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Papatowai is a small village in the heart of The Catlins. It’s here you’ll find Blair Somerville at the rustic Lost Gypsy Curios and Coffee.

An artist, Blair created this gallery and theatre experience from the ground up. He wanted an oxy-moronic title.  Something people would remember. 

“I was looking for cheap land. I found this section and moved my big old house bus here.  I just started making stuff and never stopped.  It’s probably better than what I expected when I first turned up.”

Because a lot of his work is made from natural materials, it’s an experience that reflects his environment and makes people feel comfortable.

“I take off on so many tangents.  I try and use recycled materials and I love movement. I think people respond to movement.  You see something moving and it’s just wired into your brain. For me movement is life, especially things that flow, like waves.”

Before settling in Papatowai, he spent about 12 years in his house truck mostly travelling around the South Island.

“I had a nice wee career doing ceramics and things, selling at markets, but you look for that place you can make your stand.  Grandad was living down this way running a school camp, so we used to have holidays here.  He was probably the main reason I drifted here.”

Blair considers himself a sort of stuck gypsy now. It suits him just fine. Being on the water in the Catlins is what gives him his sense of freedom.

“You’re sort of in the back blocks but still on a scenic route so there’s people coming through.  During winter you’ll walk the beach and be the only one there.  Your mind just has a few less distractions. 

“It’s just you, kind of battling the ocean, making the ocean your friend and trying to learn it.  It’s always different.  It’s just magic.”

It’s this affinity with the ocean that saw him take up surfing at 38.

“My friend has the surf school and he offered me lessons. I thought ‘right, once I’m finished this top place, I’ll have time’.  I’m pleased I did. I was instantly hooked.  The moment you catch your first wave, you’re desperate for the second and the third.  I just love getting out there and it’s fantastic for your fitness. 

“Papatowai is the big wave spot, way too big for me but I love watching.  I get nervous watching! It’s pretty well known. We’ve had the occasional Aussie flying over for the big swell just to surf at Papatowai on the big stuff.  Christchurch guys come down.  Dunedin guys pretty regularly.

Blair’s message for people thinking of visiting?

“Come on down for a breather. Just a slow walk in the bush, try and clear the mind, come across a view. It really is just some sort of therapy.”

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