World Famous in New Zealand: Lost Gypsy Gallery, Papatowai

Last updated 05:00 19/03/2017
Mary-Jo Tohill

Artist Blair Somerville on the steps of converted bus, which he turned into The Lost Gypsy gallery, at Papatowai

Pamela Wade
Expect the unexpected in Lost Gypsy Gallery, Papatowai.
Pamela Wade
Working away on the next wonderful and curious project at the Lost Gypsy Gallery.
Mary-Jo Tohill
Converted bus a the The Lost Gypsy gallery, Papatowai.
Pamela Wade
Explore all the quirky gadgets and gizmos that have cleverly been made from found objects.
Pamela Wade
The Waipapa Point lighthouse, built in after the country's worst civilian shipping disaster when the steamer Tararua sank in 1881.

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At Papatowai, tucked away in the Catlins south of Dunedin, is a green house truck that's the studio of artist-craftsman-tinkerer extraordinaire Blair Somerville.

Alongside is a garden to wander through and explore all the quirky automata, wind-up and water-driven gadgets and gizmos that he has cleverly made from found objects — shells, toys, coins, wood, watches, wire — each guaranteed to make you smile with delight.

Read more:
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Where else could you find a bicycle-powered television, or turn a wheel to make a corrugated iron whale go through its swimming motions?

You'll view abandoned jandals and even lolly wrappers differently after seeing the fun and unexpected uses that Blair has put them to. Everywhere you look there are jokes and surprises.

Sit under an old-fashioned hair dryer and hear a kakapo; wind the handle of the Rare Brush-Tailed Box; make sinister rusty tentacles flail out in the garden. Are you brave enough to flush the toilet? And you've never heard a piano like this one.


Don't rush through to the garden: make sure you follow the route of the toy train in the truck all the way round to see what it sets off; and afterwards treat yourself to an excellent coffee in the cafe.


So many delights are hidden in the Catlins! There's the cute and classic Waipapa Point lighthouse, built after the country's worst civilian shipping disaster when the steamer Tararua sank in 1881.

There are idiosyncratic little museums: Owaka has the scariest doll, in a possum fur fright wig; and at Waikawa, all the signs are hand-lettered.

You can do a boat tour near here, surfing out of the river and around to Porpoise Bay to meet the pods of friendly little Hector's dolphins with their cute Mickey Mouse-ear dorsal fins.

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Next door is Curio Bay, where a fossilised forest can be seen at low tide: stone tree stumps 180 million years old. Rare yellow-eyed penguins nest here, and also along at Nugget Point, where another lighthouse high above a cluster of photogenic rocks in the sea is an Instagram favourite.

There's Slope Point, New Zealand's southernmost point, where the South Pole is closer than the Equator and all the trees have dramatic leans.

Cathedral Caves are a must, even if you do have to wade to get into them: soaring, airy and spectacular. There are lakes, bush walks and waterfalls – even our own Niagara. And all along the wild and windswept coast are sea lions, bulky and lumbering.


Entry to the gallery is just $5 but there is an R13 limit in place – those tempting automata need treating with more respect than excited littlies can be trusted to exercise.


Closed on Wednesdays, the gallery is open 10am to 5pm during summer — when this beautiful and tucked-away bit of New Zealand is still quiet, apart from in-the-know European tourists who are shamefully more clued-in than your average Kiwi. See the

- Stuff


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