Dunedin’s port town offers visitors a wealth of quirky historical sites and places to visit. A mere 15 – 20 minutes from Dunedin’s Octagon, Port Chalmers has an assortment of galleries, second hand clothing stores, collectables and vintage objects, cafes and boutique stores located in nineteenth century buildings. The category 2 heritage rating shop facades next to the Bank of New Zealand building are a contrast between a busy container port, the world of shipping and sailors. Yet the contrast is part and parcel of the story of Port Chalmers.
- Cemeteries, outstanding views, fascinating tombstones
- Historic hotels now an assortment of cafes and quirky shops
- Art galleries and cafes tempting visitors to stay longer
A landmark Victorian gothic church on a commanding bush clad hillside site is a visible skyline building.
Opened in 1872.
The category I heritage rating is due to the very high standard of the architectural detailing.
According to Heritage Trust the building is now thought to be Thomas Stevenson, it is the only known example of his work and is evidence of the skill of this young architect.
Iona Church, built from Port Chalmers bluestone, with Oamaru stone piles and kauri interiors and a roof clad in slate scales.
The building continues to be used as a church.
HOLY TRINITY CHURCH, PORT CHALMERS
Holy Trinity is an Anglican church constructed in volcanic stone with beautiful stained glass windows. The category I heritage rating is due to, “Holy Trinity is built of Port Chalmers Breccia, one of five building stone types available in Otago. Port Chalmers Breccia was used fairly extensively on buildings in Dunedin and was also used as kerbing stones for many Dunedin Streets and as the base course in a number of other South Island buildings, for example, Christchurch Cathedral. What makes it important in this context is that it was used in a coursed rubble construction form that replicated more or less exactly one of the building forms of original Early English churches in England. It has to be said that there are very few registered examples of nineteenth century Academic Gothic Revival style churches in New Zealand built in exactly this way.” Source Search the List | Holy Trinity Church (Anglican)
BANK OF NEW ZEALAND BUILDING (FORMER)
The wedge shaped building was designed by Robert Lawson, prominent architect and designer of First Church, Dunedin. The building has a category II, heritage rating. There are concerns about the long term future for the building as it has been unoccupied for more than a decade.
PORT CHALMERS TOWN HALL (1889)
TIP: Visit the public library for a look at a grand former local government building. The category I, heritage rating building was designed as all purpose government offices. The municipal building housed the town hall, customs, fire, police and the courts. Built in 1889 the police sergeant lived above his job with cells below. The morgue was discretely housed in the downstairs out of sight. There was also a morgue in the backroom downstairs. With the consolidation of local government with the Dunedin local government and the closure of smaller courthouses the library moved into the space and the building was repurposed for public hire. A major redevelopment of the whole building was completed in 2004, with the library and service centre moving into the area previously occupied by the fire brigade.
HERITAGE ON ITS WAY – PORT CHALMERS POLICE STATION
Built between 1939 – 1940 (WWII period)
A Public Works Department building reflecting the solid, dependable style of the time. The designer, Robert Mitchell.
Together with an open fireplace (see chimney pots on roof), the functional building, with exposed brickwork has features such as architecturally designed signage, a glorious coat of arms and delicate low height garden walls to soften the building. The building continues its function as a police courier and patrol base with a permanent counter service.
INTERESTING FACT: ARAMOANA MASSACRE
Sgt Stewart Guthrie, officer in charge at Port Chalmers 13 November 1990, was killed by David Gray in the violent confrontation at Aramoana. Guthrie was posthumously awarded the George Cross for his courage. There were thirteen victims in the mass shooting by David Gray.
FLAGSTAFF AT AURORA TERRACE
Constructed in 1910 new ironbark flagstaff installed with category II heritage rating. Fabulous views and nearby is Hotere Gardens with their quixotic sculptures.
Mizzen mast on barque Cincinnati, once owned by notorious Bully Hayes, south seas blackbirder (slave trader) was the original flagstaff installed in 1864.
PORT CHALMERS REGIONAL MARITIME MUSEUM
The museum is a glimpse into the port’s story. Commercial fishing, shipping, Antarctic exploration and the support for Robert Scott’s ill-fated expedition is supported with documents, photographs and memorabilia. The museum is largely a classic display model where researchers and students of maritime history will feel at home. The adjoining Boat Shed is a contrast with its contemporary lines and close up look at a 100 year old wooden seine fishing boat, a complete ship’s cabin from the 1880s, and an X Class yacht.
Scotts Memorial, Robert Falcon Scott, who departed from Port Chalmers in 1910 for Antarctica.
Scott was beaten to the post achieving a first to reach the South Pole and perished on his return journey.
Tunnel Hotel, Beach Street is one of New Zealand’s continually operated hotel. The current building was completed in 1875. The hotel’s liquor license was issued two years before the founding of Otago province due to a magistrate on the first surveyor ship. The current owner has one of the world’s largest collections of Jim Beam miniatures, never opened. The hotel has a category II heritage rating.
CAREYS BAY HOTEL
The hotel dates back to 1874 when it was known as the Crescent Family Hotel. The business benefited during Port Chalmers prohibition period as it was slightly outside the legal boundary. Today the hotel is known for its association with Ralph Hotere, the artist and its menu featuring freshly gathered seafood.
WHAT IS A PORT WITHOUT PLENTY OF PUBS FOR SAILORS?
Once upon a time Port Chalmers had the largest number of pubs per capita anywhere in New Zealand. The clientele of the hotels were known for disorderly conduct, lewd behaviour and prostitution was an issue. In 1902 the residents voted for the town to go dry.
The no-licence period lasted until 1905. It was lean pickings with sailors simply travelling to Dunedin to find a pub. Prohibition Notice: TELEGRAPHIC New Zealand Times, Volume LXXII, Issue 4823, 28 November 1902
CHICKS HOTEL (1878) Category II heritage rating.
Were sailors shanghaied and kept in dungeons to be shipped out as unwilling labour. Probably not according to local historian Ian Church, the chains in the cellar were actually used for lowering beer barrels down – not tying up sailors. And the tunnels were built because there used to be a creek by Mount St and, where the fire station is now, was the first Port Chalmers post office.
The island Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua – Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua Community (Incorporated) – Kaitiaki of Quarantine Island Kamau Taurua has a wealth of stories from soldiers banished with venereal disease during World War I, several ship wrecks the requisite solitary cemetery with its burial mounds and quarantine buildings. The Island has dedicated volunteers involved in plantings, restoration and insuring the island’s past is not forgotten.
NINETEEN FATHOM ANCHOR
Known as the “Nineteen Fathom Foul”, the origin of this anchor is mysterious. How it ended up in the harbour is undocumented however it was a shipping hazard. In 1978 the anchor was raised from the harbour depths and is now a monument.
PORT CHALMERS OLD CEMETERY
The old cemetery was grassed over, with paths and plantings, and made into an attractive park. An obelisk, which still stands today, was erected in the memory of those buried there in 1880: it is one of the first monuments to the early settlers. Read the names and wonder about how life was for those early European settlers. The area is bush clad with very old headstones creating an atmospheric cemetery feel. Notable burials include Mill family, John Mill was Major of Port Chalmers for three terms. There are a number of headstones in good condition for grave rubbings.
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