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Driving to Newhaven, a small township in the south of the Clutha district, makes an enjoyable, easy trip from Dunedin.
Once you pass the airport at Momona, the landscape quickly blends into something of a rural daydream, with bright blue skies providing a backdrop to rolling green hills, dotted with ambling sheep, cows and the odd grazing horse.
You would be forgiven for missing it.
An old ship bobs, skewed on an angle, at the water’s edge, giving the village the appearance of an old pirate bay, a feeling only compounded by the sight of the nautical ropes and anchors adorning gates and letterboxes.
Along the road to the township, which consists of several small family-run accommodation sites, cribs haphazardly dot the landscape, many of them weathered in a pleasant way by the sun and sea air.
Many of the cribs are often empty, predominantly used for get-away weekends and summer holidays.
Two of those residents are Jack and Ester Johnson, who run the Surat Bay Lodge, which sits at the end of Surat Bay Rd as it turns from gravel road into sandy beach.
As the name suggests, the four-bedroom lodge, perched on a small cliff, overlooks Surat Bay.
In fact, residents often recommend each other’s lodgings to overflow guests.
While in winter (and through Covid-19 lockdowns) the place can be as quiet as you might expect from a remote village with 10 residents, summer brings tourists in droves, Mrs Johnson says.
With no Starbucks in the vicinity, holidaymakers can refuel on coffee or hot chocolate from Mrs Johnson’s bright orange coffee cart, The Orange Roughy, just inside the gates of the lodge.
Newhaven, which is flanked by not only Surat but also Cannibal and Jacks Bays, has an interesting history, memorialised by the Johnsons with a plaque installed on Surat Rd, by their old property.
Surat Bay is named for the ship Surat, which was wrecked on its shores in 1874.
On New Year’s night in 1874, Surat was sailing into the bay, Mr Johnson says, when she ran afoul of a reef and began to take on water.
After futile attempts to patch up the hull using concrete powder, the captain decided to drop passengers on to the shore at Jacks Bay, before coming to rest at what would become Surat Bay.
A sign adorns the hill above the beach, pointing to where the shipwreck once lay. It has now rotted away completely.
A short walk along the shoreline, Surat Bay slowly becomes Cannibal Bay, which owes its name to the burnt human remains once found by a surveyor rather than to any man-eating past, at least, as far as we know, Mr Johnson says.
‘‘People who stay here always ask me if it’s safe to visit Cannibal bay,’’ he said with a grin, adding that the name conjured up imagery of man-eating locals running around there, lying in wait for unsuspecting tourists.
Though cannibals are rare, a major attraction for visitors is the wildlife, with sea lions abundant on Surat Bay, and yellow-eyed penguins nesting in nearby Jacks Bay.
Last year, seven whakahao, or Hooker’s sea lion pups, were born at Surat beach, under the watchful eye of Mrs Johnson.
She said there were times the animals would amble up from the beach on to the road to lounge in the sun.
Rather than try to move them, she would simply place road cones around the animals and let sleeping dogs — or sea lions — lie.