Opened in 2011, Forsyth Barr Stadium is the premier sporting facility in the South Island of New Zealand. The stadium was built as a replacement for Carisbrook, the old stadium in the south of Dunedin which played host to the city’s outdoor sporting events for over 100 years. With a capacity of just over 30,000, Forsyth Barr Stadium holds slightly fewer people than its predecessor, but provides a viewing quality that Carisbrook never offered.
There was, and still is, significant opposition to the building and funding of this stadium from a vocal minority of Dunedin’s population. The decision to use rate-payer money as a means to pay off the debt incurred by its construction was controversial to say the least, and even three years after its completion, there is still a group that maintains the stadium should be sold by the Dunedin City Council.
While the stadium attracts many different events, both sporting and non-sporting, from around the country and world, one of its main residents is the Highlanders Super Rugby team. The Highlanders history dates back to 1996, bringing together the proud provinces of Otago, Southland and North Otago at the inception of Super Rugby as the game turned professional in the same year. With the competition just shy of 20 years it is coming of age and while it has changed very much over the years, it still remains the southern hemisphere’s top rugby competition outside of internationals.
The Highlanders have a mixed history. Their early years were ones marked with success, particularly between 1998 and 2002, where they made the semifinals four times, progressing to the final in 1999. These teams were stacked full of many of the world’s best players and the crowds flocked to Carisbrook to see their men defend the home turf on which they were unbeaten between 2000 and 2003. Through the mid-late 2000’s the team went into a rebuilding phase and gradually fell further and further into the competitions depths, struggling to make it out of the bottom half. During this time, crowd numbers and support for the team dwindled and the glory days were well and truly over.
2011 saw the return of ex-Otago All Black Jamie Joseph, this time as a coach and it was with this that the franchise began looking up again. Under Joseph the team started playing a committed brand of rugby and were able to attract some top players to the country’s south. With this and the opening of a new indoor stadium in 2012, the fans have begun to come back and the future is a bright one for Highlanders rugby.
The FANFARE scale is our metric device for rating each stadium experience. It covers the following:
Each area is rated from 0 to 5 stars with 5 being the best. The overall composite score is the "FANFARE Score".
Food and beverages are not cheap, ranging from $5 to $9. At the lower end of the price range you will get your standard stadium snacks such as hot chips and hot dogs, while burgers will cost you a bit more. Alcoholic beverages on the other hand are on the upper-end of the range, with beer costing $9 and RTDs (ready to drink) $8. Non-alcoholic beverages are not quite so expensive, but it would still be advisable to resist purchasing unless you really have to.
It can be said that the products are of a reasonable quality however and all are kept in warmers or coolers. Service is efficient too, with plenty of attendants available for you to make your purchase.
Outside food can be brought into the ground as long as they are non-commercial or needed for special dietary requirements. Sealed bottles of water may be brought in, however alcohol, soft drinks and unsealed bottles of water may not.
The atmosphere inside the stadium is great and at a big game can be described as nothing short of electric. There is always a general buzz going around and as the seats are so close to the action, you get a far better appreciation of the intensity of the game than you did at Carisbrook.
Each stand has its own gates, so make sure you find out which one your ticket is for as you cannot get from one stand to the next once inside. Everything is well-labelled however and despite the fact that there are always a lot of people around, it is not hard to find your way around.
The teams will generally begin their warm-up routines around half an hour before kick-off, with the Highlanders warming up at the eastern end of the ground. As kick-off draws closer the PA will run through the Highlanders line-up for the match, with each player's photo being displayed on the scoreboards at each end. You can also expect to hear the Dunedin City Pipe Band, who will enter from the eastern end of the ground from the North Stand side and do a lap around the ground before forming a guard of honour for the Highlanders when they run out onto the field. This is a nice touch, as it recognizes Dunedin's Scottish heritage.
During the game the Highlanders Super Fans, which are played by the Otago Dancers wearing bodysuits, will entertain on the sidelines, performing various gymnastic displays. You will also see the Zoo Animals, named for the stand at the western end of the ground, entertaining along that dead ball line in front of the Zoo.
The best seats are those towards the top of the North Stand. These have the best view, as the stand is steep and you can get a good overview of the whole ground while not feeling as though you are far from the action. Lower down it can be hard to see from one end to the other, as the seats are so close to the ground. The South Stand is good too and if you can get in the very back row you will have the bonus of being able to see the television screens installed for the corporate areas.
Lastly, the Zoo provides more of a party atmosphere and tends to be the stand of choice for Dunedin's large university student population. The tickets are cheaper and there is perhaps more atmosphere with music playing for more of the game, but the view is end on and there is just as much emphasis put on the party aspect as the rugby. This area is R18.
Forsyth Barr Stadium is located at the western end of the University of Otago campus and not far from downtown Dunedin, in the northern part of the city. Consequently, if you are coming from town or are a student, getting to the ground should not be a problem and many people walk to games. This only adds to the excitement building up to the game and you can feel safe walking the streets, as you can in any area in Dunedin.
Dunedin's students are renowned for their partying and binge drinking culture, something which has been of great controversy in recent times. On a Thursday or Saturday night, or during Orientation Week, you can expect plenty of students out drinking, with flat parties on most streets surrounding the university and the clubs in town popular destinations. While much of this behaviour is annoying to a lot of the older population of Dunedin, a lot of it is just that - annoying, rather than dangerous. You may however not want to allow children to roam the streets of the student area, particularly those in the area of the infamous Castle Street, as this is no place for children.
The stadium itself, while close by, is not right amongst this area and you do not have to foray into the student area to get to and from the game should you choose not to.
