There’s no mistaking the British heritage of Dunedin when you look at the street names in the central city. And one of the most striking examples of this is the Octagon, where streets like George, Stuart and Princes radiate to form a central hub. The Octagon was included in the Dunedin city plan when the first immigrants arrived by ship in 1854. Drawn up as an eight-sided reserve, with a second eight-sided roadway, Moray Place, circling one block out, it has remained like that to this day. But now the Octagon is lined with cafes, bars, monuments and historic buildings rather than hitching posts, fences and rough grass.
One of the earlier monuments is a statue of Scottish poet, Robert Burns, who was uncle to one of the city’s founding fathers. Historic buildings include the Municipal Chambers, the Public Art Gallery and St Paul’s Cathedral. George Street runs through the centre of the Octagon, with a covered walkway beside it – handy at times as Dunedin’s weather can be dismal.
A special touch is the Writers’ Walk, which brings the words of some of New Zealand’s best writers, all with affiliations to Dunedin, to life. James K Baxter, Janet Frame, Witi Ihimaera and many others are featured with brass plaques set in the pavement. A fascinating two-hour tour brings this area to life as you hear how these writers have recorded the sights and sounds, and the stories and history of Dunedin.
On Fridays from 9am to 4pm the Octagon markets cover a corner of the paved area. There’s lots of local art and craftwork such as bone carvings, jewellery and rugged country knitting. And around the perimeter are the information centre and plenty of cafes and bars, many of which are open well into the night. The student nightlife here is vibrant, to say the least, with Otago University just a few blocks away.
If you’re travelling through central Dunedin by rental car you will find that all roads, quite literally, lead to the Octagon. But only George Street bisects it, running roughly north to south. There is usually easy metered parking in the streets around the Octagon, and several carpark buildings close in.