The Bluff Hill Lookout is a great place to learn about the history of Bluff.
On information panels with good illustrations you get a great overview of (nearly) everything, be it the geology, the settlement of the region, the way of life, wildlife.
The panels are not only to be found around the spiral walkway that leads from the carpark to the highest point of the lookout but also around the top of the top viewing platform. Walk around the summit platform at the level of the carpark to get all the information.
I found the panels extraordinarily good and therefore remember a lot of details.
The rocky outcrops you see at Bluff Hill are norite. This rock that never reached the surface during the volcanic activity in this region 235 million years ago is also called Bluff granite.
Along the spiral track from the carpark to the lookout you find an information panel next to a split rock that reveals a hard, dark-grey stone beneath the weathered surface. The outstanding qualities of norite are its durability and the fact that it is easy to polish. That’s why it is used for headstones at the cemetery, decorative panels and memorials, just like the one you see at Bluff’s waterfront. The construction of Bluff’s island harbour in the 1950s was the largest project for which norite was used.
In the early days of the 19th century the norite was taken from beach boulders. Later it was quarried. But over time it became uneconomic to work. So quarrying it ceased in the middle of the 20th century.
The Old Bluff Cemetery sits at a spectacular location at the end of Lagan Street. This is the highest street at the western end of Bluff, parallel to Bluff Hill.
You have splendid panoramic views to the north, west and south – not so to the east because Bluff Hill blocks your view.
The cemetery itself is very interesting, telling the stories from the past about infant deaths, drownings at sea and an influenza epidemic in 1918. The most noticeable internment site is that of Sir Joseph Ward who was prime minister of New Zealand from 1906 to 1912 and 1928 to 1930. (He resigned due to poor health and died later that year.)
I, of course, went to the cemetery to find the grave of Fred and Myrtle Flutey, the late owners of the famous Paua House.
There is a register at the entrance of the cemetery where you can locate specific plots.
You will also see beautifully sculpted angels on the cemetery, as well as ornate iron fences around the graves. Some graves are in bad shape, their cover plates broken, as most of them are rather old and have weathered many storms and probably earthquakes. Many headstones were made of the locally quarried dark norite while white gravel from Awarua Bay sets a striking contrast.
The land was defined as a cemetery in 1863 and designated as such in 1869. The first known burial was that of John Fox Overingham on 3 December 1860, well before the cemetery became a cemetery.
We were told the cemetery as been “full” for a long time and people from Bluff are now buried further west at Greenpoint.
When you drive on the main street – Gore Street which becomes Marine Parade further east – turn uphill into Liffey Street, Boyn Street or Shannon Street. At the respective end of these streets turn right into Lagan Street. You will end up at the carpark in front of the cemetery.
You find Frey and Myrtle Flutey’s grave without consulting the register of the plots. Just walk up the staircase, and at its end it is on the right, one of the neatest and well looked after graves on the Old Bluff Cemetery.
On the reddish headstone the letters are still golden, and you will find a photo of those well-loved icons, just the way they were and how New Zealanders will remember them, with these lovely smiles on their faces. If I am not mistaken this photo was taken on their 70th wedding anniversary.
We were told the cemetery was already “full” when they died in 2000 and 2001. But they had a plot because – as we did not know and only found out when we stood at their grave – their two children had died long before them, a son at the age of 25 years in 1954 and a daughter at the age of 30 years in 1973.
Often couples get torn apart after such tragic events but obviously they have connected the Fluteys even stronger. They found a new lease of life in the creation of their Paua House and the hosting of more than a million visitors. Losing children at such young age and then turning 89 and nearly 98 years old is one of the things in life you just do not really understand but have to accept. Fred and Myrtle are shining examples of how people should be, just loving and giving.
After having seen them so many times in the little film at Canterbury Museum and absolutely loving them, finally standing at their grave put a huge smile on my face. The only regret I have is that I have never met them when they were still alive. Long live their spirit!
