As my regular readers know, my boyfriend and I recently spent ten days in Dunedin. It’s a brilliant place, but due to my boyfriend’s mountain of coursework we didn’t get to explore quite as much of it as we would have wanted. We did manage to get a few days of exploring in, however, due to the fact that we were able to borrow his brother’s car. I do suggest hiring a vehicle to explore the outskirts of Dunedin, either an NZ car hire or NZ campervan hire, as buses out of the city are not very frequent.
I have to tell you about the day we drove out to Lake Waihola.
The weather was quite cold and windy, but wonderfully sunny. We had to pick my boyfriend’s brother up from Dunedin International Airport (I know, International – I was surprised at that too) in the afternoon, so we decided in the morning to check out Lake Waihola, which is just a bit further on from the airport, in Dunedin’s backwaters. It sounded nice, I mean, it was a lake. We thought we’d take a picnic.
Thing is, we didn’t have a water bottle, so my boyfriend – ever the inventive type – washed out a milk bottle and filled that with water. (In New Zealand, milk bottles aren’t glass, they’re plastic with handles.) Also, we didn’t really have anything picnic-y in the fridge. We had a bag of peanuts, but it was the sort of bag that tends to split when you open it and we didn’t have any other containers… so my boyfriend put them in a cooking pot.
Thus we set out for Lake Waihola. We drove past the airport and into an increasingly swampish landscape. There are two lakes around there, Lake Waihola and Lake Waipori, and an area called the Sinclair Wetlands, which is a haven for birdwatchers. We also saw a sign that said ‘Waipori Falls’ and thought, “Ooh, waterfalls. We’ll have to stop there on the way back.”
When we arrived, we discovered that Waihola was a small town – well a village, really – with a holiday park by the lakeside. As for lake itself…
It was normal. Disappointingly normal. I mean it was still pretty, but not for the South Island. In the South Island, you come to expect every natural feature to be awe-inspiringly beautiful. Lake Waihola just wasn’t.
Ah well. It was nice enough in its own way. It had a playground and a slide in the water – obviously a place locals came with their kids in the summer. We saw a pair of teenage girls walking along the lake front (wearing short shorts, so clearly local, as in accustomed to the cold) and eating ice-creams. So, naturally, we wanted ice-creams too. In pursuit of that goal, we headed to the lake front dairy.
(In New Zealand, a dairy is not just a farm with cows, it’s a corner shop or convenience store. I once told some friends back in England that I was popping to the dairy to get some milk and they thought if New Zealanders needed milk, they simply walked down the road and milked a cow.)
We walked into the dairy. Now, heaps of places that do ice-cream in New Zealand will offer you a choice of a normal cone or a more expensive waffle cone – it’s not uncommon. My boyfriend casually asked the lady behind the counter if she had any waffle cones and the look she gave him…
She paused, her face frozen in a sneer of surprise and disgust, and then said in a voice heavy with disdain, “You’re in New Zealand.”
I almost laughed, but I was too shocked. I wasn’t at all miffed that there weren’t any waffle cones. I wanted to say, “No, we’re in Waihola,” and ask if she’d ever left it, but refrained. My boyfriend was quite put out at being treated like a rich, ignorant tourist asking for caviar. He’s from Auckland. Now, people from the rest of New Zealand often regard Aucklanders as snobs, calling them Jafas (JAFA = Just Another F**king Aucklander), but, as my boyfriend emphatically pointed out as we left the dairy, he’s a West Aucklander, which is a whole world of difference.
If you’ve ever seen the hit Kiwi show Outrageous Fortune, they’re Westies. Or the fantastically funny New Zealand film Savage Honeymoon. They’re basically all pot-smoking, ex-hippy alcoholics with a penchant for goods that have fallen off the back of a truck. Come harvest time, police helicopters scour the West looking for patches of weed. But the best folks you could ever hope to party with.
When we’d finished our ice-creams, my boyfriend proceeded to drink his water out of his old milk bottle and he felt much better for it.
There wasn’t much else to do at Lake Waihola, so we got back in the car and headed back towards the airport, turning off down the road that pointed to Waipori Falls. The thing is we never found Waipori Falls.
We were on the right road – we were sure of it – an unsealed road that snaked up into the hills, through the bush and along the side of the Waipori River. A road that got more windy, more narrow and more on the edge of a cliff. We drove and we drove and we drove. Through a tunnel of trees that dappled the road with sunlight. Nothing. We drove. A huge silo. A hazard sign. We joked that we were entering a super villain’s secret lair. We drove some more. Still no sign of any waterfalls.
More sinister-looking buildings. We’d been driving along this narrow, windy, unsealed road at the top of a cliff for over half an hour now. Where were these bloody waterfalls?
We soon realised that we had to abandon our quest, or we’d leave a certain someone waiting angrily at the airport, so we turned around (with difficultly) and headed back. At least we’d come across one or two scenic lookouts over the river. We resolved to solve the mystery of Waipori Falls later with the aid of Google Maps.
Upon doing so, we were forced to discard our theory that a super villain was hiding in the hills beyond Dunedin. The sinister structures had in fact been, as our more sensible selves had suspected, a hydro power station. And Waipori Falls was not a secluded collection of waterfalls, it was a village: a village that, according to a 2012 Otago Daily Times article, has “no letterboxes, no shops, no service station and no street names” and consists of “33 houses nestled on hillsides.
“While there are one or two clusters of dwellings, most of the homes are situated far from their neighbours, separated by bush and a tangle of twisting roads. It was established by the Waipori Falls Company in 1902 to house workers building the company’s hydro electric generation scheme on the Waipori River, although most of the homes date from much more recent decades.” You can read the whole article here – go on, it’s interesting.
The bush around the village is a popular spot for pig hunting. You can also fish, kayak, watch birds, tramp and go mountain biking.
There is a waterfall at Waipori Falls, but it’s called Crystal Waterfall. The photos of it are very pretty. I wish we’d actually gotten to see it.
But then we might have been kidnapped and skinned by a reclusive serial killer.
Next week: our day on the Otago Peninsula, featuring a couple of funny stories and an abundance of gorgeous views.