For the most part the locals are friendly and will always help you if you need directions somewhere or need advice on things to do. While approaching a drunken student on a Saturday night may not be advisable, at other times you will find them to be friendly and laidback, while other residents are similar.
With town close by you can spend the day exploring if you wish and still be able to walk to the game without having to catch a bus or taxi. There is no shortage of things to do, with Dunedin boasting many historic buildings drawing on the city's Scottish heritage. Be sure to check out the railway station, arguably the city's most famous building, built behind a picturesque garden. Inside and upstairs you will find the New Zealand Sports Hall of Fame Museum, a must see for any sports follower visiting the country.
If you turn around from here and walk up Lower Stuart Street, you will come across what is known as the Octagon, Dunedin's city centre. This is home to many of Dunedin's bars and clubs, while also possessing the St. Pauls cathedral at its top, alongside the visitors centre and the iconic Robbie Burns statue. Running through it is the main street of Dunedin, George Street, which heading north boasts the majority of Dunedin's shopping outlets and ends up down at the university. On the right hand side after having just gone down George Street you will come across the "Champions of the World" store, which sells plenty of Highlanders gear, as well as other rugby merchandise.
Other attractions in the general vicinity include the Otago Museum, which lies on the opposite side of the university campus to the stadium and the Botanical Gardens, which can be found at the northern end of the campus. While not in the immediate vicinity of the stadium, if you have time you would be advised to check out the Otago Peninsula also, as it boasts rare wildlife and many of the city's best attractions. You will want to book a couple of extra days in the city if you do plan to make the trip here.
There are plenty of good food outlets around at affordable prices. International visitors will recognize the global brands of McDonalds, KFC, Subway and Burger King along George Street and in the food court of the Meridian Mall. Fish and Chip shops are located all over the city, but the Flying Squid is located close by and is a popular one. If you are looking for more of a meal, try the Great Taste, located on St. Andrew Street, which is west of the stadium. Here they offer a great buffet at unbelievable prices.
They say no one does rugby like Dunedin. That was probably true ten years ago and in those days this category would have gotten five stars without a shadow of a doubt. Over the past decade there has been an enormous drop off as the Highlanders reputation dwindled. But with a new stadium and a winning team, the crowds have come back and have proven that the fans in the south are just as passionate about their rugby as ever, from the students to the lifetime followers.
Highlanders crowds have never been hostile, but do provide some good natured banter from the sidelines and get behind their team 100%. Historically Dunedin has been one of the toughest places in the world for an away team to come and play, shown by the incredible winning percentage of home teams, much of which has been put down to the influence the fans have. Like any rugby fan base in New Zealand, they are a knowledgeable crowd and will recognize good, poor and dirty play accordingly, although perhaps can be a bit biased in this recognition like any crowd.
There are absolutely no complaints here, access could not be any easier. The stadium is located in the northern section of the city, within walking distance from town. If you are coming from further away, there are plenty of buses which head to the area from all over the city if you require public transportation. Lots of people will drive and while there are a lot of car parks in the surrounding area, there is plenty of free car parking as long as you do not mind walking ten minutes or so. Try heading south of the stadium towards the railway station, but turn left before getting to the station and then take another left at the roundabout which you will come across after this. Here there are plenty of parks, as you will be in the city's industrial area which is relatively deserted during this time of night and is a popular parking area for people heading to the rugby match.
While there can be long queues heading into the stadium, it does not take long to get into the ground, while plenty of labels make it easy to find your way to your seats. There are plenty of bathrooms situated around the stadium and these remain clean and available, although you may be better to avoid the halftime rush if you need to go.
Handicap access is available if you request it.
Depending on where your seats are, you can get into the stadium relatively cheaply. The middle sections of both the North and South (also known as the Ticket Direct and Speights) Stands, are both more expensive, costing $37.50 for both adults and children. Outside of these though there are tickets available for $27.50 for adults and $12.50 for children, which are not overly different to the more expensive ones, especially if you can get higher up. Tickets to the Zoo cost $12.50 and often Starters Bar will run a special where you may get a drink or some form of merchandise if you buy through them.
The expensive tickets may be a bit over-priced, but the $27.50 option provides a good return on investment. When you consider you are seeing some of the world's best rugby players and are viewing from a world class stadium, it is a very affordable evening.
The roof is a big plus here, particularly as Dunedin is known for its cooler climate and can attract heavy rain from time to time. That it is indoors also means that the playing conditions are perfect, with no wind or moisture to affect the players. This means teams come to the Dunedin with the intention of playing a fast, up-tempo game, meaning you will see plenty of running-rugby and an action packed game.
Tours of the stadium are available for $15 for adults and $10 for children. These tours will take you behind the scenes, into the players dressing rooms, warm-up areas and down the tunnel onto the ground, as well as all around the rest of the stadium. They generally go for an hour.
2012 has seen the Highlanders move across Dunedin from the iconic Carisbrook to the brand new Forsyth Barr Stadium. The decision to build the stadium was certainly a very controversial one and there are many in the city who still oppose the idea of having to pay for it. Certainly it doesn’t have the same mana that Carisbrook carried as being one of the most historic stadiums in the world, but it has provided the city with a new lease of life and is attracting big events. I went along to see for myself how the Highlanders would fit in to their new home, with a special interest to see if it would be the top class viewing experience as promised, or whether it was a waste of money as the “Stop the Stadium” group maintained.
I'm so pleased Dunedin went ahead and built this amazing new stadium. The noise from the crowd is amazing the closeness of the seats and the fact that it could be near snowing outside and no one would know because of the roof it has defiantly made going to the rugby in Dunedin alot more pleasant.
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