I do not know if the new owners of the Paua House have become sick of people photographing their home and congregating on the footpath in front of it.
Fact is that they have painted it with this dull purple colour, making the fresh and friendly white and turquoise look that had make Fred and Myrtle Flutey’s home stand out from the crowd disappear.
I have visited the reconstructed Paua House in Canterbury Museum so many times that I would have recognised it in any colour and any place.
I also knew that it was located on the waterfront, so it was no problem to spot it when walking along Marine Parade.
Some broken cladding on the low wall surrounding the garden revealed the turquoise colour underneath the purple.
If I tell you the house number – which is 258 – I do not reveal a secret because the Paua House is still listed as an attraction on the map of Bluff I got at the ferry terminal. They must have printed a lot of copies – or they forgot about it. Fred died on 31 December 2001…
The original living room in the reconstructed Paua House in Canterbury Museum opened in July 2008.
I really missed some hints in Bluff of the town honouring their most famous citizens. I surely would celebrate it.
Please do not read the tourism.net website – and if you do, do not believe everything you read there.
... because Stirling Point is NOT the southernmost point of New Zealand. Slope Point further east is located five kilometres further south. And all this, of course, excludes Stewart Island. We speak of the two main islands of New Zealand.
Once this is clear, let’s just go as far as saying Stirling Point is the southernmost point of Bluff which again is mainland New Zealand’s southernmost town.
At Stirling Point, one kilometre south of the town, there is a signpost showing the distance and direction to various major cities and locations around the world, including the Equator and the South Pole.
In recent times a sculpture of giant chain links has been installed at Stirling Point, symbolically linking New Zealand’s South Island to Stewart Island. There you will find a similar sculpture on Lee Bay beach at the gateway to Rakiura National Park. This anchor chain was installed in 2002 and was quite controversial. According to www.stuff.co.nz (that’s the Fairfax media’s website) it was shot soon after its unveiling. I did not see any damage on my visit to Stewart Island.
Local artist Russell Beck, who created the Stewart Island anchor chain sculpture, has also made the Stirling Point anchor chain sculpture which was unveiled in 2008. The Stirling Point anchor chain illustrates the mythological link between the waka (canoe) of Maui and its anchor stone.
I do not know if you know that according to Maori mythology New Zealand’s South Island is the canoe from which their god Maui fished the North Island out of the sea. So this canoe had to be attached to this anchor – and this anchor stone obviously was 60 kilometres further out to sea at Stewart Island. (Yes, I know… sometimes I spoil the nicest stories…)
The Southland Community Trust that commissioned the work launched a new logo on the occasion of getting the project underway in early 2008: "Te Pou Arataki Pounamu o Murihiku", meaning "the stanchion that all pathways in Murihiku lead to where people obtain the treasures that enable them to fulfil their aspirations".
This building does not carry this name, only I named it the new Paua House because the paua shells on the wall reminded me of Fred and Myrtle’s living room.
Of course, it not even close to the kitschy splendour of what Fred and Myrtle called home.
But for someone searching for hints of this iconic couple I found it quite pleasing, demonstrating that they are not forgotten.
The room are the premises of the fish’n’chips shop next to the RSA building on Gore Street, close to where it becomes Marine Parade, called The Galley.
You would not get muttonbird pies in many places in New Zealand. The reason for it is that only Maori are allowed to hunt them at certain times of the year in Foveaux Street – which is the rocky strait between New Zealand’s South Island and Stewart Island. For all other people this is a protected species.
The other name of the muttonbirds is Sooty Shearwater (Puffinus griseus), or Titi in Maori.
If you use the ferry from Bluff to Stewart Island you will pass the Muttonbird Islands and possibly spot huge flocks of them floating on the water. They are big dark birds, about 44 centimetres in size and weighing 800 grams.
