Hillside a world away from worry

Waipori Falls Village has no letterboxes, no shops, no service station and no street names. More importantly for Christchurch couple Jon and Lynette Barfoot, it has no earthquakes.

The couple bought their holiday home five years ago and look forward to their trips south even more since Christchurch's earthquakes began more than a year ago.

Their Woolston ownership flat is still liveable but has sunk on its foundations and has about $7000 worth of damage to repair - provided there are no more big earthquakes to come.

At their holiday home they can leave the tremors and the tension behind.

"People in Christchurch are scared. It's horrible - everyone has been on edge. It is nice to come here. It's so peaceful, and there are no rumbles," Mr Barfoot said.

"We sleep very well here, but it takes a two to three days for us to feel completely relaxed," Mrs Barfoot added.

The village 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.

The Dunedin City Council bought the power scheme and the village in 1907, selling the village about 15 years ago and the power scheme to TrustPower in 1998.

Just a 60km drive from Dunedin, the village seems a whole world away.

Once motorists have turned off the wide-open Taieri Plain the unsealed Waipori Falls Rd follows the river, twisting and turning amid towering native trees and bush.

At this time of year the manuka trees are in flower, their branched tipped with white like a frosting of snow.

Swaths of hillside are covered with a carpet of another white flower - unfortunately, not a native bloom but the weed convolvulus. Roadside foxgloves and a brilliant red climber provide splashes of colour.

In the village itself there is little to hear except the occasional vehicle, the songs of tuis, bellbirds and fantails and the swoosh of low-flying wood pigeons. And that is just the way the Barfoots like it.

"It's a pretty unique part of the world. Where else are you going to find a place like this where the homes are affordable?" Mrs Barfoot said.

They first drove through the village about 20 years ago. Mrs Barfoot was immediately drawn to it as the road in reminded her of Waitua, the tiny gold-mining town on the West Coast where her mother was raised. But that visit to Waipori was memorable for all the wrong reasons.

"It was a scary sort of place. There were monks here running a yoga retreat. Then we saw a guy dressed in black ..."

"Dressed head to toe in black," Mr Barfoot added.

They never did find out who the man was or why he was dressed in black but decided Waipori was not for them.

Fast forward 15 years.

The Barfoots had sold their Christchurch home, travelled extensively through Europe and were back in Christchurch living temporarily in a housebus. Browsing the internet one day, they saw their holiday home for sale and decided to buy it.

It is a decision they have not regretted. They spend their days walking, swimming, relaxing and watching and listening to the birdlife. Mr Barfoot also kayaks on the river.

Inside the house they enjoy a view of the Crystal Waterfall from their front rooms. There is a spa bath for relaxing in and two heat pumps and a log fire to ward off winter chills.

The couple also tend their garden, which quickly goes wild between visits.

But Mr Barfoot said they did not worry too much about having a pristine garden.

"There is always something to do. But when we've had enough we park up and have a couple of wines. We can always do the rest tomorrow."

What to do at Waipori

• Picnic at some of the many riverside picnic spots in the Waipori Scenic Reserve.
• Swim at some of the many water holes.
• Kayak.
• Walk the easy 20min track from the Waipori Reserve by the main power station to the Crystal Waterfall viewing point.
• Tramp or mountain-bike the 7km Government Track, a rough 19th-century dray path above the Waipori River Gorge.
• Look for the start of the track to the right off Waipori Falls Rd, about 5km from Henley-Berwick Rd. The Government Track continues over the hills towards Lake Mahinerangi but walkers or bikers can also take an offshoot public track which leads to Waipori Falls Village.
• Fish the Waipori River or Lake Mahinerangi, 15km away from the village.
• Relax and enjoy the bush and birdlife. As well as numerous native birds, a flock of pretty Australian rosella parakeets lives in the scenic reserve.
• Hunt pigs.