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Early Maori were the first people to live and settle in Clutha attracted by the abundant fish found in the rivers and sea. They also ate the now extinct Moa which roamed the forests. These flightless birds were up to 12 foot tall and could weigh as much as 230 kilograms.

The Catlins with its rich resources proved a popular place with hunting camps set up around Papatowai where there was lots of timber for canoes. You can see the remains of some of these sites which have been exposed by sea erosion.

Maori legends tell tales of the great chiefs and their battles with large hairy forest monsters called Maeroero or Moehau.

And you can still get a sense of the rich Maori history in the Catlins thanks to many of the place names. The Owaka museum is a great place to find out more.

Arrival of Europeans & Settlement

Descendants of those first settlers still live in Clutha today but many of the indigenous people died from diseases bought by the waves of European sealers and whalers.

Captain Cook actually failed to spot the Catlins coast due to bad weather and it was another 40 years till the Europeans finally arrived down here.

These hardy profiteers set up whaling stations at Taieri Mouth, Port Molyneux and Tautuku but within decades there were pretty much no seals or whales left.

Plans to build the country’s first Scottish colony in Clutha were dashed due to the lack of a big enough harbour with Dunedin (or new Edinburgh taken from the gaelic word) chosen instead. However within years settlers had spread throughout the district.

Timber was the next big thing with sawmills set up around the river estuaries before the railway was built between Balclutha and Tahakopa which only closed in 1971 just 6 years after the road to Owaka was finally sealed.

Most of the gravel roads have been tarmacked but only recently with the main coast route to Waikawa completed in 2006. The road to the Nuggets was finally done in 2017, while the last bit from Curio Bay to Haldane is being done right now.

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