Story: Landscapes – overview

Otago Harbour

Otago Harbour

Early settlers found few safe natural harbours around the South Island. Otago Harbour, eroded from an ancient volcano, provided safe anchorage, and was chosen as the site for the city of Dunedin. George O’Brien’s 1872 watercolour, ‘Otago Heads from Signal Hill’, shows the harbour before the surrounding hills were largely cleared of forest.

Poet Brian Turner wrote about the peninsula on the harbour’s south-eastern side.

Otago Peninsula

There, beneath a portcullis of rain
lie the bones of time-rent men and women.

They lie awash in the slush
that saddened and sometimes defeated them.

Scabby hedges cling to the slopes
of hills yoked by sky.

Here the whole range of earth’s colours
sprawl on paddock, stone wall and crumpled sea.

Nothing is left untouched by sparse sunlight,
slanting rain, fists of wind punching

the ribs of the land. Here, under tough grasses
and the crust of sheep and cattle tracks

crumble the fondest dreams and prophecies.
No one came who stayed to conquer, no one came

who was not beaten down
or turned away for another time.

Permission to reproduce poem courtesy of Brian Turner.

Using this item

Auckland Art Gallery – Toi o Tāmaki
Watercolour by George O'Brien

Permission of Auckland Art Gallery Toi o Tāmaki must be obtained before any re-use of this image.

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How to cite this page:

Eileen McSaveney, 'Landscapes – overview - Otago', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 July 2024)

Story by Eileen McSaveney, published 24 Sep 2007, updated 1 Jul 2015