Sidetracked in Southland (Part 2)

December 23, 2022
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IN Part One last week, I travelled from Kingston, on Lake Wakatipu, to Clifden in Western Southland.

A part of the region accessible from Tūātapere and Clifden, with some key placenames added for this post.  Map data (2022) from LINZ via NZ Topo Map, CC BY 4.0. North at top.

From Clifden, the Lilburn Valley Road extends for 36 km, the last twenty of them gravel, to Lake Hauroko.

Sign pointing from the vicinity of Clifden to Lake Hauroko

Lake Hauroko has an official maximum depth of 462 metres or 1,516 feet and is therefore between the 16th and 23rd deepest lake in the world, depending on who you talk to.‍ The lake is a real getaway, but be warned: there is no cellphone reception on Spark or 2 Degrees, and probably not on anyone else’s network. That might be a good thing, but it pays to let people know you are going there beforehand!‍

Lake Hauroko and jetty at the road-end, December 2022

There is a nine- or ten-hour hike from the car park at Lake Hauroko to the Teal Bay Hut. The same track leads on, via another seven to ten hours on foot, to Lake Pōteriteri, a similarly great lake that is completely inaccessible by road.

There is also a shorter, three-hour return track to a lookout over the lake and into the mountains of Fiordland, but it is quite steep and muddy if it has been raining lately.‍

Lake Hauroko Lookout Track Sign

Lake Hauroko Lookout Track Conditions

There are lots of sandflies in wet weather (the only drawback) and masses of birdlife, which probably feasts on the sandflies. There is a wonderful chorus of birds in the morning, and my editor Chris photographed a little finch-type bird catching sandflies down by the water.

Finch-type bird by the water, Lake Hauroko

Two cheeky little robins followed Chris around on his latest trip, no doubt because sandflies were following him as well. They would stand tall on their hind legs (which isn’t very tall) and look you in the eye. One of the robins even hopped into the car, till Chris realised it was probably eating dead sandflies he’d just sprayed, so he shooed it out for its own good.

Robin looking for sandflies in the car

There are lots of birds and rabbits on the gravel road too, so watch out for them.

Hauroko means “soughing of the wind,” soughing being an old word for wind noise. Strong winds blow up and down the lake once you are outside the little bay where the road ends.

Sign warning of squalls

General information billboard

Here is a detail from the general information billboard showing some of the things to do around Lake Hauroko.

Lake Hauroko: Things to Do

Here are some other views of the jetty area from past visits. It’s off the beaten track but you end up coming back again and again.‍

My father Brian at Lake Hauroko, January 2018

The same jetty in the sun, February 2022

Looking back at the bush over the green shallows of Lake Hauroko, 2018

Picnic Tables, Lake Hauroko

Green Forest, Lake Hauroko (this picture, and the next one)

Along with the hike to Teal Bay Hut and to the lookout, there is a loop walk from the carpark.

There is a shelter at the road end but no proper hut. Instead, there is a DOC campground, Thicket Burn Campsite, about five kilometres before the road end.

You could spend a lot of time at Lake Hauroko! Here is a video consisting, of a sequence filmed by my editor Chris in January 2018, showing my father Brian, and another filmed by myself in February 2022, both of the lakeside area near the road end.‍

‍From Lake Hauroko, the only way back out by road is to Clifden again. From there it’s a fairly short distance south to Tūātapere, a small forestry town which, like Clifden, straddles the Waiau River. The Waiau River divides the more agricultural part of Southland from the wilder country to the west, which includes Fiordland National Park, New Zealand’s largest national park and part of the even larger Te Wāhipounamu (‘place of New Zealand jade’) World Heritage Area.

I have already blogged about how Tūātapere is the gateway to the Hump Ridge Track and the South Coast Track. Tūātapere is also famous for its sausages, which you can purchase from the Tui Base Camp backpacker lodge. There is also a pleasant domain and a larger scenic reserve.

Tūātapere is also the gateway to the other destinations on the South Coast, which I have blogged about in another earlier post called Wild South. If you have made it all the way to Tūātapere you really should carry on to the South Coast, which has something of the qualities of the Outer Hebrides in Scotland: and you don’t even have to leave the country.‍

Fields near Orepuke, on the south coast

Monkey Island / Te Puka o Takitimu is an excellent place to base yourself, as it has a freedom camping area with toilets and bins. You can walk out to the island at low tide, and climb to a lookout at the top to watch the sun go down, assuming the tide does not come in first.

Monkey Island/Te Puka o Takitimu sign

Even when it is overcast there is usually a clear strip of air out to sea, meaning that you should get a good sunset.

Sunset from the lookout on the top of Monkey Island

In fact, most of these coastal strips also get a bit more sun than the interior during the day as well. This is a factor worth bearing in mind in Southland, which has a more British climate than the rest of New Zealand as well as a more British look, with low, flat-topped hills east of the Waiau that look un-Kiwi but very British.

