The Dunedin Town Belt is Dunedin’s oldest and most historic reserves and covers 202 hectares of central and north Dunedin, including the Botanic Gardens. It is a rich, cultural, heritage, biodiversity and recreational space that has become part of the Dunedin landscape and psyche. The Dunedin Amenities Society have advocated and supported the Town Belt since 1888 and are fiercely protective of its values.
Pre Colonial Otepoti
The Town Belt’s importance to the city and the historic colonial development of Dunedin are closely linked, but it has a much earlier history also. Today, the Town Belt is defined by its legal boundaries as a reserve and its surrounding urban development, but it once belonged to the great ngahere (forests) that inhabited Dunedin. The hills above the city to the present route of Highgate were sometimes referred to as “te au” (mist or fog). However, the most important aspect of the Town Belt to Maori was the Toitu Stream which flows down the route of Serpentine Avenue and has a tributary called “wai moi” (sour water) that still runs today through the northern portion of Jubilee Park and under Maori Road. The point where Toitu flowed into the harbour was the shoreline settlement area known as Otepoti. The heavily wooded forested slopes of the Town Belt running down to Maclaggan Street and out onto the rise of Princes Street, was pokohiwi (shoulder) and would have been ideal for hunting parties and other resource gathering activities to have occurred.
Now in the 21st century we have a fragment of the forested areas that once stood around Dunedin. The Dunedin Town Belt is a small highly modified remnant of that. However, it has now become a dominant and integral part of the urban landscape of the city.