Tranquillity the lure

Having visiting the area since he was a boy, Dunedin man Bryan Young reckons Maniototo settlement Patearoa is the perfect place to relax and unwind off the beaten track.

Nestled against the lower slopes of the Rock and Pillar Range, Patearoa, originally known as Sowburn, was founded on gold. Mud-brick buildings, an old store and library, diggings and the remnants of a Chinese mining settlement all provide evidence of its history.

Mr Young, who bought a piece of land in the township with his wife about five years ago, reckons the quietness of the spot is one of the reasons it is such a great place to come and holiday.

Because it was ''off the beaten track'' people visited Patearoa only because they wanted to and not because they were passing through. This meant there was never much traffic - which was exactly the way Mr Young liked it.

''If you stand here long enough and just listen, you don't hear any man-made noise.''

Buying a section in Patearoa was a homecoming of sorts for Mr Young as he had spent his boyhood years holidaying just down the road.

''My father was a farming insurance agent and we used to come to Stonehenge, which is down the valley a bit further, and stay in their shearer's cottage.''

In the days when he first started coming to the area - about 40 years ago - the Patearoa store, which has now been restored as a holiday house, was still in operation.

Asked if it had changed much since then he said: ''No it's still a sleepy hollow ... and hopefully it will stay that way.''

The family section was ''just brilliant - there's lots of trees around, it's sheltered, it's protected from the roads'', he said.

Dotted among the trees and grass of the section, like many others in the area, are also many varieties of gooseberry, ranging from those with dark red fruit to those with yellow ones and others with green fruit with spikes.

Mr Young said the fruit could be traced back to a gooseberry farm run by a Chinese man not far from the settlement in the late 19th century or early 20th century.

Since buying the section they had slowly improved it, getting the grass - which was once higher than their waists - under control, installing a gas-powered hot-water cylinder for an outside shower and bath and putting in two small dwellings''We were able to obtain a little hut locally and move it on site and last year we built the other one from a kitset.''

They came up from Dunedin as often as every second weekend except for in the winter, when it was bitterly cold.

One of the best things about the spot was the fact Patearoa was less than two hours' drive from Dunedin, meaning the couple could come up for day trips.

There was also plenty to do when there, with a swimming hole just down the road and another one a short walk away at Dyke's Dam, where there was also the remnants of an old Chinese gold-mining settlement.

The old school swimming pool was also kept up to scratch and holiday-makers, or ''cribbies'' as the locals called them, could visit as often as they liked for a $25 fee.

''Cribbies'' could also join the local golf club for a reduced fee or make use of the town's historic library, which was staffed by volunteers during the holiday period.

Mr Young and his wife were among the holiday-makers who volunteered at the small library building, which opened in the 19th century. Mr Young said Patearoa was a superb place to relax, do nothing and enjoy the quietness and the view, whether that was during the day or at night, looking up at the stars.

''If it's really fine it's just wall-to-wall stars. You just don't get that in town,'' he said.

The community spirit was also strong in Patearoa and holiday-makers and locals got on well together.

''The farmers and so on put on a barbecue down at the hall and they invite all the cribbies that come here, just to keep it happy and keep in with everybody.''

There was also an annual ''crockery Bob'' sale, where both locals and holiday-makers sold second-hand goods, the proceeds going to the local community.

Mr Young said they would continue coming back to the spot and adding to their section.

''We are toying with the idea of putting a small cottage in here at some stage.''