It's a community with a holiday population of a couple of
hundred people, few of them are related, but all treat each
other like close family. Reporter John Lewis takes a look at
one of Otago's most popular holiday haunts, Toko Mouth.
Toko Mouth is a village where the rules of normal
civilisation seem to have been swept out to sea.
Take the dogs, for instance. They seem to be everywhere,
roaming the streets without leads, free and easy.
It's a reflection of life there - humans included.
People greet strangers like long-lost friends, lend fishing
equipment, and share beers around a barbecue while spinning
yarns about the year gone by.
Milton couple Ron and Helen Pierce have holidayed at a crib
at Toko Mouth for the past 30 years, and lived permanently
there for four of those years.
It's the friends they have made there over the years that
keep them coming back.
''Even if we only see our neighbours once a year, they are
like long-lost family to us,'' Mrs Pierce said.
''Rekindling friendships is a big part of why we come here
each year. It's such a friendly place.''
There's not much to do but ''pig out and relax'', she says.
The beach is less than 100m from their crib but Mrs Pierce
warns it is not safe for swimming or surfing, given the
Mr Pierce says the shallow waters of the docile Tokomairiro
River mouth that meander past the village are perfect for
paddling and great for fishing - especially sea-run trout and
Seals and sea lions frequent the beach and occasionally a
yellow-eyed penguin is spotted.
Despite being only 15km southeast of Milton, Toko Mouth
appears isolated from civilisation because the gravel road to
and from the village is filled with potholes and severely
It's a notoriously rough road - so much so, someone with a
sense of humour has erected a road sign warning ''judder bars
ahead'' as you leave Toko Mouth. There are no judder bars as
city folk know them.
The locals say the road gets flooded a lot, being so close to
the river, and it can be closed from time to time.
Mrs Pierce says it adds to the appeal of the place.
They've got running water, electricity, television, a land
line, even a flushing loo.
And if they need a couple of ''emergency'' grocery items,
they can pop along to a small window-less building on the
corner, otherwise known as the Toko Mouth Shop, which is open
for about an hour and-a-half a day during the holiday season.
Mrs Pierce says if they don't have what you need, someone in
the village will have it spare and be only too happy to share
A crib at the end of the road has a big sign hanging above
the front door saying: ''Didyabringabeer''.
Then there's Mark and Sue Kingipotiki, of Balclutha.
When we first pull up to their tent, which is sagging under
the weight of the squally showers, Mr Kingipotiki says: ''I'm
not telling you nothing because the more that people find out
about this place, the more that will come flooding in.
''It's a terrible place. It rains a lot,'' he says with an
''You wouldn't like it.''
Then he giggles and offers us a beef and bacon burger that he
is making on the barbecue for lunch.
He says he and his wife decided to ignore the heavy rain
warnings issued for the better part of two weeks and go
camping in a tent with seven grandchildren for a week.
Some would say it's crazy. Mr Kingipotiki says it's an
''It's great for the kids. It keeps them away from
Playstation and all that other electronic stuff.
''There's no cellphone coverage out here.
''They can get out and play a bit of cricket, explore the
hills and play with other kids. Or if it's raining, like it
is today, they can play board games or cards.''
Farming has always been important in the area and today
sheep, beef cattle and dairy cows live side by side with
extensive forestry plantings, the basis for a growing
silviculture and sawmilling industry.
Those who have lived in the village or holidayed there for
decades say the original village consisted of just a few
cribs on the banks of the Tokomairiro River, which were
surrounded mostly by swampland.
When the river began to erode the banks in the 1930s, the
Bruce County Council took sand from further up the
Tokomairiro River and used it to fill in the swampy area,
giving the crib owners a place to relocate their buildings.
Mr Pierce said none of the owners relocated. Instead, new
cribs were built on the reclaimed land and the population of
Toko Mouth grew almost overnight.
''I've been here 30 years. There were 50 cribs when I first
came here. Now there's about 80.''
These days, the village is administered by the Toko Mouth
Crib Owners' Committee. Mr Pierce has been the treasurer for
the past 25 years.
He says the committee is important to keep some semblance of
order in the community.
Regulars in the village say it's a case of ''fit in or forget