Quiet haven for families

A short drive past lupins and cabbage trees, beyond a stone fence chicane is Purakaunui, a settlement just over the hill from Dunedin, but ''a million miles away''.

Scattered dinghies surround the Purakaunui inlet, banked beside vibrant boat sheds contrasting with the deep green bush, hiding the humble cribs. '

When Dunedin resident Sandy Garner was asked why she and her husband bought a crib in Purakaunui a couple of years ago, she turned to the view of the inlet and opened her arms.

''Because it's a joy. It's just over the hill but it's a million miles away.''

Swimming in the ''incredibly warm'' inlet was enjoyable but she said bathers should wear shoes for protection from the sharp cockle shells underfoot.

There was no rip in the inlet so it was safe for children to swim, she said.

Husband Anthony Ritchie said the family missed the New Year's Eve bonfire at the car park at Purakaunui inlet but contributed some cuttings from their garden for the annual burning. Wood pigeons, tui and bellbirds were regular visitors to their garden, he said.

On their deck, Mr Ritchie was helping daughter Annabelle Ritchie (14) decorate a dinghy with a ''hobbit theme'' to enter in the festival at Purakaunui today.

Mr Ritchie said all the decorated dinghies floated down the inlet to judges who waded out in the water for a closer inspection.

The festival included a gumboot throw, a sausage sizzle and a ''chin-wag'' with the residents and holiday-makers at Purakaunui, who ranged in occupation from lawyer to luthier, he said.

Cellphone coverage came to Purakaunui about a month ago, which was a good thing, but they had no television at their crib, Mr Ritchie said.

However, their crib had a flush toilet, which was a luxury item in Purakaunui where many cribs had long-drops, he said. Dunedin resident Nigel Barrett has been coming tohis parents' ''tucked-away'' crib in Purakaunui for as long ashe can remember. The hamlet was the same as when he was a boy, he said. Now he brought his children Bradley (9), Alice (7), and Matthew (4).

His parents, Rodger and Judith Barrett, trained for the Routeburn Track by walking around Purakaunui with packs weighted with full water bottles, Nigel said.

There were many walks in the region, suitable for different fitness levels, but exercising was never the priority at Purakaunui, he said.

Other than taking the children out in the dinghy fishing, or sailing, the main activity was ''as little as possible,'' Nigel said.

''We don't spend as much time out here as we'd like.''

Dunedin resident Summer Cheng came out to Purakaunui with her mother Ri Feng Mu, who was visiting from Northern China.

They dug for cockles from the inlet but intended to return their collection to the water, she said.

A sign at the inlet states a daily bag of 50 cockles can be taken. Retiree Colin Simon (65), of Christchurch, decided to stay the night in Purakaunui after hearing about the beauty of the settlement when working for builders in Canterbury.

He and his wife Glenys (64) retired and had set out on a South Island tour in their campervan.

They looked around Purakaunui before parking for the night.

''We had to come and have a look, because the boys were always talking about it.''

Population: 40 permanent residents and 20 crib owners.
Drive: About 25 minutes from Dunedin.
In the township: A few B&Bs and a 140-year-old fisherman's cottage on the water's edge for rent.
Attractions: Walking, bird-watching, kayaking, swimming, surfing, fishing and yachting.
Events: The New Year's Eve bonfire and a fun day today with family activities including a sack race, chocolate wheel and boat decorating competition.

- shawn.mcavinue@odt.co.nz

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