I am so lucky to live in this beautiful country. Whenever I get ‘itchy feet’ and wish to travel to some exotic location I do not have to leave the country. I just hop into my car and travel 30 short km west of my hometown of Invercargill and reach the old whaling town of Riverton. Since all our little towns and cities are not exactly in close proximity of each other, the drive alone is one of beauty.
The green pasture of farmland dominates the drive and almost seems never ending. Once you reach Riverton (also known as Aparima) and drive through the main street you can easily see why it was once referred to as ‘Southland’s Riviera’, in it’s heyday of the mid 1800’s it was a romantic town, colorful buildings and small streets. Remnants of which are still visible today as the town in well preserved. The St Mary’s Anglican Church was built in 1844 and is still in use for its Sunday parishioners.
The town was established by Captain John Howell as a whaling station about 1837, back then it was called ‘Jacob’s River’ and was one of New Zealand’s first established European settlements. The Pourakino River and Aparima River empty into Fouveaux Strait at Riverton, and in earlier days the town boasted flax-milling, sawmilling, gold mining and boat building.
Now Riverton is a mecca for artists and crafts people and has a population of around 1,900. Thankfully whaling is no longer practised in New Zealand and Kiwis have turned to fishing instead. Riverton’s main industry is now fishing. A walk along the shore will give you almost a feeling of stepping back in time with smaller fishing boats moored together, the smell of the salty sea air in your nose and the chatter of the seagulls. Riverton has plenty of businesses to cater for the modern tourist and locals alike. Restaurants, cafes, souvenir shops, supermarket plus local arts and crafts outlets tucked away in breath-taking scenery. You have a choice of beaches with spectacular coastal views, bush walks and off course the Riverton Rocks. Some of these rocks are truly big! Great whoppers they are.
If you are lucky you may even spot New Zealand Fur Seals, but as the locals will tell you, don’t get too close because these things are faster than they look. I have visited Riverton many times, always with a destination in mind, because there is so much to see and do, but each time I tend to linger and appreciate the very first location I get to. Hence I return quite often because although it’s a small town, the surrounding area is vast and I just can’t bring myself to rush around without really seeing everything.
I tend to take detours here and there, go off the ‘beaten track’ we call it here in New Zealand. I am quite nosey and now my ‘co-pilots’ don’t even look up strange when I turn down some unmarked road or don’t follow the signs along the road that point to the tourist spots. This has become such a natural occurrence for me that I get asked what is wrong with me if I happen to drive straight to where we are going! On one such occasion of going the wrong way (according to ‘the back seat drivers’ aka my children), we came to a very quiet beach with an odd looking ‘hill’. This ‘hill’ turned out to be “Monkey Island” where a slipway was built in the 1860’s, before there was a road to Riverton, where boats could unload their goods.
The Island in the middle of the inlet is accessible at low tide and there is now a walk way to the top with amazing views of the snow-capped mountains behind and the surrounding farmland. It is believed that ‘Monkey Island’ was used in earlier time by the local Maori as a look-out point.
It was so quiet when we arrived there that initially I thought we had strayed onto someone’s farmland (which wouldn’t be the first time for me). A perfect looking beach flanked by New Zealand Flax bushes, gentle waves lapping against the rocks and this ‘hill’ set against a back drop of the mountains – yes, that makes me want to go the ‘wrong’ way more often.
The strange ‘hill’ which is actually a small island called ‘Monkey Island’, Southland, New Zealand.
About the Author:
Monica Toretto is a writer, painter, photographer and blogger. She lives with her two young sons in Invercargill near Bluff. She has travelled widely in Canada and the US and worked as a veterinary technician before returning to New Zealand. Her work has appeared in several magazines in the UK and New Zealand. She has also authored a book of poetry and photography called ‘Words’.