Idealog's Guide to Dunedin: Myths and Legends

Dunedin has traditionally been thought of as old, cold and full of students. But peek behind the stereotypes and there’s much more to the city than that.

Employment

Dunedin is no longer a place where people come to party, study and then leave.

Dunedinites are more qualified, on average, than the rest of New Zealand, more likely to own their own home, and almost as well paid, census figures show. 

The ultra-fast broadband and new startup culture has seen Dunedin grow to be the biggest hub in New Zealand for angel investment, after Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch.

In the most recent Young Company Finance Index of angel investment found, since 2006, Dunedin businesses have taken six percent of the $414.7 million pie dished out to young companies by angel groups.

There has been a huge shift in the last three years when it comes to employment, Human Connections Group recruiter Emily Richards says.

“The perception of the Dunedin job market when I first moved was there weren’t a lot of opportunities, you wouldn’t move to Dunedin. Now it’s a totally different vibe, there’s regeneration around the city and Vogel St, street art projects, a huge startup scene here.”

She says there is now an influx of people moving to Dunedin, with two-thirds of her applicants coming from Auckland.

“The theme is people looking for a change and they want to get away from big city life.”

Richards says the biggest adjustment is salary, and making the mindshift adjustment. 

Statistics NZ reports that, in 2013, for people aged 15 years and over, the median income in Dunedin City was $23,300. This compares with a median of $28,500 for all of New Zealand. However, it has to be remembered that the census was taken prior to the Gig City win. 

“If you’re used to $60,000 in Auckland and they only offer $45,000, some people will really struggle to get their heads around this sort of difference,” Richards says. “But you can’t understand until you live here and calculate the cost of living vs. salary.”

And Richards says the cost of living is cheaper, and the lifestyle is better for children and families.

“You’d be hard-pressed to find a school that isn’t good, property prices are moving up now but you can get a house for $300-400,000, and Aucklanders are coming in cashed up.”

More households in Dunedin own their own homes compared to the rest of the country - almost 68 percent versus the national average of 65 percent. 

And for those who do rent, the rent is cheaper on average at $250 per week, versus $280 for New Zealand as a whole.

Painting: Dal East, photo: Chris Allan

Starting a business

“I think the myths about Dunedin weather and cheeky students is just that – a myth,” says Sandra Clair, the founder of Artemis, a Dunedin-based natural remedies company. 

Clair started her clinic in 1998, after moving from Switzerland, and Artemis was born after she discovered the high quality of medicinal plants growing wild in Central Otago.

Coming into Dunedin without any previous perceptions of the place, she’s found it “the perfect place to launch Artemis”. 

“There’s a real sense of community here and people live here for the lifestyle – a great mix of outdoor activities, work opportunities and family life. It’s affordable and owning your own home is within reach for most.”

And for her business, there is a very supportive, thriving community, supported by the city council.

“A lot of startup companies come out of Dunedin, due to a great support system to help small businesses thrive. Take Artemis for example – our products are available nationwide and we have seen year-on-year growth since we opened.”

In with the old – and the cold

If any of the myths about Dunedin are true, it’s that it can be cold. But it can also be surprisingly hot.

Last year, Dunedin pipped Auckland and Wellington for top summer temperature, soaring to 35 degrees celsius in December, MetService reports.

So what if it falls to negative figures in the winter and had 239mm of rain in June? Wellington had almost as much rain in May.

BrandAid’s Luke Johnston was commissioned to design Dunedin’s new identity, and is unrepentant about the weather.

“I gave up defending Dunedin's weather years ago. I believe it acts as a filter keeping away the people that can't handle it,” he says. 

Added to that, as Idealog’s Vincent Heeringa postulated back in 2012, colder countries are more prosperous. Ergo, cold climates drive innovation.

“Jared Diamond, author of Guns, Germs and Steel, points to evolutionary reasons behind the warm/cold split. The cold kills germs, giving cooler countries a long-term advantage over the disease-ridden equatorial regions … When food falls from trees and fish jump from the warm ocean, there’s no great pressure to manufacture homes, clothes or store wealth for the future.”

To paraphrase The Temptations: when it’s cold outside, stay inside — and work on creating a multi-million dollar tech startup. 

And yes, it’s also true that Dunedin is an old city - architecture-wise. It retains a host of heritage buildings that the locals are working to restore and make them earthquake-safe.

“The fact that Dunedin is old is one of our greatest assets,” Johnston says. “We have some amazing buildings and a rich and cultured history and these all give context to the creative and modern city that Dunedin has become.” 

When it comes to humans, however, Dunedin is actually slightly younger than the rest of New Zealand - its median age is 36.7 years, versus 38.0 years for New Zealand as a whole.

Dunedin has a higher proportion of students than any other city in New Zealand (around 22 percent of the population is aged between 15-24). And that youthful exuberance adds plenty of energy to the city. Occasionally that enthusiasm can spill over, something the media likes to focus on. But residents say this kind of behaviour is still rare. 

“In the past Dunedin has often been viewed as conservative, cold and far away, where nothing much happens, but the reality is quite different, apart from the cold and far away bits,” Johnston says.

He says, when he looked closely at Dunedin, he found a very clear collective character running through: creative, humble, genuine, slightly quirky, down to earth people, who don’t like to boast. 

But with Dunedin on the up, those people now have plenty to boast about. 

We'll be publishing all our stories from the 32 page guide to Dunedin on idealog.co.nz over the coming months. But if you can't wait, subscribe to Idealog here and the first 50 get themselves a copy of the latest edition, The Technology Issue, and a free VR headset.
Click here to learn all there is to know about Dunedin as a place to visit, do business, work, live and study.