Let’s just say you’ve met a new potential romantic partner, whether they’re grooving on the dance floor at Boogie, slaying some squats at Unipol or, more commonly, you both swiped right. You begin wondering how you can sweep them off their feet. After dazzling them with your most charming pick-up lines, perhaps shouting them a drink or two, you finally achieve the goal of a date. If only you weren’t living off $40 a week.
You don’t have to spend $80 on a dinner for two at a ritzy restaurant while trying to woo the lady, gentleman, or otherwise-identifying individual of your dreams. Fortunately, there are dozens of alternatives that are equally romantic, and much kinder to the wallet.
1. The Dunedin Chinese Gardens
Cost: $6 with student ID
Situated on the corner of Rattray and Cumberland streets are the beautiful Chinese Gardens, designed over eight years to ensure complete authenticity and cultural integrity. The garden was built to honour Dunedin’s Chinese heritage by creating a permanent feature recognising the Chinese people who migrated to Otago during the gold rush of the 1860s, with many staying on to establish the businesses that made Dunedin the commercial capital of New Zealand. This allowed for the building of railroads, schools, and the university itself. Throughout the year, the garden hosts a number of special events, but it will be cheapest if you just go along on a normal day.
While there are a number of extras you can purchase, like a guided or audio tour, I’d recommend just grabbing a map and finding your own way around. There are plenty of informative plaques, little tables with games and puzzles on them in the courtyard, and a room where you can try on traditional Chinese attire. Warning: the staff tiptoe around very quietly, so if you decide to use this room for making out, check the stairs first. Save yourself some awkward stares as you continue to explore the garden. There are also a lovely gift shop and a tea house, which sells a variety of teas and steamed buns. Plus, you can buy fish food for a dollar here, to amuse yourself by watching the delightfully plump, greedy goldfish wolf it down.
2. Otago Museum’s Tropical Forest
Cost: $9 with student ID
Most of Otago Museum is free entry, with the exception of the Tropical Forest. It’s the only experience of its kind in Australasia, complete with a glass swing-bridge, top and bottom levels, and a shimmering cascade of hundreds of exotic butterflies. While the butterflies are the main attraction, there are also birds, turtles, fish and some really neat plant-life that’ll give you the illusion of being somewhere in the tropics with 75 percent humidity and a temperature that can actually reach 28 degrees.
If, like me, you don’t have a friendly relationship with the world’s largest moths, or with getting up close and personal with great quantities of flying insects that have no problem landing on you, then this date may not be for you. But it sure is beautiful, especially if you manage to catch it when there’s nobody else around. I’d recommend going in the morning, at 11am. This is when the newly emerged butterflies take their first flight around the forest. They let visitors help, and there’s nothing quite as romantic as watching a bunch of baby creatures experience their world for the first time right? Aww.
3. Open Mic Night at Re:Fuel
Cost: Buy them a beer
Just about every Tuesday night during the semester, student bar Re:Fuel hosts an open mic/open decks night. Usually, there’s a headlining musical act, but the open mic and decks are the real attraction here. Re:Fuel is not only giving local musicians, bands, DJs, poets and comedians the opportunity to perform to an audience of their peers, but the fun, variety-show vibe and Re:Fuel’s trendy, student-oriented feel make it a great place for a low-cost date.
If the acts themselves aren’t particularly interesting to you, there are cosy couches and booths scattered around the bar. With $5 beer handles and a selection of great cheese toasties, pool, arcade game machines and TV monitors playing an endless cycle of increasingly surreal and disturbing gifs. At the very least, these are good for starting a conversation.
4. Walk to Tunnel Beach
Cost: Free – $4.40 for bus fares
If either you or your partner has a car available, that would be preferable, but if you’re prepared for a bit of a hike, you can catch the number 38 bus that heads from the university to Concord, jumping off around Mulford Street. From the car park at the top, there’s about a fifteen-minute walk downhill, following a track through farmland. At the end of this track, there is a hand-carved passage through solid rock, allowing access to a unique sheltered beach hiding at the base of the cliff.
This tunnel for which the beach is named was carved in the 1870s. It was commissioned by a local politician, John Cargill, so that his children could play on their own secluded beach. The beach is best to visit at low tide, so that you and your date can take in the wild majesty of the sandstone cliffs, caves and rock arches, carved over hundreds of years by the constant hammering of the sea. During the walk, you may find fossils in the rock, ranging from fragments of shells to sea urchins and, rarely, the bones of extinct whales.
5. Dunedin Public Art Gallery
Located in the Octagon, the Dunedin Public Art Gallery hosts an impressive range of pieces from around the world, as well as having a particular focus on New Zealand art. There are always several special exhibitions and, with free entry, it would be almost silly not to bring your date along for an afternoon that will surely increase the cultural capital of both of you.
