Thursday, 3 August 2017

Millhaven- Home to Pete's Dragon

Catch-up (Feb 2017)

This one's an old catch-up. I've been also catching up on uploading photos to Flickr and when I came across this folder, I thought I couldn't let it pass without doing a quick blog on it.

Tapanui, in West Otago (pop. 800), is just another sleepy non-descript New Zealand country town that has seen better days. It was once a forestry town and is now a rural service town surrounded by rolling farmland in shadow of  the Blue Mountains and close to the Southland border. 

To many New Zealanders the name Tapanui is synonymous with a mystery debilitating illness that befell many people in the town during the early 1980s. The illness was nicknamed the 'Tapanui Flu', until it became an accepted illness known as 'chronic fatigue syndrome'. Dr Peter Snow, who served his community as a GP for 37 years, was the doctor who first documented the rise of the condition.

A Moonstone placed near the main street, is in memory of Dr Snow's achievements. He was also a fossil enthusiast and the moon rock was chosen because of his belief that a meteor had collided with the moon in 1766 and scattered debris across West Otago.

Click on the photo to read the details-

Tapanui now has another claim to fame. In 2015 the town was transformed into Millhaven, a small logging town in America's Pacific Northwest, for the Disney film 'Pete's Dragon'.

Around 250 crew and cast (including Robert Redford), stayed in and around the township during the month long filming, leasing many of the resident's homes for accommodation and visiting the various cafes and pubs in the area.

The old Blue Mountain Lumber Sawmill, 14kms out of town, along with many of the town's businesses were given make-overs and transformed into small town America. 

Locals were also cast as extras and once the film was finished two special screenings were shown in the town before the film was released in 2016.

Tapanui has long since returned to a sleepy one-horse town and unless you stopped for a refreshment break or know of the film, you'd hardly know of the town's recent history. 

If you have a wander you'll find a framed photo in each of the business's windows, of how they looked in the Millhaven set. 

Some shops had only minor make-overs, others had entirely new identities or functions.

I'm not so sure the on-going economic benefits to the town have been as great as originally expected and I'd say nothing like the continuing Lord of the Rings tourist visitor windfall, but I'm sure there are still quite a few people who stop and visit, just to say they have been to Millhaven.

The old Bank of New Zealand building (always a monstrosity in small town New Zealand) became the Douglas County Sheriff's office.

The cast and crew gifted a plaque to Tapanui and it's since been mounted on an old saw blade and wood plinth and now takes pride of place in the centre of the town.


  1. It was bucketing down when I stopped at Tapanui and I missed stuff, so it's good to see it.
    I loved the bank (if it was the one on the corner) though I could barely see it through the mist and rain.
    I got very lost after Tapanui lol

    1. Yes, the bank was on the corner, a huge imposing looking building for such a small town. Lost? The countryside all looks the same through there. I bet you headed inland towards Heriot and maybe came out at Ettrick? A short cut to Central! :)

    2. I did exactly that. My GSP, Kiri, rhymes with Siri (I'm an iPhone fan) gave me lots of options and I chose the wrong one. I did find some delightful dilapidated buildings, the Moa and, had it been a fine day, I expect the countryside would have been beautiful, I did enjoy the ride though.


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