South Dunedin

South Dunedin is an important part of Dunedin City. It’s a vibrant and diverse community that over ten thousand people call home.

For the past seven years Otago Regional Council has been collecting and analysing information on the natural hazard risk facing South Dunedin.

This information includes the history of the landscape, the relationship between groundwater and land levels, sea level rise and other risks such as the likely impacts of erosion and earthquakes. It is an important starting place in the discussions about the future of South Dunedin and how we as a community respond and adapt to our changing environment.

South Dunedin as it was

At the time of European settlement in the mid-1800s, the low-lying area known as ‘The Flat’ was generally a marshy environment, covered with silver tussock, rushes and flax. Along the harbour margin was a wide, tidal mud-flat, and there were coastal lagoons and wide, low sand dunes, much flatter than those along the St Clair coast today. All of this would have been not unlike what we see in Hoopers Inlet today.

South Dunedin Lagoon

Strong demand for level, dry land in Dunedin in the mid to-late-1800s drove European settlers to embark on reclamation, or in-filling, of wet, low areas with any available fill material. This included the use of sand along the harbor margin, and in the wetland areas of South Dunedin. This reclamation transformed the area and hugely increased the amount of available building land.

The area is now home to 10,000 people, many schools and critical infrastructure the wider city relies on. Looking at the area now it’s easy to think the lagoon is long dried up, but underneath the built-up surface, marshy conditions remain.

The mixture of sand and silt that underlies South Dunedin absorbs water from rainfall, and this underground water usually sits about half a metre beneath the ground surface. The groundwater table is dynamic, rising and falling with tides and seasonal conditions. It soaks up rainfall and surface runoff like a sponge, and transports this water towards the sea.

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