The gallery includes some wonderful British and European paintings, many of which are the works of European art’s big names that even the least artistically inclined are bound to recognise: Monet, Machiavelli, Pissarro, Gainsborough, Reynolds and Turner. If you’re less interested in old paintings from the Western world, there are also collections of twentieth-century Australian works, Japanese prints and decorative arts. Most significantly, there is a vast array of New Zealand works, with the place of honour dedicated to Dunedin painter Frances Hodgkins, well-known in England as a contributor to the Neo-Romantic movement.
On your way out is the ritzy café, Nova. If you so desired, you and your date could get a bowl of fries and a coffee with the money you saved by choosing a free activity. The staff constantly refill your glasses with bubbling water, and you get waited on at your table, so you can play at being fancy-schmancy art connoisseurs while you sip lattes and discuss the exhibition.
6. Mini-Golf and Laser Tag
Cost: $8 each with student ID
If you have the feeling your date might be a bit of an adrenaline junkie, why not take them for a round of laser tag at Megazone? If the two of you are feeling a little more laid back, you could always enjoy a game of mini-golf for the same price, but I’d highly recommend the former.
Megazone is a captivating sci-fi experience, which will have you fully submerged in the storyline. You and your team member play space adventurers from the near future, navigating your way through a facility filled with hostile enemy forces. You’re armed with combat armour and a laser gun and, as an awesome addition, Megazone have just upgraded from their former system to the latest in laser tag technology, including forty-four new suits and a host of new game modes.
The complex also features, for an additional cost, a café, nine-foot pool tables, a video game arcade and, of course, the mini-golf. The video game arcade in particular is recommended, so you can impress your new beau by achieving that elusive high score.
7. St Clair
Cost: Coffee + $2.50 for bus fares
The esplanade at St Clair is a lovely place to venture on either a warm or cold day — but is preferable on a warm day. A number of cafes line the stretch, so you could pick a place, order a coffee or cup of tea, and relax with bae.
St Clair is one of the most popular surfing spots in Dunedin, so there is usually at least one person out there on a surfboard waiting for a wave. I don’t know about you, but I find them mesmerising to watch. After coffee, you could venture down to the beach for a romantic stroll on the sand while holding hands. Progress right there.
8. Netflix and Chill
Cost: $7.99/month or use up the free one-month trial
One of the more well-known dates, Netflix and Chill is something you can always fall back on for a date if you’re totally strapped for cash. Venturing over to your significant other’s place for a steamy session of Netflix and Chill is the definitive poor-man date. Although, we all know that Netflix and Chill doesn’t actually involve paying attention to Netflix, nor really chilling. For those who don’t want to pay for a Netflix subscription, there’s always the option of finding some cheeky online streaming service that provides access to a TV show you can ignore while “chilling”. We all know what the plan really is, so why fork out cash?
Netflix and Chill is not a viable first date option — inviting a newbie to your house for sex under the guise that you’ll at least try to watch some TV is pretty half-assed. At least offer home-made popcorn.
9. Romantic Picnic
Cost: Depends on luxury/hunger levels
As we slowly tiptoe into spring, Dunedin is beginning to tentatively heat up. Plan ahead by picking a day that is supposed to go above 15 degrees — a cold picnic will be a bad picnic. You’ve got a couple of options in terms of picnic food. You could head into the Gardens New World with your date to select your food items together or, if you want to show off your baking and cooking skills, you could get busy in your kitchen earlier in the day.
There is a multitude of lovely grassy areas in Dunedin. You could make your way into the Dunedin Botanical Gardens and locate a corner somewhere or follow the footpaths leading up the hill to the aviary.
If you’re not feeling the Botanical Gardens, try Woodhaugh Gardens, which has several entrances along Duke Street (down from Willowbank dairy) and off the north end of George Street before the over-bridge. Woodhaugh is a little more closed over than the Botanical Gardens, but its best features include: climb-able trees, picnic tables, a park with swings, a forest with little pathways running through it, and a river running alongside the main walkway. How romantic.
10. Study Date
Cost: Nothing but lollies
If study is getting a little too much, which it always is at this time of year, a study date might be on the cards. Taking your honey out to Central for an evening of hardcore study might be exactly what you need. Every frustrated groan could be met with a cuddle or a motivating smile, and let’s not forget about the potential for make-out breaks. We’re all university students here, we know how stressful it is — and the support of your other half could potentially make the whole evening that much better.
In saying that, there’s also the potential for distraction as you compete on Words with Friends or frustration as the other one spends the whole time eating. I guess it’s a gamble, but we think it’s worth a shot!
Marrying your high school sweetheart is a rarity these days, and for a great number of people, their university years will be the time that they first begin to see relationships a little more seriously.
Whether we’re experimenting with who we are, or we’re experimenting with the sort of people we’d like to surround ourselves with, the relationships we form (or attempt to form) can be great learning curves for the future.
Where you go on a date may not seem like the most important thing in the world to you (some of us are quite content with bedtime activities), but for your partner, it can be a meaningful gesture that lets them know that you care about them. Having cool experiences together not only keeps your relationship fun, but it creates scores of happy memories that will stay with you throughout your lives. After all, isn’t that what our uni years are about? If you can manage it without begging for a bigger for an increase on the overdraft, that’s pretty awesome too.