I have my own opinion on killing muttonbirds which sounds more acceptable when you call it harvesting. Maori legally kill the fattest chicks, about 250,000 each year. Numbers have declined but thanks to the protected breeding colonies on the Snares, Auckland and Chatham Islands their overall population is secure. If Maori do not get them muttonbirds can get 25 years old.
I do not support the legal killing of such wonderful birds, so I only photographed this pie in the Bluff Bakery & Tea Rooms (64 Gore Street) and did not eat it. It is said that the meat is very fatty, so if you want to gain some weight just try some of the pies ;-)) I photographed it in a local café in Bluff. As you see on the price tag, the fat costs extra ;-)) Usually the best award-winning pies in Christchurch or anywhere else would not cost more than NZ$ 5 to 6.
Apart from muttonbird you can, of course, also taste the famous Bluff Oysters when they are in season (1 March to 1 August). Read more about this is my tip about this controversial delicacy and the Bluff Oyster Festival in my Local Customs tip.
No, I do not seriously suggest you buy a hotel.
I am posting this because it reflects the general mood in town.
There were two old Art Déco hotels for sale when we were in Bluff which really felt a bit like at the end of the world. There were only a few people in the streets on both our visits, with a second-hand book sale in a public building attracting more than a handful of people.
Everyone was friendly, and we got the best help in finding out where Fred and Myrtle Flutey are buried.
The hotels could be turned into wonderful buildings with some renovation. Were Bluff at a more convenient location I would consider turning one of the hotels into a great stately home;-))
The War Memorial, located on Marine Parade opposite Tiwai Point (the aluminium smelter with the high industrial chimney on the other side of the port), was built of Bluff granite (norite), quarried from a site in McDougall Street.
It was sculpted by Danish stonemasons and unveiled on 6 April 1924 by then Prime Minister William Massey.
The memorial commemorates the men of Bluff who died in World War I and II, and in the Korean War.
Bluff is dominated by Bluff Hill which can be seen on a fine day from as far away as Fiordland. The land is connected to the mainland by a 300 metre wide isthmus at Ocean Beach.
The Maori name is Motupohue which means “Island of Convolvulus” (convolvulus being a sticky weed).
Bluff Hill is 265 metres high and is the cone of an extinct volcano which provides some shelter from the prevailing westerly winds.
According to Bluff’s Environmental Trust, four different groups own the land. These are Invercargill City Council, Department of Conservation (DOC), Te Runaka o Awarua Charitable Trust and Ocean Beach Properties Ltd. The most ecologically valuable land is administered by DOC. Bluff Hill is a Topuni site and as such is an area of great importance to Ngai Tahu – which is the South Island’s major Maori tribe.
From the carpark at the hilltop you walk up a spiral walkway to the viewing platform. The panoramic views of Southland’s mountains, plains and estuaries are splendid. This includes the view east across the entry channel from Bluff to Tiwai Point, home to New Zealand's only aluminium smelter and its wharf.
If you turn right at the top carpark, you will get to the radar station which was built during World War II in 1940. They were already out of date when they were installed as they were not able to detect small targets, motor torpedoes and submarines. They were upgraded by mid 1941 to ranges up to 30 miles.In 1944 the radar was retained for daylight use only, and on 20 minutes standby for the night.
Bluff is not only mainland New Zealand’s southernmost town (not: southernmost point, as Slope Point holds this superlative) but also the country’s oldest settlement. This claim, however, is disputed because the missionary settlement in Kerikeri (Northland) dates back further.
Bluff bases its claim on the first ship that is known to have entered the harbour in 1813. This was the Perseverance in search of flax trading possibilities. The first settlers arrived in 1823/24 only.
In Kerikeri Samuel Marsden acquired land for the Church Missionary Society in 1814. He planted the first grape vines in 1819, and the first plough was used by Reverend J G Butler in 1820.
