The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha

By: Jill Malcolm

The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha
The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha
The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha The scenic route from Dunedin to Balclutha

Variety they say is the spice of life, which was why we took the road less travelled from Dunedin to Balclutha and avoided SH1.

It’s the Scenic Route and true to its name it winds up from the beachside suburb of St Clair Beach to a high hill overlooking an expanse of Pacific Ocean, and then plunges on a roller coaster course toward the coast and the wind-ruffled sea.

The hamlet of Waldronville spreads out in the shadow of a breast-shaped hill close to the Kaikorai Lagoon; a stretch of water protected from the ocean by a long sandbar. Looking like black question marks, numerous swans cruised its surface. There’s free parking in the Ocean View car park, and more in the Brighton Domain seven kilometres further south. Brighton’s beguiling setting and soft silver sand attracts a community of artists. We visited Karen Baddock in the Bluegum Gallery where she displays her charming paintings of native birds.

But one of the things Brighton is perhaps best known for is that James K Baxter spent his early life there and wrote of it:

"Small town of corrugated iron roofs
Between the low volcanic saddle
And off-shore reef where blue cod browse."

Not a lot seems to have changed.

From here, the road hugs a striking coastline that is buffed and brutalised by sou-wester winds. Windows between the fringes of toi toi and flax afforded us marvellous vistas of cliffs and brooding ocean. Gannets, glinting white against the bruised sky, plunged into the cold sea.

Around 30 kilometres on from Brighton we crossed over the Waipori River to reach the tiny fishing village of Taieri Mouth on its south bank. A disappointment awaited. On one of the wharfs here, we used to find the freshest fish in the South Island. On several occasions I’d watched the boat owner – who I only knew as Keith – filleting our dinner of blue cod in his boat with the sure-handed, rhythm of long practice. Now they are gone (they had other fish to fry) and so it seems has their licence. The boat harbour was deserted, save for a lone figure fishing at the end of a wharf. His name was Pete and in the two hours he’d been there, he’d caught nothing.

Beside him was a baby monitor and in his car, parked about fifteen metres away, snoozed his baby daughter.

"Don’t tell m’ wife," he grinned.

As far as fish dinner was concerned, we had to be content with memories. But the drive down this bit of the Scenic Highway will always be worth the diversion.

Jill Malcolm is a former editor of Motorhomes Caravans & Destinations and author of the Great Kiwi Motorhome Guide.

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