Jackie's Journey: My Favourite Mistake

By: Jackie Norman, Photography by: Gareth Scurr/Brent Gilpin


In this issue, MCD writer Jackie Norman and Gareth Scurr discover paradise in Christchurch

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A happy mistake indeed

The start of 2020 was a fantastic time for us, both travel and opportunity- wise. The weather was glorious, we were free to roam, and to top it off, we were asked to film an episode for a brand-new Australian TV series called Outliers, all about our life on the road.

Exciting stuff! There was just one small problem – where to film. We needed somewhere both scenic and peaceful, the producer said. In January? We didn’t like our chances. Not only that, we were in Blenheim and the film crew was in Dunedin.

We had just 24 hours to find somewhere between the two to meet, and which ticked all the boxes. We put out a call for help and, by an enormous stroke of luck, one of our readers knew just the place. "Taylors Mistake is perfect! I live there, I’m happy to be your guide," she said.

A historic paradise

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One of the historic ‘cave baches’

Being largely unfamiliar with Christchurch, we had never heard of Taylors Mistake before but loved the name, and other details such as ‘cave baches’ had our curiosity well and truly piqued. All we needed to do was find somewhere to stay.

It seemed the most suitable campground was at nearby Godley Head and was managed by DOC. We booked online, as we would be arriving late, and the following morning set off for our mystery destination.

The origins of how Taylors Mistake got its name are varied, but the most common tale appears to be that of a Captain Taylor, who beached his American ship in the bay in 1858, believing it to be Lyttelton.

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A bedroom inside one of the baches

Whatever the true version, as soon as we descended the winding hill down to the little beach, we could well believe any of them. Our guide, Margaret, was there to greet us, and we were enthralled as she gave us a tour of the ‘Rotten Row’ cave baches, which are built directly into the mouths of the caves.

These dwellings had originally been built by fishermen in the 1880s, to provide shelter. Although the council had destroyed 10 of them in 1979, deeming them to be unsafe, others continue to be used and loved today.

As I looked out of one of the windows, directly on to the beach, where the waves lapped the shore, I dreamed of happily writing books here, hidden away from the rest of the world, for the rest of my days.

What a place to stay!

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Our film location also turned out to be a paragliding spot!

Margaret was right about the beach too; despite being peak season and a hot day, the little bay was a peaceful haven. It really was the perfect location for tomorrow’s filming. But with a 5am start, it was time to head to our campground.

Getting there was simply a case of continuing up the road and over the hills until we couldn’t go any further. As we climbed, the view was so beautiful I almost forgot my fear of heights.

As the bay stretched out behind us, we arrived at our campsite – and what a campsite it was. An enormous, open area, with so much space we hardly saw another camper. As for the views – we were literally on top of the world, looking out to sea.

With flush toilets, water, benches and sinks, and a friendly and helpful manager on site, we couldn’t have asked for anything more. We parked under a tree and sat at one of the picnic tables cooking dinner, watching the ships go by.

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Exploring the WW2 battery site

Of all the campgrounds we have been to, this one has to be the most outstanding and we were sad to only be staying one night. We had just enough time to go for a walk before the light began to fade and, as we strolled along, we were surprised and delighted to discover our campground was also a WW2 coastal battery defence site.

You may have seen the bunkers on the news a short while ago, with their beautifully painted murals of the people who served there. It was an enjoyable, educational and poignant walk through history, and we would have stayed longer had darkness not begun to fall.

Time for a hike

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Check out the view from the entrance to Taylors Mistake campground

Waking to the alarm at 5am the next morning, I sat up in bed and smiled to see there was just enough light to glimpse the ocean out of our van windscreen. If only we had the time to stay longer. But we were due on the film set at 5.45am and so we wound our way back over the hills to Taylors Mistake where the cameras began to roll as soon as the sun came up. 

The filming took most of the day but we had so much fun with presenter Andrew McCombe and our new friend Margaret as camera assistant. We look forward to seeing the episode later in the year.

We already had our next camping spot planned at Chamberlains Ford but the sun was still high in the sky and, with filming done, there was no need to rush, so we set out on the adjacent beach walk from Taylors Mistake out to Godley Head.

It was a good hike, but the coastal path was well maintained and the views were incredible and ever-changing. The track goes right up and through the Godley Head campsite but, seeing as we had already come from there, we turned around and headed back to our van.

Not long after, we were parked up at Chamberlain’s Ford, relaxing at last. With scores of other campers all around, it was a vast difference from the solitary night before. But make no mistake – we will go back to Taylors Mistake just as soon as we can, and next time we will explore every inch of this unique and historic place. 

More information

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I might be scared of heights but this sheep wasn’t!

Keen to really get away from it all? Camp at Godley Head. Here are a few things to know before you go.

Book ahead of time

The best way to book your spot is online, using a link from the CamperMate app, or you can book from the Christchurch Visitor Centre. There is also a caretaker on site. Price is $15 per adult, per night – we can vouch it is worth every cent.

Getting there

There is a security gate at the entrance to the campground. Campers are given an entry code when booking. The road there is sealed but is narrow, with sharp corners and steep drops. Drive with care.

Walk or bike

There are many places to walk from the campground and there is also a mountain bike track, which descends to Taylors Mistake beach.

Choosing your spot

The campsite is exposed to wind and bad weather, so if the forecast looks dodgy, park up in one of the sheltered areas. On a fine day however, there’s no better place to be.

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