Clarke Gayford discovers New Zealand’s hidden gem the locals would rather you didn’t know

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Tūātapere has great outdoors such as the Tūātapere Humpridge Trail (above), incredible rugged wilderness, pristine coastline, and very few people. Photo / 123rf

Canny Southlanders knows when they’re on a good thing, writes Clarke gayford

Describing a location that exists roughly halfway between the Cozy Nook and Nightcaps areas, the location feels more like a JK Rowling novel than a thankfully forgotten area deep in New Zealand.

But it does exist, passing through Invercargill, through Riverton, past the exit for Cozy Nook and inland to a roll and miss town called Tūātapere.

I have long suspected deeply that the people of Southland were deliberately spreading jokes about the place like a countermarketing genius to conserve what makes the area so special. That being the great outdoors to explore, incredible wilderness, pristine coastline and very few people.

In Tūātapere, there is clear evidence of this cunning sense of humor. Here a quaint little village stands like a tradesman’s dream. It’s the last place in the country to see the sun set every night in summer, surrounded by incredible mountain ranges that rise abrasively from the plains below. Here the road simply refuses to continue west, blocked by features like New Zealand’s deepest lake, all contained within a national park we call Fiordland.

It’s the gateway to some of the best nature walks on Earth. But are they marketing all of this to the rest of New Zealand and to the world? No, instead they sell Tūātapere as “the sausage capital of New Zealand”. And as if to cement the ploy, they even have a slightly enlarged specimen, complete with hands and a face that appears to be made from a tall fence post that was in Brian’s backyard.

Now I’ll be honest, that bit of 1980s marketing did me some good and I enthusiastically ordered a plate of their so-called best. New Zealand has a long and successful tradition of producing incredible, flavorful sausage chains for all the most discerning palates. I once spent 45 minutes at the butcher in Westmere, frozen in place, staring at the cupboard, overwhelmed by the variety of pigskin bags in front of me. So being here in the capital itself was going to be a treat. Forget a trip to nearby Gemstone Bay where I could spend time looking for special sparkling stones among the rocks, or go surfing or cast a line from the shore. I was aware of some processed meat delicacies.

Clarke Gayford.  Photo / Supplied
Clarke Gayford. Photo / Supplied

Like a well-executed punchline, which I swear locals must be in on, my mixed plate of the city’s most promoted asset arrived, sat squarely in front of me, jumbled up on a bed of wilted crisps.

I enthusiastically asked the waitress which flavor was which. The shrug and exclamation of “I don’t know” was offered with a piece of bold A4 paper with some written descriptions of what “might” be on my plate. My waitress wasn’t sure.

Now, I admit my eyesight isn’t as sharp as it used to be, but no one at our table of eight could tell the difference between the lightly toasted and slightly sad offerings in front of me. Careful dissection of one, however, revealed mustard seeds, hurray! Variety. He sat boldly apart in appearance but unfortunately not in taste. There was a strong suspicion that the other five snags were in fact identical.

For me as a blown Aucklander, having visited Southland at least five times over the past year, arriving often from the claggy cup of the north, I have to say my absolute favorite about the place is the special look that makes you feel really alive when you go outside. There is nothing that compares to the explosion in your face of roaring ’40s salt and mixed alpine air, traveling not around but through you. It reconnects you to your place in the environment. I absolutely love it.

Now I could waste my last words denouncing / remonstrating / berating Tūātapere for his abject failure to see the woods for the trees of the world-class characteristics he has. But I decided that… that’s the whole point. The fact that the city still chooses to promote something it could have been good at in 1880, beyond all the other things it has going for it, actually serves a subtle dual purpose. This not only allows the place to be forgotten and thus retains its special charm, but it also beautifully underestimates what it really has, which as we all know is a centuries-old tradition in the south. For my part, I can’t wait to go back and have another plate of the best disappointing sausages I have ever eaten.

Moving Houses, Clarke Gayford’s new TV series about the Kiwis’ move across New Zealand, will air tonight (October 12) on TVNZ 1

Check alert level restrictions and advice from the Department of Health before traveling. covid19.govt.nz


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