Saturday 11 February 2017

Piano Flat, Southland


I thought I'd do a quick post before we move on to our next destination this morning. We've had a wonderful relaxing time at the lovely Piano Flat DOC camp which is north of Waikaia in Southland. And look at that weather! Finally we're having a little bit of summer, although it's quite cool overnight and first thing in the mornings. 

Piano Flat is at the end of 40km plus road- well actually, it's not quite the end of the road but more on that in a later post. Some of you will remember the convoy of 4WD vehicles that were caught in the snow for a few days last winter? Piano Flat is near the beginning of a 4WD track that goes up and over Old Man Range where they were snowed in. 

The campground is tucked into a valley on the banks of the Waikaia River and surrounded by 10,500ha of beech forest. 

The area gets its unusual name from its gold mining past. Harry Selig was the first person to recover gold on the flat, he was was also a piano-playing member of a local orchestra formed to entertain the early settlers and miners. For a short time the flat was known as "Piano Harry's Flat", the title stuck long after Harry moved on.

There are old mine shafts and the remains of several water races in the surrounding bush. One of the races still supplies water to some of the cribs and to the camping and picnic area. 

This is how you make a statement with your crib! 

There's also an old style playground which was built in 1958, it has been restored with the help of the crib owners and the two farm stations that surround the forest.

Due to its remote location, Piano Flat is more of a destination than a place to call in to on the way past. Many generations of Southland families will have had their annual holidays at Piano Flat, it's also popular with anglers, kayakers, trailbikers and 4WD enthusiasts. 

We arrived on the Sunday of the long weekend but it was still a surprise when we came around the corner to see so many campers ahead of us. We were expecting a few people, not a few hundred! 

We happened to arrive on the first day of the Southland area's two day orienteering event. 

We hardly saw anything of them though, they disappeared into the forest early in the morning, returning late afternoon.

They were also camped in the first part of the campground, we carried on up the road to the second area where there were just two other groups camping. A few day trippers visited on the last day of holiday weekend...

...and then it was just us and the birds for the next four days.....oh, and the sandflies. Ten times as many as Cattle Flat!

Our view across the river took in the home range of NZ Falcon family; 2 adults and a very demanding juvenile.

Several times a day the parents come flying in, high above the clearing with a meal which they aerial drop to the youngster. I caught it on camera here, it's way, way out of my lens range and cropped heavily, but you can see the drop. And that is a falcon underneath, not a flounder!

And while its parents were away hunting we were privileged to see the juvenile at close quarters; resting on a  tree overhanging the river near the van, flying along the river (screeching for food) or practicing it's hunting skills, chasing swallows, ducking and diving across the grass behind us.

There are a number of walking and tramping tracks through the bush and along both sides of the river. Some are more demanding than others, we've managed to complete the shorter ones and do sections of the others. There's a very long 10km loop tramp up one side of the river and back down the other, starting at the swingbridge in the campground.

A side tramp off the river loop heads to the Titan Rocks, a 6.5hr climb to a point high above the valley. Needless to say we gave that one a miss. We walked to the junction instead taking our time, bird watching along the way. For such a small area of bush, in comparison with other South Island areas and National Parks, the bird life is prolific.

Clockwise- Juvenile NZ Fantail, South Island Bush Robin, South Island Tomtit-male, Bush Robin, NZ Falcon(J), Tomtit-male, NZ Fantail, Bush Robin, Tomtit-female(J)
'Now, I'm sure I saw lunch around here somewhere'
The river track has been made more difficult to walk because of the washouts and debris left behind by a recent flash flood. Just 3 weeks ago after 57mm of rain fell during a 24hr period, a wall of water rushed down the valley. At the campground the river was 4 metres above its usual height and further up the river through a gorge area the river has been at least 8 metres high. There are great swathes of debris caught in trees branches and hollows along the river banks. 

A tide line of forest litter and thick silt coat areas of the camping ground close to the river. We have a line of debris in the long grass outside our front door and you can see how high and far away we are from the usual river flow. 

The crib owners have a new water feature; a huge beech tree has fallen into the river from an eroded bank just across from us...

...and floated downstream, ending up on a shingle island in the middle of the river.

What is more amazing is the fact that this tree found it's way under the swingbridge without doing any damage and at the height of the flood. 

Taken from the middle of the swingbridge-

And one last photo to make you smile. You'll notice on the map below we took a detour to Riversdale after we left Cattle Flat. We wanted to dump our waste before heading to Piano Flat, it took a little while to locate the advertised dump station. Only on the Mainland!


  1. A great read about one of my favourite places, beautiful photos.

    1. Thanks for your comment Tracey, it certainly is a lovely area.

  2. Wonderful place for a holiday. Paradise!

    1. Paradise with a few extras.....a few thousand extras ;) We loved it there, thanks for your comments.

  3. Great review! Remember seeing you at my place.😉 I'm the sole rate paying citizen who lives there permanently although l took a break this past winter. I live in the place with the blue drum hanging over the drive. Positives: nature and mining history etc. Negatives: idiots with bikes and 4wds. DOC and NZ Police useless.

    1. Yes, we remember you! Glad to see you're still enjoying that little piece of paradise albeit in the summer only! Fair enough too. Pleased you enjoyed the blog.


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