I'd meant to discover the new in Dunedin, a place which has nurtured some of our coolest and freshest designers, craft people and artists, but kept stumbling back on the old when I set out on the city's design trail.
There's something wonderful for an Aucklander about finding cities in New Zealand which still show off their layers of history: main streets which were made for people, not cars; storefronts and civic buildings which knit together architecturally; neighbourhoods you can walk through.
My case of city envy was cemented when I discovered Dunedin's emerging design precinct in the blocks around Bond, Cumberland and Crawford Sts. These are streets of former wool stores and factories, mixed with the odd grand bank or trading house, which are now home to start-up web designers, creatives or furniture restorers.
The newest kids on the block are sometime archaeologists Hadyn Cawt and Sheryl McPherson, who have bought a genteel, run-down former auction house and turned it into Salisbury, a shop-cum-design hub.
They live upstairs, have opened a store on the ground floor and are refurbishing the back rooms and upper floors, plus a pair of old workshops next door, into studios and co-operative spaces for designers and similar-minded folks.
Up an imposing sweep of stairs (Dunedin Victorians didn't do modest) is a gallery space that will host afternoon teas, designer showings and hot events during Dunedin iD week in April.
"We love old buildings; we wanted to replicate the idea of a hub for designers," says Hadyn. One of their first collaborators was fine jeweller Henry Devereux, who plans to use his space as a gallery.
Tucked behind the workshops is a laneway that is a slice of old Dunedin: rough stone walls, stable doors, dark workshops. Even my guide, who has lived in the city for decades, had no idea this slice of the city's industrial past existed.
There were more discoveries in a hip designer corner on the other side of town, the sloping Moray St behind the Octagon.
Victoria Faigan's Modern Miss Vintage Clothing has collectors from around the world searching for gems from the 1920s through to the 70s. Her neighbour, The White Room, co-owned by painter Sam Foley, has modern art and design pieces while up the hill in a former Jewish synagogue/Masonic Lodge (which did not exist at the same time, I was pleased to hear) Temple Gallery has works by James Robinson and breathtaking decoupage pieces by Michaela Fox.
Dada, run by ceramicist, painter and fashion explorer Marie Strauss, shows her own pieces (some knitted in the historic Otago mills) as well as pieces from Kate Sylvester et al and Ekjo of Paris. Add in a hole-in-the-wall cafe, Mazagran Espresso, the city's prettiest florist, Estelle, bookshops, more old apartments and you have yourself a cool quarter.
The main shopping centre of George St is home to established fashion labels led by Margie Robertson of Nom*D's Plume - a cool outpost of black and clever.
Local women love Hype, whose stock comprises exclusively New Zealand labels; or pop upstairs to St Clair for one-off pieces in great fabrics. The younger set head to little Belle Bird (more Karen Walker), Glowing Sky for hip outdoorsy gear and long-established McKinlays, where thick-soled desert boots have been made for more than 150 years.
The established design school at Otago Polytechnic and the still-thriving community of sewing and knitting suppliers - not to mention cheap rent on cool spaces - mean designers have stayed put.
Mild Red has a fanatical local following and sells from a converted church. Charmain Reveley and Company of Strangers love their airy studios and nearby vintage stores, which they can mine for textiles and trims. Jewellery studio Lure is a co-operative of designers, showcasing exquisite pieces. The vintage stores are eye-popping. Top pick is Shop on Carroll (the superb English wool and mohair coats which don't top $85 are too good to be true), while a dash to the famous Broad Bay China shop reveals multiple rooms the finest English brands. Another goodie, Box of Birds, out at Port Chalmers, keeps quirky hours and even quirkier stock.
But the best of the old has to be the darling of Dunedin, Larnach Castle. I wasn't expecting such untouched glory, nor was I expecting such luxury at the newly opened Camp Estate ("The Camp" was Larnach's joking name for the castle, which reputedly cost £200,000 to build).
The five-bedroom bluestone house is a mix of marble and Designers' Guild wallpapers with a convivial eat-in kitchen. Dinners use local food, eaten at shared tables. Gracious, cool and the best mix of old and new Dunedin.
Layers of Gold, Dunedin Heritage Festival, this weekend. Exactly 150 years after gold was first discovered, the city celebrates its splendid buildings and stories with tours, talks and visits to rarely seen homes. See celebrategold.co.nz.
Showcase for the city's fashion scene is iD Dunedin Fashion Week, which runs April 5-11. The iD Dunedin Fashion Show will strut its stuff over two nights on a catwalk in the city's heritage railway station. Tickets available from TicketDirect venues, ph 0800 4 TICKET or online at ticketdirect.co.nz. See id-dunedinfashion.com.
Modern Miss Vintage Clothing: 21 Moray Place. Ph 021 118 6740.
Haywards: 462 Princes St. General auctions are held each Wednesday from 10am, a mecca for those in the know.
ReStore (also known as Bargain Barn): cnr Vogel and Gordon Street. Ph 03 477 3500. You may have to beat jeweller and homewares collector Victoria McIntosh to the best pieces, but there are furniture, homewares, even electrical treasures aplenty in this venture by Habitat for Humanity and a local charitable trust.
Broad Bay China: 13 Waikana Street, Broad Bay. Ph 03 478 0067. A treasure trove.
Box of Birds: 2 George St, Port Chalmers. Ph 021 472 840.
Shop on Carroll: 10 Carroll Street. Ph 03 471 8249.
Dada Manifesto: 28 Moray Place. Ph 03 477 0250.
Hype, Golden Centre Mall: George St. Ph 03 479 2277. Locals Mild Red, Claire Bloome, Cheryl Bertenshaw plus other Kiwi labels.
Collectibles: 57 Musselburgh Rise. Ph 03 455 3450. Recycled designerwear.
The Barking Fish Emporium: 17 George St, Port Chalmers. Ph 03 472 8484. Jewellery.
St Claire Design: 1st floor, 53 Bond St. Ph 03 477 3328.
Belle Bird: 327 George St. Ph 03 477 1036. Cool, young Karen set.
McKinlays: 454 George St. Ph 03 477 1839.
Gallery de Novo: 101 Stuart St. Ph 03 474 9200.
Port Chalmers Design Store: 15 George St, Port Chalmers. Ph 03 472 8701.
Temple Gallery: 29 Moray Place. Ph 03 477 7235.
The White Room: 25 Moray Place. Ph (03) 477 7875.
Where to eat:
Rhubarb: 299 Highgate Bridge, Roslyn. Ph 03, 477 2555. Also The Friday Shop, Roux brothers-trained chef Jim Byars sells brilliant meals, stocks and pastries to the Maori Hill foodies one day a week (from 6am, sells out fast).
Eat: 4 Dowling Street. Ph 03 477 4684. Nearly everything made on the premises, including the bread. Fresh, local, seasonal.
Mazagran Espresso: 36 Moray Place. Ph 03 477 9959.
Everyday Gourmet: 466 George St. Ph 03 477 2045.
Harbour Fish City: Cnr St Andres and Great King streets. Ph 03 477 1977.
Diesoline Espresso: 7 Bath Street. Ph 04 477 7088. Part of the George St Heritage Precinct, locally roasted coffee, outdoor courtyard and fireplace, home of Dunedin's TED-sters.
Catherine Smith was a guest of Tourism Dunedin and Larnach Castle.