Tahu Mackenzie's Dunedin

New Zealander of the Year Kiwibank Local Hero 2019

Otago Educator of the Year 2020

Otago Person of the Year 2020

I was born here in Dunedin, and I lived up a tree or in the sea in Broad Bay until I was seven, when my family and I moved to the UK. From a very early age, I realised that I wanted to work with the living world.

I was 18 when I returned to New Zealand. I had done a lot of performing arts in the UK, which helped me to get a job at the aquarium. That changed my whole life!  After winning an award for my work, I was offered a job at Orokonui Ecosanctuary. I am lucky to have been the Educator there for 12 years working with inspiring superstars including Dr Jane Goodall. It’s my absolute dream job. I work with 10,000 students every year from early childhood, primary, secondary, tertiary and adult education.

I love giving people the opportunity to celebrate who they are - living beings connected to all life in an infinite web, with the skills to care for the world around us.

“Stunedin” - as I call it - is the ultimate paradise for me. The biodiverse city is 10 minutes away from stunning beaches and 10 minutes from ancient podocarp forest. Creatively, the city has supported me as a musician and MC. All this support has helped me bring forth the best aspects of myself.

Go into The Void at Otago Museum

419 Great King Street North, North Dunedin

The new Tūhura Science Centre in the Otago Museum is extraordinary. It combines mātauraka Māori knowledge with western scientific perspectives. There is a tropical forest with a five-metre waterfall and thousands of butterflies. The Void is an infinity room lined with mirrors and lights. The sound and light show tells the story of the big bang theory and the Māori concept of Te Kore - the nothingness from which comes life. People of all ages flock here to experience these wonders. I love the way these spaces help us see our world in new ways.

The entrance to Otago Museum.

Make friends with a kākā at Orokonui

600 Blueskin Road, Dunedin

This protected paradise is 307 hectares of lush regenerating forest where I’m the luckiest person in the universe to work. Inside the fence of defence only precious native species are found. We have returned locally extinct kiwi, tuatara, takahe and charismatic South Island kākā. I had a best friend kākā, Mr Roto, who would kiss me and lick my nose. I love the takahē and I even named my band for them. Their story is my favourite. They were thought to be extinct but were re-discovered by my hero Dr Geoffrey Orbell, who from the age of eight was determined to find them.

Bush in the ecosanctuary.

Tofu pirikara at Jitsu

133 Stuart Street, Dunedin Central

I have found a low-carb keto diet works best for me and Jitsu has so many delicious low-carb and vegan meals on their menu. I love to order tofu, tofu, tofu. They have lots of tantalising options to choose from. The staff are very friendly and always go the extra mile to look after you. The tofu pirikara salad is one of my favourites, especially with the delectable mandarin, almond and soy dressing. The traditional Japanese music, artwork and the tables on the floor, help you feel immersed in the culture.

Tofu dish on a plate.

Antipasti at The Esplanade

Esplanade, St Clair, Dunedin

St Clair is my second favourite beach after Allans Beach. I love the entrancing white sand and pounding waves. The Esplanade is in the heart of St Clair seafront and I’ve been going there for more than a decade. It’s delicious, traditional Italian food, and all the staff are Italian too. They have pizza and pasta, of course, but also low-carb options like moreish mozzarella and antipasti. The open kitchen gives you a real sense of the food being prepared, and you can sit outside and appreciate the beauty of the sea too.

Customers sitting around tables inside The Esplanade.

Go wild at Allans Beach

Allans Beach Road, Portobello, Dunedin

When I was little, my whānau would go to Allans Beach every Sunday. It’s very special and so untouched, often you are the only people there. It is an amazing surf beach with wild waves. Native grasses have been planted to restore the area as an important habitat for hoiho/yellow eyed penguin. It used to be my job to go and collect bull kelp here for the aquarium. When I was in the UK, I used to dream of being a kahu/hawk and flying back to Allans Beach. It’s a super powerful place for me.

Allans Beach.

Live music at Bark!

21 Moray Place, Dunedin Central

I’m really lucky to have been involved with live music in #Funedin for 15 years. My band is called Tahu and the Takahes. Dog with Two Tails Café and Bar and their live music venue next door, Bark!, is a place that really supports local artists and musicians. I have a big band - there are eight of us - and we’re all about getting everyone up and dancing. Bark! is a brilliant size for performing. The space is adorned with fabulous flowers and a wee train on a track that goes all around the café. It’s a really fun space.

A band playing at Bark in Dunedin.

Move better at Barre Base

7 Crawford Street, Dunedin Central

I’m completely obsessed with Barre Base and it’s changed my life. Their motto is “move with strength and freedom” and that’s really what it has given me. I’m the strongest I’ve ever been on all levels. The space is transformational, with a lovely golden light in the studio. The mindful mix of low impact strength and grace building exercises has sculpted my body, and I have grown two inches in height! I recommend taking a Beginners or Yoga Barre class and booking in for a one-on-one with an instructor to learn to release all your muscles with the massage balls.

People working out at Barre Base.

Winter Gardens at Dunedin Botanic Gardens

Great King Street North, North Dunedin

The Botanic Garden is a real treasure. They are the oldest Botanic Gardens in Aotearoa New Zealand. It's fascinating to see different plant species from around the world growing alongside historic sculptures and artworks. The heated winter gardens are glorious. It’s an enchanting treat to be transported into this tropical paradise at any time of the year. The extensive glasshouses are filled with an abundance of plants and cacti. You could spend a whole day in the gardens. The visitors’ centre gives out free oats so you can feed the ducks and pigeons at the tranquil landscaped lake nearby.

Looking down towards Dunedin Botanic Gardens.

See a Hotere at Dunedin Public Art Gallery

30 Octagon, Dunedin

I came back to Dunedin for a year when I was 13, during which time I would spend hours in the art gallery watching films from the New Zealand film archives because I wanted to be a filmmaker. The Dunedin Public Art Gallery is such an invaluable, free resource right in the city. There are always revelatory exhibitions from Aotearoa and around the world. The gallery also has an impressive range of permanent collections of internationally renowned artists, both historical and contemporary, including Monet, Frances Hodgkins and Ralph Hotere.

Inside the Dunedin Public Art gallery.

Blowholes at Huriawa Pā

12 Barvas Street, Karitane

I think this must be one of the most thrilling places in the universe. The historic pā site for Kāti Huirapa Runaka ki Puketeraki, the iwi who are mana whenua of Orokonui and the surrounding landscape, is a very significant space. The shape of the headland and the way the sea moves around it, creates these spectacular ngā pehu or blowholes through the series of underwater and exposed caves. Kāti Huirapa have created a series of panels that tell the tāhuhu kōrero of the pā, promoting an appreciation of the history and magic that lives here. 

The beach at Huriawa Pā.