James Spencer is credited as Bluff’s first European settler. In 1824 he purchased land from Tuhawaiki, built a house and established a fishing station which employed 21 people. This was the birth of Bluff which has a longer history of European settlement than any other New Zealand town.
By 1850 most parts of Southland were settled by European runholders.
Bluff became Southland’s service centre, with goods for farming and the sawmilling industry being shipped in from Australia. You might not think of it – but Bluff is New Zealand’s closest port to Australia.
The gold rush attracted another 1600 settlers arriving on twelve ships, most from Glasgow, between 1862 and 1864.
You cannot imagine such busy life when you walk through Bluff today.
One of New Zealand’s first railway lines connected Bluff to Invercargill. It was built between 1863 and 1867. This was hugely important because there was a big swamp between the two towns which caused access problems. The railway line solved this problem.
The first European name of the town was The Mount, followed by Old Mans Bluff – the term “old man” derived from the Celtic meaning: high rock. Later it became The Bluff. But before becoming Bluff on 1 March 1917 the name was changed to Campbelltown in 1856.
The Maori called the place Motupohue, meaning: Island of Convolvulus. Their main settlement prior to European arrival was nearby Ruapuke Island.
Due to its location at the foot of 265 metre high Bluff Hill the town has a history of whaling, sealing and shipping.
You can learn quite a lot about it at Bluff’s Maritime Museum which you find on the Foreshore Road, probably 200 metres from the Stewart Island ferry terminal. The exhibits include whaling and oystering shipwrecks and a working steam engine from the TST Awarua. Their pride is the oyster boat Monica, situated beside the museum with a replica sea bed and oyster dredges. You can board the vessel and explore its nooks and crannies.
Open Mon – Fri 10am – 4.30pm
Sat, Sun and public holidays 1pm – 5pm (in winter only until 4pm)
Admission NZ$ 2.
Phone (03) 212 7534
Bluff Hill is the worn-down stump of an ancient volcano which erupted 235 million years ago. It was not a single volcano but part of high volcanic activity in the region. The Longwood Range and the northern part of Stewart Island were born at about the same time when much of New Zealand lay beneath the sea on the edge of the ancient supercontinent named Gondwanaland.
Not all magma, the semi-molten rock underground, reached the surface. The rocky outcrops of Bluff Hill are such remnants that never reached the surface (where they would have initiated a volcanic eruption) and slowly cooled down to become very hard rock speckled with crystals. They are called norite.
The War Memorial down at the waterfront (Marine Parade, close to the former Paua House, on the way from the port to Stirling Point) was built of norite.
I have not met many people who have spent a lot of time in Bluff. But on Stewart Island I met a German lady who said she would stay one week in Bluff just to stay somewhere for a week as she had been hopping from place to place and needed some rest.
I did not say anything because I wanted to be polite. And nothing against the friendly people of Bluff, oyster lovers and mountainbikers, but I cannot think of why to spend a week in Bluff if this person does not search the solitude for writing a potential bestseller. But as you see, it can happen. Just for this case let me recommend the great walks you can do in Bluff, either along the coastline (for example from the Greenpoint Cemetery to Shipwreck Bay with its Ships’ Graveyard) or up to Bluff Hill.
It takes about 2 hours to walk from Stirling Point to the summit of Bluff Hill. There is also a walk from the town centre up the hill. We even saw some avid joggers coughing their way up the road. Other well-known walkways are the Foveaux Walkway, Glory Track, Millennium Track and Topuni Track.
And surely it is the place to go for mountainbikers as the surrounding area up to Invercargill is as flat as a pancake, and Bluff Hill is about the only elevation far and wide.
There is a monumental chain linking Bluff, or more specifically Stirling Point, to Stewart Island.
First, there was the anchor chain attached to the anchor stone on Stewart Island. But what good does a chain do if it is not attached on the other end.
A year later, the anchor chain was connected to the prow. Stirling Point and Stewart Island are not connected in such a symbolic manner that people may believe it is actually tethered.