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.
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.
- 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
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.
The Dunedin Amenities Society hosted visitors to Craigieburn who were taking part in the 2014 Dunedin Scottish Festival today. The festival celebrating the unique Scottish heritage of Dunedin has been an opportunity for many to celebrate and explore the city’s Scottish roots. Craigieburn Project Manager Paul Pope gave the group a guided tour of the Craigieburn and showed the group the early life of the Rankin, Sherriff and Tanner families who settled this small piece of the Dunedin Bush as a colonial subsistence farm. It was an also an opportunity to discuss the lasting conservation legacy creating by the settler family who retained the extensive rimu forest on the site. Once again it was great pleasure to share the stories about the Rankin, Sherriff and Tanner families and give people a real glimpse of early Scottish life in Dunedin. (Click on pictures to see a larger view).
In the 2014 Annual Plan deliberations a proposal to create part of the Octagon and lower Stuart Street into a pedestrian precinct was submitted by two Otago University students . That plan has gained momentum within the City Council, with the announcement of an investigation into developing the idea as a trial. Now in July Councillors have requested Council staff report back on October 28, with public consultation to follow and a final decision to be made in January 2015. The development of the Octagon as a pedestrian precinct is not a new proposal and has been debated in Dunedin on a number of occasions.
The Octagon lies at the heart of Dunedin and its physical shape and central location make it an important civic open space within the central city. As an open space it has been the subject to considerable change since its initial layout during Charles Kettle’s survey of the city in 1846. The importance of the central location of the site was recognised very early in Dunedin’s development and in 1854 the Dunedin Public Lands Ordinance proclaimed that it “shall not be lawful to erect any building whatever within or upon the centre area of the Square called Moray Place, …except a parapet wall and railing, or fence, for enclosing the said area, which shall for ever remain otherwise an open area.” While the name Octagon was never formalised it became part of popular use in Dunedin probably because of the shape of the adjacent formation of Moray Place and its thoroughfares in Kettle’s original layout.
In 1864 the first monument was erected in the Octagon with the construction of Cargill’s monument to commemorate William Cargill the first Superintendent of Otago. Built by Australian John Young in Melbourne some of the stone for the monument was from a quarry opened up in the Town Belt for the Exhibition building. The monument was later moved to its current position in the Exchange in 1872 to allow for better road access to connect George and Princes streets. In 1887 the current statue of the poet Robert Burns was unveiled in the upper Octagon.
During the nineteenth century economic pressures on provincial and local government meant there was little funding for public spaces and the Octagon remained somewhat derelict for many years. Its condition was a source of regular comment by residents through the media from the 1860’s – 1890’s, particularly over the need for pedestrian and vehicle access and the condition that these routes were in during wet weather. In 1864 a writer to the Otago Daily Times wrote that the Octagon was “so abominably slippery as to be unsafe for male pedestrians and dangerous to females, who alas are not allowed to by etiquette carry walking sticks.” The debate continued with another 1873 letter to the Otago Daily Times exclaiming “What is this bleak and deserted place in the heart of our city meant for?“
With the foundation of the Dunedin Amenities Society in 1888 a plan for improving the Octagon was developed and implemented by the Society from 1890-1892. Through public subscription and fundraising the Society completed the planting of the London Plane trees seen in the Octagon today. Ornamental fencing, seating and further planting was also undertaken as part of the Society’s development of the space. The completed improvements by the Society coincided with the construction of the Thomas Burns memorial as a gift to the city by Robert Chapman in 1892. However, the memorial was generally unpopular and was later removed from the Octagon in the 1940’s.
1966 saw the completion of the Star fountain in the Octagon after the Evening Star newspaper donated £5,000 to the City Council. The fountain was a popular attraction in the city, but by the 1980’s it had become unsightly and during the refurbishment of the Octagon in the early 1990’s it was removed. There was significant public outcry about its removal and the new design initiated by the City Council.
The Octagon has evolved into a much-loved public space in Dunedin that has combined civic pride, local identity and a strong sense of public ownership. The public’s collective ownership of the Octagon as an open space is deeply entwined in personal and civic history that defines both the identity of individuals but also the city. The legal protection of the Octagon and its links to Kettle’s survey also makes it central to the historic and heritage narrative of Dunedin. That makes any future development of the Octagon an issue that will have high public expectations on a physical, aesthetic and historical level. With its impressive architectural backdrop and linkages to the wider heritage values of the city its importance cannot be understated. The Octagon has largely become an identifiable symbol of the city and a defining structural element in the built landscape of Dunedin. The City Council needs to make careful and considered decisions about the nature of the public space in the area that recognises the affection that residents have for the Octagon. As a major contributor to the historical and aesthetic values of the Octagon the Society will watch with a keen interest as this proposal develops.
The Dunedin Amenities Society have been working closely with the Dunedin City Council to restore the traditional viewing point of the city at Robin Hood Park. The viewing point is part of the Town Belt Management Plan for the reserve and had over the years become overgrown and reduced by weeds, sycamores and other trees. Participants in the Society’s Town Belt Traverse last year raised the loss of the viewing area with the Society which began working with the Council to restore the area. The Society had developed the Robin Hood lookout as part the Queens visit to the city in 1954 and included two commemorative seats to Kathleen Gilkison and former Society President and renowned alpine botanist George Simpson. The seats had been damaged and removed but new replacements have been returned to their original position by Delta contractors. The plinth holding the direction finder was also damaged and local stone mason Marcus Wainwright generously donated his time in restoring the plinth.
Shirley Stuart of the City Council Parks team has made a significant improvement to the viewing site and the Society are grateful for her efforts. The Society will fund the replanting of the cleared area with low-growing native vegetation and have the paving area with its commemorative plaques cleaned and repaired. There is still some minor clearing and pruning to be done, but overall the improvement to the outlook is significant. The area has been used by local landscape artists for a number of years and is a pleasant area of the Town Belt to view the city and its surrounds.
The Dunedin Amenities Society is holding its 126th Annual General Meeting at the Maori Hill Community Centre in Highgate at 5.30pm. The guest speaker will be walking author Anthony Hamel discussing the Town Belt Traverse. All are welcome for a glass of wine and nibbles.
This is a great opportunity to learn more about the Society and become an active member of NZ’s oldest conservation society.
Find the venue on the map below (see you at the little blue flag)