Kaitangata - is it worth the hype?

Kaitangata is about 10km south-east of Balclutha, and sits on the Clutha River delta. Photo / Otago Daily Times
Kaitangata is about 10km south-east of Balclutha, and sits on the Clutha River delta. Photo / Otago Daily Times

Driving into Kaitangata, you would never guess you were in a town which, over the space of a week, has gone from being little known outside Otago to an unlikely international media darling.

An inversion layer holds a wispy layer of smog over houses nestled against the Clutha River and not far from the South Otago coast.

The town's rural setting is appealing, but no-one would claim it was among the most beautiful places in the world.

But you don't have to dig far under the surface to find a town with a strong heart, while locals will tell you it is a town on the way up, with plenty of employers crying out for workers.

Since the story went viral last week, more than 10,000 people from as far afield as Libya, Sudan and the United States have taken an interest in moving to the settlement, which is home to about 800 people.

The locals already knew there was something special about "Kai'', but after all the attention they are more than happy to share what until last week had been a well-kept secret.

Joyce Beck, described by Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan as the "engine room'' behind the Kai community, said the attention was "unreal'' and had created a buzz around the town.

The town's strong community spirit made it special, Beck said.

"If anything happens in the town, they are all there to support you.
"It is not unusual to take in the neighbour's washing, [residents can] leave doors unlocked and have a chat over the fence.

"That just doesn't happen in the city.''

This was appealing to people at a time of global uncertainty.
Many of those making inquiries were New Zealanders living in the United Kingdom, who had been spooked by the Brexit vote.

The town's getting off its arse ... there is a good vibe.
Kaitangata farmer Evan Dick

Earlier today the Council was forced to put a message on its website clarifying that it would not be paying people to move to Kaitangata.

Shopkeeper Neville Twaddle, who calls his customers by their first names, said everyone was talking about the town's newfound fame.

As a result of the headlines, the shop received a phone call from someone in France looking for a job, he said.

Twaddle said the locals knew they had it good before the rest of the world caught on "but it was a well-kept secret. It's a friendly town.''

Now the secret was out, he did not mind sharing it with a few more people.
"As long as there is not too many broke Aucklanders coming down,'' he joked.

Kaitangata resident Joyce Beck. Photo / Linda Robertson
Kaitangata resident Joyce Beck. Photo / Linda Robertson

Kaitangata farmer Evan Dick, who came up with the plan to package sections and houses to entice people to the town, hoped at first to attract maybe 10 families.

The level of interest had amazed him and reminded locals how lucky they were.
"I don't think we realise what we have got here.''

Dick, like everyone else who spoke to the Otago Daily Times, loves his home town, which, he said, had something over the big cities in Europe.

"There's more harmony here; there is friction over there, you can feel it.''

The idea to attract more people to the town came just as it was gaining traction, with a new skate park and BMX track and an agreement to build a community centre at the local Presbyterian church.

"The town's getting off its arse ... there is a good vibe.''

Attracting more people would make some of the clubs and institutions more viable and bring vibrancy to the town.

Skatepark development group chairman Dallas Storer at Kaitangata skate park. Photo / Linda Robertson
Skatepark development group chairman Dallas Storer at Kaitangata skate park. Photo / Linda Robertson

Wheelchair-bound Dallas Storer, the brains behind Kaitangata's recently completed skate park and neighbouring BMX track, invited those intrigued by the headlines to experience the town's "old school'', laid-back lifestyle.

"I love the place, just how it is,'' Storer said.

Pretty much everyone knew each other, which made it easy to get things done.

"Like for the skate park and the BMX track, you just have to pick up the phone or text someone and say 'look, this is what I want to do' and half a dozen guys will rock up and it will be done.''

The skate park was now packed with children on the weekends and every day after school.

"Except Thursday. Thursday's rugby practice.''

- Otago Daily Times

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