Inspirations: Scotland away from Scotland in New Zealand’s deep south

In the late 1840s migrants from Scotland poured into New Zealand’s deep south, looking to build a devout Presbyterian settlement untrammelled by the schism that had ripped the Church of Scotland asunder, unbothered by the social upheavals of the Industrial Revolution.

It didn’t work. When they arrived, they discovered the Anglicans – the ‘little enemy’, as they called them – had got there first. The Scots also brought their social problems with them. And then the gold miners arrived, with their rough and rouse-about life, sending shivers up the spines of the more God-fearing Dunedinites.

Still, there were some compensations. After travelling half way around the world, they found their little corner of New Zealand was altogether familiar. I covered that story in a book I wrote a few years ago for Penguin, Old South. But what I didn’t mention there was just how awesome that landscape is.

Lake Clyde - an artificial 'hydro' lake formed in the late 1980s after the huge Clyde Dam and associated hydro plant was completed.

Lake Clyde – an artificial ‘hydro’ lake formed in the late 1980s after the huge Clyde Dam and associated hydro plant was completed.

Not surprising in a way; similar latitude, similar geography and similar climate combined to make things – well, similar. Shortly intensified by the settler effort to import every plant and animal they could find. Including deer, rabbits and – if urban legend is anything to go by – at least one puma.

A photo I took of the Kawau gorge, north Otago, 2013. It wasn't easy, the place was socked in with rain most of the day I was there.

A photo I took of the Kawau gorge, north Otago, 2013. It wasn’t easy, the place was socked in with rain most of the day I was there.

Today, Southland and Otago are the only parts of New Zealand to have any trace of a regional accent – a slightly rounded ‘r’. Nobody outside New Zealand would likely spot it amidst the universal ‘I’ll have sux fush and a scoop of chups, eh’. But that slight ‘Southland burr’ is definitely there – a legacy of that old Scottish heritage. Cool.

Are there any places you know of that are weirdly similar – despite being geographically distant? Is there any landscape you’ve found that’s totally awesome? I’d love to hear from you.

Copyright © Matthew Wright 2013

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11 comments on “Inspirations: Scotland away from Scotland in New Zealand’s deep south

  1. Karen Rought says:

    One unforgettable place I’ve been to was the Giant’s Causeway in Ireland. Absolutely surreal.

  2. Lemuel says:

    Glad to see you enjoyed your time in Otago! One almost feels sorry for those poor Presbyterians who thought they had found their quiet corner in the world and were then promptly invaded by gold diggers and the colourful entourage that followed them.

    Regarding the puma… there is at least one verified big cat incident from Otago. Two lions escaped from a circus that was visiting Lawrence. Local legend says that a runner was sent to warn the practising rugby team and ran across the field yelling “the lions are coming!”. The amused players stared back in disbelief, retorting that the British would never send their team to little old Lawrence. Around about then the two escapees made an appearance and the rugby team scattered! Sadly the lions were shot and are now on display in the Otago Museum.

    • I never knew that – such a cool story! Sad that the animals were shot, kind of symbolic to me of that mind-set, back then, of ‘man the mighty hunter’ – notwithstanding the fact that the ‘mighty hunter’ had industrial-age weaponry and the poor old lion had just teeth. But I guess that escaped lions would even be shot today, if there was no other option for recapturing them.

      • Lemuel says:

        I first heard the story while visiting Lawrence, told to me by someone who saw the whole thing. It occured in 1978 and is reasonably well known down this way – I suspect mostly because of the stuffed lions on display in the museum.

        It seems that unfortunately they were shot as a last resort due to being a risk to the public – http://www.thelawrencelions.com/p/facts.html

  3. It never ceases to amaze me how diverse NZ is geographically, for a relatively small country. Gorgeous!

    • We’ve got just about every kind of terrain – all jammed into a small area. The only thing we don’t have is a large sandy desert – but, of course, that’s what Australia is for!

      Accident of geography and climate as much as anything else, I think.

  4. Ed says:

    Is there a lake monster in southern New Zealand, too?

  5. The Cliffs of Moher in Ireland and the Vermillion Cliffs in Arizona and Utah USA can look oddly similar though one is on an ocean and one a desert.

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