Dunedin named Creative City of Literature

Dunedin is an endearing city of firsts and now the first UNESCO Creative City of Literature in New Zealand.

Dunedin is an endearing city of firsts – a centre of learning, Scottish heritage, arts, culture and now the highly prestigious title of UNESCO Creative City of Literature, the first and only city in New Zealand to be given the designation. 

Located in the Otago region of New Zealand’s South Island, brimming with Edwardian and Victorian-era architecture and staunch Scottish roots, Dunedin becomes one of four newly designated Cities of Literature.

In good company 

Dunedin, along with three European cities, joins a list of literary destinations that include sister city Edinburgh, Melbourne, Iowa City, Dublin, Reykjavik, Norwich and Krakow.

Home  to many of New Zealand’s most celebrated writers including poets Charles Brasch and Thomas Bracken - the author of the national anthem, critically acclaimed writer Janet Frame and Hone Tuwhare, New Zealand’s poet laureate from 1999-2001, Dunedin has been cultivating its diverse and creative roots for centuries.

One of New Zealand’s oldest and most important settler cities, Dunedin was the ancestral home of the Māori tribe, Ngāi Tahu and settling place for mass Scottish migration in 1848. It was the Scots who brought the literature of Robbie Burns to Dunedin – something that is still celebrated today with a Robbie Burns statue occupying a prominent place in the Octagon at the city’s centre.  

The Scottish influence in Dunedin is so strong that architecture, restaurants and bars serving haggis and a wee tipple, and the skirl of the bagpipes are ever-present.

Literary talent 

Many talented and published writers and literary artists have drawn inspiration from the melting-pot of Māori, Pacific, Asian and European culture present in the city. A thriving branch of the New Zealand Society of Authors flourishes in the city and writers of significance, past and present, are honoured in a Writers’ Walk.

Publishing has also played an important role in Dunedin’s place in the literature world. In the 19th century Dunedin businesses were leaders in printing, papermaking and publishing, and the city is home to New Zealand’s first daily newspaper, The Otago Daily Times which is still published today.

The Cities of Literature bid has been in the planning stages since 2010 and it is places like the University of Otago’s Centre for the Book that have helped Dunedin become recognised on the world stage.

Centre for the Book

Established in 2012 the Centre for the Book provides a place for people to explore book history and print culture. As always in Dunedin the past is intrinsically intertwined with the future, and the centre provides a platform for investigations into the innovation of modern book publication and distribution.  

Dunedin’s services to children’s literature have also played a role in the designation. It was the Dunedin Public Libraries that pioneered library services to children over 100 years ago. This service is still going strong in Dunedin with new schemes, helping children to become avid readers. 

The city has also produced some of New Zealand’s most innovative children’s authors and illustrators including David Elliott and Tania Roxborough.  

Home to one of the world’s southern-most professional theatre companies, Dunedin’s Fortune Theatre is a hive of activity and central hub for creative minds. It has a close association with Roger Hall, New Zealand’s leading playwright and almost all of his plays have been performed there. 

Theatrical venues

The city has several theatrical venues including Dunedin’s very own Globe Theatre which hosted the first work of James K Baxter, one of New Zealand’s most prominent poets.  

Other theatres include the Mayfair in South Dunedin, the Regent in the Octagon which runs a famous 24-hour book sale and the Playhouse Theatre which produces three children’s theatre productions per year, as well as popular and intriguing adult productions.

Music has played a prolific role in the spirit of Dunedin and the city was called home by Thomas Bracken, one of New Zealand’s most instrumental poets and the man responsible for writing New Zealand’s national anthem ‘God Defend New Zealand’. 

Dunedin still produces musicians and poets and is a city that sings-along to its own vibrant beat.  There are plenty of wonderful events visitors can attend to experience the warmth and innovative heart of the city first-hand.  There are many community events like writers’ workshops and play readings through to events on a grander scale.

Literary events

Literary events include the Dunedin Writers and Readers Festival, the 24-hour Regent book sale, National Poetry Day celebrations, New Zealand Book Month, the Children’s Storylines Festival, readings in Dunedin’s unique Chinese scholar’s garden at Chinese New Year and the Robert Burns Poetry Competition.

When visiting Dunedin and the wider Otago region it’s not hard to see how the region has inspired so many creative minds. Sheltered in the arms of a long dormant volcanic cone, Dunedin fits snugly in Otago Harbour. The surrounding beaches and inlets are numerous and spectacular while, just beyond the city limits, beautiful Otago Peninsula is a haven for significant wildlife populations and world-leading sustainability projects.

Dunedin is the gateway to the Southern Scenic Route which travels the south eastern coast.

Plenty of inspiration

Otago Peninsula has some of the rarest wildlife species in the world, and most are now in breeding programmes within protected habitats. Taiaroa Head, the southern hemisphere’s only mainland albatross colony, is home to about 140 Royal albatross. 

These majestic seabirds have wingspans of three metres and can fly up to 115kph. Yellow-eyed / hoiho - the world’s rarest penguin - New Zealand fur seals, and sea lions also live on the peninsula.

Locals are protective of the unique environment and demand that wildlife tours are non-intrusive. Two local tour operators have Green Globe status, and environmental sustainability is a core business principle for many operators.

North of the city , the Orokonui Eco-sanctuary, surrounded by a pest-exclusion fence, gives rare native animal and bird species the opportunity to rejuvenate and re-establish populations. 

The Otago region has many walking and mountain biking tracks. Outdoor activities include kayaking, fishing, and surfing.