IT’S BONKERS!

“A fascinating gallery based on found objects and specializing in self-wound automata and things that go whirr”. Lonely Planet referring to the Lost Gypsy Gallery.

Lost Gypsy Gallery

“Utterly astonishing.” Paul. Trip Advisor

TOURIST REACTIONS

In 2013, possibly the most unique art gallery in the world was named the Museums and Galleries winner by rankers.co.nz. It is no surprise that New Zealand’s largest museum Te Papa, won the previous 4 years but this year’s award to this strange museum has really raised eyebrows and has put this isolated museum in the spotlight.

Over 4000 tourism activities around New Zealand qualified for the competition with the winners chosen from 8000 reviews. What makes these awards so special is the votes were cast by the travellers themselves. Their comments are unedited and are solicited by real face to face meetings on locations around New Zealand. There are no computer generated ‘reviews’ on rankers.co.nz. One review from a German traveler read ”this is surely a New Zealand treasure. We stumbled across this bus that is run by an interesting local person and were astounded by his creations”.

MECHANICAL MAGICIAN

The Lost Gypsy Gallery is the creation of Blair Summerville. “I wanted to have a creative place of wonder, beauty, gadgets and gizmos, made mostly from natural or recycled materials that will warm the heart of even the most cynical,” he commented in another interview that:” Life is inspiring.”

Blair’s eccentric museum/gallery, housed in an old bus and eclectic garden, is filled with mechanical masterpieces. A chorus of strange noises add to the interest as various exhibits come alive with the turn of a handle or push of a button. There is a model train dashing around the room at head height activating all manner of objects as it goes. A TV in a tin booth, is powered by a bicycle. There is a ‘bulb spanker’ and ‘dancing doll’ to marvel at. Outside, his ‘Theatre of Sorts’ houses a water powered machine generating unique sounds from the shells that rotate on a metal wheel. A large corrugated iron whale swims overhead and nearby,  a sheep skeleton rides a moving bike. Large claws made from tin cans, rise and fall from the grass. Many of the odd exhibits are delightfully interactive which only adds to the appeal and special magic of the place. Everything is made from junk material as well as shells and wood that Blair collects on his frequent beach walks.

Sheep Skeleton Riding Bike

This informative video gives a good insight into Blair Summerville’s rather unique world:

http://www.thelostgypsy.com/

Swimming Whale

ISOLATED LOCATION

The tiny settlement of Papatowai with a population of just 30, is home to the Lost Gypsy Gallery. It is located in the Catlins, a part of the South Island that has just recently been discovered by tourists. It’s always amazed me why this part of New Zealand is such an under promoted area as I think the coastal scenery around here is some of the finest in Australasia. Spectacular Cathedral Cave, one of the longest sea caves in the world, is located just 15km from Papatowai. The Purakaunui Falls is another generally unknown attraction. Set in a beautiful forest, the water gently cascades over three tiers of rocks providing a scenic attraction well worth visiting. Vast areas of wetlands backed by rolling green hillsides, give this area an untamed appearance.

Purakaunui Bay Catlins

The skeletons of 4 major shipwrecks from the late 19th and early 20th centuries slowly rust away along the coastline and add to the melancholic atmosphere. In my opinion, the Nugget Point Lighthouse is the most beautiful lighthouse in the country with its spectacular location on the end of a finger of land that gives the lighthouse the dramatic appearance of one found in a children’s storybook. This area is also home to a large colony of fur seals.

Nugget Point Lighthouse

The one road through the Catlins is now part of the recently formed Southern Coastal Route so I guess there will be more people discovering this little known part of New Zealand.

INSECT THEME PARK

Owaka is the largest town in the Catlins. Established in the late 1880s,the little town is home to 425 people and offers equally eccentric attractions. To start with, there is New Zealand’s only insect theme park (I’m serious!). Earthlore Insect Theme Park is home to Inspector Insector who helps visitors inspect a wide range of insects going about their lives in colourful habitats set up in a specially designed area. It is also a fun filled habitat to meet New Zealand butterflies and moths. I must also mention the flea circus and insect puppet show!

Earthlore Flea Circus

TEAPOT LAND

Just down the road, Teapotland offers another eccentric collection of oddball exhibits, mainly teapots. Just 10 years ago, Graham Renwick found an old kettle buried in his lawn and plonked it on his fence. It gave him the idea to put a collection of kettles on the fence but when he visited a few second hand shops to buy them, he discovered there were a lot more teapots than kettles for sale. Anyway, he quickly realized teapots had much more eye appeal.  Today, that original kettle has rusted away in the salty air of Owaka but it has been replaced with 1314 amazing teapots from around the world.

Teapot Land

After an accident put paid to his work as a chef, Graham moved to Owaka for a quiet life. He now admits the attention he gets from his teapot display, gives him an interest. He changes his display every year and tries to have a theme running. There are animal teapots, vegetable teapots, house teapots, flower teapots, gnome teapots, teddy bear teapots, furniture teapots  —- The more delicate teapots are displayed in cabinets but most are scattered around his front garden which faces the town’s main road.

Sewing Machine Teapot (thecuriouskiwi.co.nz)

Graham is not surprised that his unique exhibits are not stolen or damaged as he knows they attract people who genuinely respect what he has achieved. Even so, he has taken the precaution of drilling a hole in every tea pot making it useless to collectors and thieves.

DOLLY WORLD

Chrystle Collis and her husband have also created a large collection, this time dolls, which they had on display a few paces from Tea Pot World. However, they have recently shifted 30km to the larger town of  Balclutha where they have more room to display their 2000 dolls including a special 3ft tall Elvis doll made of porcelain that her husband purchased from a second hand shop for $7.00. Chrystle is well aware it’s worth quite a lot more than that.

Elvis Doll

Along with the iconic singer, there are 800 Barbies and a handful of Winnie the Pooh bears, troll dolls, Mickey Mouse dolls, Cabbage Patch dolls and the odd Tinkerbell doll. The odd thing about this collection is the fact Chryste disliked dolls as a kid: ”I hated them, that’s the stupid thing about it,” she told a local newspaper reporter. “I lost my childhood doll in a river when I was about six years old, and it upset me so, that was the last doll I had as a child.”

Like Graham with his teapots and Blair with his gallery, Chrystle gets a real buzz from the people who stop by to check out her dolls. Like any oddball collection, it attracts oddball people. ”It’s funny, we’ve had women coming in here, sitting on the floor and playing with the dolls like children and arguing.”

The Catlins may be one of the least visited parts of New Zealand but these unique attractions are putting the place on the map as more overseas visitors leave comments on travel websites such as Tripadvisor. It just goes to show, all it takes is a passion and some dedication to create something that brings smiles to the faces of all those who visit.

Please leave a comment below. Don’t forget to check the archive page for plenty of other interesting blogs.

Ceidrik Heward

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