Monkey Island in the sun

Here’s a view from the top of Monkey Island that shows the low, British-looking hills of this region, as well as another thing that is very noticeable, the way that the coastline is strewn with huge, rounded boulders. Have they been rolled around by unimaginably violent storms?

As I mentioned, I’ve covered much of this area in Wild South. ‍However. that is no reason not to show a few more photos here.

For a start, the nearby locality of Cosy Nook is just endlessly photogenic. Here’s the sign, which I showed in the earlier post, but with more of the background around it this time.

Cosy Nook Sign and wider background

Much of the coast at Cosy Nook is strewn with boulders just like the ones at Monkey Island. Many larger islands, one of which once served as the base for a Māori pā or fortified village, and smaller outcrops that look like castles, also protrude from the water at this spot.

Cosy Nook: note the low coastal hills in the background

An outcrop that looks especially like a castle

The old house I showed in my earlier Wild South post, not so old as it turns out but certainly weather-beaten, is called Polyfilla Villa. It was built by a man named Bob Blackwell, who seems to be no longer with us.

Polyfilla Villa, Cosy Nook

Bob Blackwell dedication

All I have been able to find out so far is that Blackwell was “a real character.” It’s not a big place, but even so, Polyfilla Villa is by no means the only picturesque semi-ruin in Cosy Nook.

Another view of Cosy Nook, with Polyfilla Villa in the background

The weather has been alright every time I’ve been to the South Coast, and for my editor too. But it’s pretty clear that the area gets strong westerly winds at certain times of the year. Times when the cosiness of a place like Cosy Nook must have been twice as prized.

Gnarled Trees on the road to Tihaka Beach

A bus shelter turned against the wind at Colac Bay/Ōraka

The map just below, photographed at a lookout called McCrackens Rest, shows the local part of the Southern Scenic Route in yellow. It continues on past Riverton, formally known as Riverton/Aparima from the Māori name for the locality in which the town is built.‍

Detail from a map at McCrackens Rest. North toward the top.

Cosy Nook to Riverton/’Aparima via Colac Bay/Ōraka. Map data ©2022 Google. North at top.

There is a fantastic museum at Riverton/Aparima, Te Hikoi (the journey), which a senior government scientist called Hamish Campbell claims to be the best museum in New Zealand.

The claim that greets you in the doorway of Te Hikoi

It costs NZ $9 to get in. You are treated to a short video about the history of the region before exploring the displays, and you can also get a key to the old wooden church across the road, which has some impressive woodwork inside.

Te Hikoi Museum exterior

The scene on the wall of the museum in the photo just above is a still from the video. It shows an incident from the year 1810, in which Tokitoki, the niece of a chief of the locality named Honekai, threw Honekai’s cloak over James Caddell, the youngest of a group of British sealers who had got into a fight with Honekai’s tribe on Rakiura (Stewart Island) after harvesting from the tribe’s shore without permission, thus sparing him from being finished off by the victorious local warriors. To round out the story, Tokitoki and James soon got married and lived happily ever after (of course).

Display about James Caddell, Honekai and Tokitoki

Many people on the South Coast are descended from such unions.

Whakapapa (Genealogy)

The museum has many historical and scientific tableaux and information panels, including re-creations of scenes of past life from the earliest days of a really wild frontier, through the log-cabin era, to somewhat more domesticated times later on.

South Coast whaling, in the days of Moby-Dick

Inside a colonial-era cabin, circa the 1860s

The first woman publican

Celluloid artifacts from the late Victorian era and the first half of the 20th century

There is also a war-museum annexe, and some exhibits outside including a logging locomotive. Across the street is the Anglican church of St Mary, for which you can get a key from the museum. It has some excellent wood carving inside.

Historical plaque, St Mary's

Looking up at the ceiling, within St Mary's

Eliza Stevenson plaque, St Mary's

It’s funny to think of Eliza Stevenson as having been part of the same community as whalers and sealers and warriors a century before.

As for Riverton itself, it has at least one cosy café and the countercultural vibe typical of many small towns that are a bit off the beaten tourist track in New Zealand these days.

The Crib Café, not fancy but with cosy armchairs, wifi and electric power to plug in a charger

The Environment Centre, next to the ‘Menz Shed’ and a mural of a blue whale

Someone’;s garage, also on the main street of Riverton/Aparima

Plus, you can go hiking up the hill of Mores Scenic Reserve, including Taramea or Howells Point.


In Part 3, I describe how you can return to Queenstown along the route of an old coal railway called the Ohai Line. Along the way, you can visit a railway museum at Fairfax, the cosy regional centre of Otautau, and the small mining town of Nightcaps.

If you liked the post above, check out my new book about the South Island! It’s available for purchase from this website.


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