Perfect place to escape to with children

Where children used to run around playing and laughing 100 years ago, there are once again children running around playing and laughing. As for the parents, well, they're just relaxing. Nigel Benson visits Camp Sutton.

Remember the days of the old school yard? We used to laugh a lot.

Well, school's back this summer and it is like the laughter never went away.

An old schoolhouse at Sutton has become the perfect holiday getaway for a group of Dunedin families.

"We'll get six or seven families here most years," John Fitzwilliam, of Dunedin, says.

"It's got good showers and cooking facilities and it's reasonably priced. But there's no clock, or tv or radio.

"Which reminds me: What's happening with the cricket?"

Sutton School opened in 1898 and for years had a consistent roll of 40 local children. Numbers slowly dwindled and the school was closed in 1958.

The original school gateway which the children used to walk through is now covered in vegetation and only one gatepost can still be seen.

In 1999, the school was redeveloped into an adventure camp by the Otago Youth Adventure Trust.

"It's the peace and quiet. It's so relaxing here. And you know the kids are safe, because it's all enclosed," Audrey Clarke, of Macandrew Bay, says.

Sutton sits on the Taieri River, just below the Strath Taieri Plain, and to the east of the mighty Rock and Pillar Range.

The Sutton Railway Station is 100m down the road and watches the Taieri Gorge Train whizz by.

"We get most of our stuff, like the kids' bikes, delivered by the train to Pukerangi," Mr Fitzwilliam says.

The M. Wilson Bike Track, named after local Merv Wilson, was recently added behind the old school.

"There's lots and lots for the kids to do," Rosslyn Guthrie, of Andersons Bay, says.

"They go to the Middlemarch School pool every day and on bike rides and there's the adventure playground and walks ... they just love it here."

A group of five children was busy organising an evening talent show for the adults in the school hall when the Otago Daily Times visited.

"Solo and group acts" a hand-made poster advertised.

Sutton was named after an early identity, Mr Sutton, so long ago that nobody remembers his first name.

Its best known local landmark is New Zealand's only inland salt lake, imaginatively named Salt Lake, which has water about half as salty as seawater.

The 8ha lake is in a reserve administered by the Department of Conservation and is a popular stroll for Sutton residents and visitors.

Other tramps include "The Crater" and the top of the imposing 1450m Rock and Pillar Range.

Sutton receives about half the 1000mm annual rainfall of coastal Otago, due to the rainshadow effect of the surrounding hills.

The fertile surrounding farmland is still garnished with defiant clumps of native bush, which used to cover the plain and surrounding hills, dotted among the schist rock landscape.

- nigel.benson@odt.co.nz


Sutton

- Sutton is a farming settlement on the Strath-Taieri Plain, an hour northwest of Dunedin.

- Drive to Outram and take SH87, towards Middlemarch.

- The local salt lake tourist attraction is the only inland saltwater lake in New Zealand.

- There is a 3.5km loop walk from Sutton to the lake and back, which takes about an hour.

- The lake is home to many waterfowl, including the white-faced heron, black swan, paradise duck, mallard, New Zealand shoveller, pied oyster-catcher and southern black-backed gull.

- The Taieri Gorge Train passes through Sutton and the Otago Central Rail Trail is also nearby.