similar views and it may make organisations less enthusiastic to make such contributions in the future.

One of the other disturbing aspects of the sale proposals is the loss of open and play spaces, particularly local playgrounds who’s use often fluctuates due to generational change in community’s. Rationalisation of public property today, can mean diminished public areas that are needed in the future. Once again the question has to be asked in lieu of the Council’s playground upgrade programme whether sale proceeds of playgrounds will be reinvested into the community’s strapped for facilities and amenities. This is particularly relevant to these sites, as many are ones that have not been invested in or developed by local authorities over the years. Many of the parcels also appear to be older reserve contributions created as part of subdivision and this should stimulate further discussion on how this process is undertaken and under what criteria, so that the land is economically and socially viable at the time of development.

Highlighted on the list of potential sale properties was 76 Lovelock Avenue and a search of the City Council’s land map shows that this is a substantial portion of the Dunedin Town Belt. The land includes Opoho Park, Lovelock Bush and Bracken’s View. Now it would be easy to get hot and bothered and jump up and down at the notion that part of Dunedin’s oldest reserves was to be flogged off to the highest bidder, but it surely has to be either a clerical error or a practical joke in very poor taste. Needless to say the Society will be keeping a firm eye on this process, particularly the rational of the selection process and the methodology of consultation with the community. As for the sale of the Town Belt, well it’s probably best to take that with a grain of salt and quote a well-known beer commercial, as its doubtful the City Council are that brave.