All about Kaitangata in South Otago, New Zealand

Kaitangata is a small rural town in the Clutha District of the South Island of New Zealand with a population of about 800. It’s a beautiful spot, and one of those places where the more you look, the more fascinating things you find.

Known as “kai” locally, tiny Kaitangata even had a moment of international fame in 2016. More on that later.

The Forgotten Coastal Highway

Kaitangata is at the southern end of the Forgotten Coastal Highway, which goes from Taieri Mouth, south of Dunedin, to Kaitangata. It’s less well known than the New Zealand tourist destination of The Catlins further south, or the east coast north of Dunedin with its coastal holiday spots of Warrington and Karitane, and it’s a gem.

A land of deserted beaches and river estuaries, highlights include Toko Mouth(at the mouth of the Tokomairiro River) with its community of isolated cribs and the golden sands of Chrystalls Beach.

The wild horses of South Otago

The hills above Kaitangata are home to an unusual group of wildlife: a population of wild horses descended from a herd that originated on a nearby farm in about 1913.

The annual Kaitangata Wild Horse Trek is a chance for people to see these animals in the wild, as well as for herd numbers and health to be checked.

Speaking of kai: fishing and whitebaiting

Kaitangata is set on the east branch of the Clutha River, where, when they are in season, whitebait find their way into the nets of local whitebaiters. The river is dotted with small cribs and whitebait stands.

A history of mining coal in the Clutha District: The Kaitangata Black Gold Museum and the Kaitangata Mining Disaster

Opened in 2010, the Kaitangata Black Gold Museum is a chronicle of the history of mining coal in the district, which kicked off with the discovery of coal in 1844, and continued into the 1980s.

Kaitangata also has a memorial to the men who died in the Kaitangata Mining Disaster, which happened on February 21 1879. Thirty-four miners were killed when built up methane gas was possibly ignited by a naked flame used as a light source in an old part of the mine.

Affordable house and land package? Yeah! $160,00 to move to Kaitangata? Nah.

Back in 2016, Kaitangata was struggling with unemployment – not high unemployment, but low unemployment. The mayor of the Clutha District at the time estimated there were something like 1000 unfilled jobs going in the district, and not enough locals to fill them. (According to Guardian UK, he said youth unemployment was down to “two”, as in two people, not 2%.)

The town started offering super affordable house and land packages starting from $230,000. So far so go. But when the offer was picked up in the overseas media, someone got their wires crossed. It was reported that, as well as land packages, the Clutha District Council was offering potential residents $160,000 to move to Kaitangata, and that interested parties should contact the local mayor about it – it wasn’t true, but nonetheless, something like 5000 people got in touch.