Caring about Karitane
Astunning stretch of coast with sea lions and dolphins north of Dunedin has ADYSHANNONWANTING more of it.
If there is ever a constant on the east coastline of the South Island, it is the unpredictability of the weather. At Karitane, a small coastal settlement near the mouth of the Waikouaiti River, the contrast from my previous visit two years ago is huge. Last time it was cold, wet, wild and windy. This time, although overcast, it’s calm and mild.
On both occasions I have seen sea lions basking on the shore and dolphins off the shore. This relatively unknown scenic coastline 35 kilometres north of Dunedin and just a few kilometres off the state highway is fiercely impressive. But regardless of the weather, the small stretch of Otago peninsula is an idyllic retreat.
The name is synonymous with child health services in New Zealand, thanks to the efforts of Sir Truby King, an English psychiatrist and paediatrician, who settled in the area in the early 1900s. Appalled by our nation’s infant mortality rates, Dr King pioneered a new style of infant care and started a dedicated hospital for mothers and babies at Karitane. The concept introduced nationally was the forerunner to the Plunket Society.
By the turn of the 20th century, Karitane, with its fine white/grey sand, was popular with Dunedin people seeking a beachside sojourn. Fast forward to today and that restful, fishing-village ambience seems mostly unchanged.
During December and January the resident population of 300 swells with holidaymakers attracted by the atmosphere and superb kayaking, swimming, surfing and fishing.
The sheltered semi-circular bay can easily be missed, but beyond the estuary are signs directing passing traffic to the spectacular coastline. The area is rich in Maori history. At the northern end of the bay, a road leads to Huriawa Historic Reserve, site of Chief Te Wera pa. The outcrop of land was returned to Ngai Tahu in 1998 as part of the claims settlement and is jointly managed by the Department of Conservation and Ngai Tahu.
Well-defined tracks around the headland provide easy walking trails and offer superb views. Interpretive plaques on the tracks explain the legend of the area in poetic prose.
On either side of the main coast road, quaint and quirky holiday cribs neighbour grander houses.
Many places are available to rent, and accommodation options include large rambling farmhouses – ideal for big groups – to tiny ‘‘organic’’ baches more suited to one or two occupants.
The Karitane village store sells staple requirements, but a return to State Highway 1 is needed for petrol, liquor, coffee and takeaways.
If Karitane is booked out, Warrington provides an ideal alternative base to explore the region. Located 12km south of Karitane via the scenic Coastal Rd, the narrow winding route offers outstanding views as it criss-crosses the main rail line six times. Warrington features a stunning crescent-shaped beach popular with surfers and swimmers. The beach is patrolled by volunteer lifeguards every weekend through summer.
On grass-covered hills above the dunes, weather-beaten, weatherboard houses and humble holiday cribs sit among the lush green rural landscape.
I hope it won’t be two years until my next visit. This region is worthy of more frequent, and longer, stopovers.