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Idealog’s Guide to Dunedin: Why I moved

Small, but perfectly formed 

Kim Fraser and Steve McCabe, founding partners of advertising and design agency Claude & Co., had between them traversed the biggest cities on the globe, picking up a trophy cabinet full of awards on the way. But in 2015 the jet-setters threw fears of career-suicide, and the advice of friends, to the wind, and followed a half-decade dream of moving to Dunedin. They still service clients from all over the world, only based out of Dunedin — and they couldn’t be happier.

“Fuck it. Let’s just go.” 

That was basically the conversation that led to us moving to Dunedin. 

We were living in Sydney, over-worked and overheated. Before that, we’d spent time in Auckland, Beijing, London, and even a short time in Dubai. Dunedin had been a bit of a pipe dream for about five years, but we’d been nervous about committing career suicide. As it turns out, our fears were unfounded. We now mostly work remotely to advertising agencies and design studios in Auckland and Sydney. We’re even starting to work with local people too, so things are going way better than we imagined. 

Friends thought we were mad. They kept asking “are you guys okay?” They imagine us sitting here freezing our arses off, with nothing to do. It couldn’t be further from the truth. Dunedin has everything. The coffee is great, the beer is even better. It’s great for sport, we both play football and watch the Highlanders. The arts and music scenes are thriving. The surrounds are breathtakingly beautiful and the city has amazing architecture. And guess what, you actually have time to enjoy all of those things, because you’re not glued to your desk or stuck in traffic. 

We’re really lucky, we live rurally but only have a 15 minute drive into the middle of the city. And it really is a city – small, but not small minded. Dunedin is full of well-educated, well-read, well-travelled, cultured people. But down to earth and very welcoming. There’s a real connection to the environment too. People really care. What we’re probably trying to say is, it’s full of dirty lefties and we love it. 

Sometimes we wonder what the catch is. Many would say it’s the infamous cold weather. The truth is, London, Tokyo, Paris, and New York are all colder. We’re sitting here on a beautiful winter’s day, our doors are wide open, and it’s sunny and 16. 

We realise Dunedin doesn’t have the most glamorous reputation, and isn’t for everyone. But at least we found out for ourselves, finally.

Coffee + culture 

Ben Whareaitu and Nicole Kennedy had been living in sunny Perth for five years when they saw a little café in their hometown – Dunedin – go on the market. Despite having barely any experience in hospitality, they felt it was just the place to give something new a crack, and in 2016 opened Laneway café and tapas bar in Bath St.

We have always wanted to start our own business and we believe Dunedin was the perfect city to make this happen.

Dunedin has the opportunities of a big city without the big city feel. We love everything about the place: the beaches to the food, the vibe, fashion, personality, the affordable housing, street art, the architecture, the landscape. But the thing that really makes this place is the people. 

The people here are so supportive and really care about each other. Everyone will go out of their way to help and expect nothing in return. The support we have received from Dunedin since we opened Laneway has been overwhelming and there is no way we could have got this far without it. We have people coming in daily asking what they can do to help us get the word out there about the café and we are so grateful for everything everyone has done for us. It is awesome being part of such a great community.

The lifestyle here is also incredible. We have a great selection of beaches that aren’t overcrowded. A massive selection of walking tracks. Everywhere is just a short drive. You can even find a park wherever you go, without it costing the earth. If you need a break away for the weekend Central Otago is just up the road. We get ‘real’ winters and stunning summers. Everything we need is literally right at our doorstep. We are stoked to be back in Dunedin and be amongst the good vibes again.

It really is a city – small, but not small minded. Dunedin is full of well-educated, well-read, well-travelled, cultured people. But down to earth and very welcoming. There’s a real connection to the environment too. People really care. Kim Fraser & Steve McCabe 

Field theory 

Terry Davies, an Australian former professional cricketer, had never heard much about Dunedin before he moved from Adelaide in March 2014 to take the helm of Dunedin Venues Management Limited – in charge of the Forsyth Barr stadium, town hall and Dunedin’s conference centre. But he’s since fallen in love with the city’s history, architecture and landscapes, all while delivering the first profitable year the company has had since the stadium opened.

Accepting the role as CEO of Dunedin Venues Management Limited was the reason I came down to Dunedin. But before applying for the role I didn’t know anything about the city. I had to Google it. And when I was researching, I was fascinated with the history relating to the gold rush in Central Otago. 

Now that I’m here, I’ve found the people to be welcoming and relaxed; there is a warmth amongst the community that makes you feel very comfortable and engaged. There are great cafés and restaurants and getting around the city and parking is so simple.

My wife and I love walking, running and bike riding and the region offers a magnificent solution to all of those. We love to eat out and enjoy great wine (Central Otago pinot noir is the best in the world). The city also offers an unusual grungy feel in places that adds to the vibrancy of the coffee culture. The brash display in places of city architecture that spans time is incredible and a real city feature.

There is no doubt the natural beauty of the South Island is breathtaking. And Dunedin does not disappoint. The great contrast of landscape – from beautiful hills to magnificent coast at St Clair then back to the winding harbour – is divine. And we can’t discount the fact that Queenstown is on Dunedin’s doorstep. This place is a goldmine and will continue to grow and develop. It will be important for Dunedin to better connect and seek opportunities around that town’s success. 

Getting used to the colder winters and unpredictability of the weather on a day-to-day basis was challenging. You can have three seasons in one day, so you learn to dress and prepare accordingly. But the summer was amazing. 

Dunedin, which has a population of 125,000, has an unusual mix of demographics – a transient student population of 25,000 mixed with an older, more conservative segment of the community. But there are also a number of businesses and individual entrepreneurs that are punching way above their weight who are outperforming on a global scale.

The Bondi of the south 

British-born recruiter and human resources specialist Emily Richards had never been to Dunedin when she and her husband decided to cross the ditch from Sydney. Her husband, a Kiwi, studied in Dunedin and after adjusting to the culture shock, she’s become a big advocate for the city and fulfilled the dream of starting her own business, Human Connections Group

Sydney is an incredibly expensive place to live. The salaries versus the cost of living are galaxies apart. After a while we thought, ‘what are we doing here?’ We considered the UK, and we looked at New Zealand as a comparison and it was a no-brainer. We just took the plunge. 

I had actually never been to Dunedin before I arrived permanently, so I went completely on my husband’s recommendation. He said: ‘It’s just like Sydney with the beach and the city. It’s like Bondi.’ I felt like I’d been sold the dream for a wee bit when I first arrived and I struggled for a few months just understanding how things get done in Dunedin. It’s such a unique city with its own little microclimate. Even the way people do business is different, the pace of life is so much slower. 

It took me six months to slow down and appreciate the benefits of things I initially found frustrating. I often say the things I hated are the things I love now: the lack of traffic jams; the fact people are ambling along when you go into town and you want to do your shopping. I used to dodge everybody but there’s no rush, and it’s okay to just slow down. 

My background has been in agency recruitment, and I’ve always wanted to have a go at starting my own business and never had the balls to do it. When I came to Dunedin I looked at my options and I could see that there was an opportunity to start something small here, and what I’ve found was the cost of setting up a business is minimal. Rent costs are affordable for a beautiful office space in a heritage building. I set up Human Connections Group out of my lounge, did that for six months, then moved into town, and we’ve grown the opportunities presented just by how open the networks are in Dunedin and how supportive people are. 

  • 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. 

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