Container cranes loom over the small, quirky town of PORT CHALMERS, 12km northeast of Dunedin and reached along the winding western shore of Otago Harbour. Arranged on hills around a container port and cruise-ship berth, the town has a vibrant artistic community, headed by celebrated New Zealand painter and sculptor Ralph Hotere. The whole place has a delightfully run-down, lost-in-time feel, though a modest amount of renovation of many of the fine nineteenth-century buildings along George Street, the main drag, has left a framework for a few cool shops and cafés. Two late Victorian churches vie for attention with the cranes: the elegant stone-spired Presbyterian Iona Church on Mount Street, and the nuggety bluestone Anglican Holy Trinity, on Scotia Street, designed by Robert A. Lawson.

For a little exercise tackle Back Beach Walk (4km loop; 1hr; mostly flat) with views across to Goat Island and Quarantine Island in the harbour with the Otago Peninsula beyond: pick up a map from the library.

Brief history

Chosen in 1844 as the port to serve the proposed Scottish settlement that would become Dunedin, Port Chalmers became the embarkation point for several Antarctic expeditions, including those of Captain Scott, who set out from here in 1901 and again for his ill-fated attempt on the Pole in 1910. The first trial shipment of frozen meat to Britain was sent from Port Chalmers in 1882 and today the export of wool, meat and timber, and reception of cruise ships is its chief business.

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