From beautiful beaches to cycle trails, campsites, conservation projects and quirky art attractions, there is plenty to see and do in the southern reaches of Otago's Clutha District.
1. Lawrence and the Clutha Gold Trail
'Gabriel’s Gully,' near Lawrence, was where the find that initiated the great Otago gold rush was made. Today Lawrence is a much more peaceful spot and a handy little town for exploring the local area. There’s a couple of good cafés here, as well as one or two second-hand shops and a good pub.
The best way to get a feel for the history of the area is to jump on a bike and ride part or all of the two-day Clutha Gold Trail to Roxburgh Dam. The trail is well punctuated by information panels and for a stretch runs alongside the mighty Clutha River, allowing you to really get a feel for the power of this impressive waterway.
2. Sinclair Wetlands
The Sinclair Wetlands are a fantastic example of what can happen when landowners take it on themselves to protect precious areas. The wetlands are the legacy of Taieri Plains farmer Horrie Sinclair, who, to the ridicule of some of his neighbours, closed off part of his property to farming in the 1960s, allowing the waterways to recover to their natural state.
Today Horrie’s wetlands are a much-loved feature of the Plains, full of native vegetation and birdlife. They are a great spot to spend a few tranquil hours walking or enjoying a picnic.
Amid a green desert agriculture, the wetlands stand as a monument to a forward-thinking and generous man who loved the Clutha District and wanted to give something back.
Just 40 minutes south of Dunedin and the site of its recently constructed medium-security prison, Milton is the butt of many a joke in these parts, but unfairly so. For what the 'Town of Opportunity' lacks in natural splendour or cultural buzz it more than makes for with its butchery museum.
On top of that, there’s a couple of excellent antique shops and a whale fossil lookout. Including Milton in a day trip from Dunedin, returning via Lake Waihola, Taieri Mouth and Brighton, is a great way to get a quick taste of the Clutha District if you’re in Dunedin and pressed for time. The fish and chip shop at Waihola is excellent too.
4. Purakaunui Bay
Half an hour from Ōwaka, Purakaunui Bay is a stunning introduction to the wild Catlins coast. The beach is often frequented by sea lions and is framed by towering Jurassic cliffs at its northern end.
There is a Department of Conservation campsite on the beach, making it a good spot to park up for a day or two and just enjoy being out of contact with the world amid the splendour of the Clutha coast. There is good surf to be found here as well.
5. The Lost Gypsy Caravan, Papatōwai
The Lost Gypsy Caravan is the physical manifestation of local artist Blair Sommerville’s incredible imagination and tinkering skills.
It’s a little wonderland of things that run on rails, spin, make noises, and light up.
Actually, it’s sort of hard to describe – just make sure you stop in for a visit. It’s set into native bush in the lovely little Catlins village of Papatōwai. There is little here in the way of amenities, so come prepared.
There are a couple of backpackers in the area, a Department of Conservation campsite and a little shop for basic supplies. The Lost Gypsy Caravan also serves coffee.