After three days in Invercargill we hit the road again, taking SH99 down to Riverton – a place we had visited briefly on our previous trip when we passed through on our way to the cute sounding Monkey Island. After a few false starts (no room at the Golf Club, and not feeling comfortable at another POP in town) we went with Plan C and pulled into the Riverton Racing Club for the night. Plenty of room here, power available, water, toilets, friendly campers, and dare I say it, a washing machine – oh joy!!
At the Riverton Racing Club
After lunch we decided to explore this delightful town. And they don’t call it Riviera of the South for nothing. It was a lovely summers day and the beaches were crowded, it looked like all of Riverton was out enjoying the good weather, and they must have invited all their friends from outside the area as well. Cars were parked every which way by the beaches (there were several) as people surfed, paddled in the water, and lounged about on their towels. We have never seen a road sign like this before.
Fun at Taramea Beach
We continued along Rocks Highway to the Howell’s Point, which was just as crowded with people. Not in the water, but checking out the waves, climbing over the rocks, and taking photos.
Waves on the rocks at Howell’s Point
Back in town we walked along the lookout which gave good views over the estuary,and the hillside houses across the river. People were out on their small craft enjoying a sunny day’s sailing. This was a very popular piece of engineering with visitors coming and going.
Views over the estuary
The rather insignificant pieces of wood sticking up in the estuary are known as a “Compass Dolphin” and had a very important part to play in the early days. A ship was moored to the dolphin and eight compass bearings were taken at regular intervals on fixed points, as the ship was moved around and the bearings noted. These were totaled with the average producing the correct magnetic bearing.
Riverton Compass Dolphin
Captain John Howell is known as the Father of Riverton, and a large memorial honours him near the spot on the Aparimu River where he landed in 1835 to set up a whaling station. The downturn in whaling led to the abandonment of the station about 1850, and Howell then built the 130 ton Amazon, with which he traded between New Zealand, Tahiti and California. In 1853 he landed 500 sheep, the first in Southland; cattle were also imported. He also introduced rabbits – with the best of intentions. As a child back in England he had known the punishment meted out to rabbit poachers. Determined that the settlement would enjoy this rich man's fare, he brought a number of rabbits from Australia and released them on an island near Jacobs River.
Riverton is a lovely little town, full of cafes and shops along the main street, and seems quite a bustling little place. The good weather certainly added to the happy vibes we got as we traveled along the coast, checking out the pretty beaches and further around, the rugged rocky coastline. Added to that, it is a place steeped in history as these coastal towns often are, with whaling, flax milling, gold mining and farming all adding layers to the story of the region.