Today, Taieri Mouth has a scattering of weatherboard buildings with blistered paint and sagging beams, a huddle of well loved cribs with manicured gardens, and some ultra modern beach retreats owned by those who ‘need to escape from the city’.
The oldest house on the Taieri Mouth row was the home of June Findlater, the Cat Lady, for over eighty years. The house was built around 1910 and June lived there all her life, sharing her home with over thirty feline friends in later years. She died a couple of years ago, and although fondly missed by the locals, the increase in bird life with the absence of the cats has been appreciated.
The first bridge over the Taieri was not built until after 1910, before that a barge would ferry travellers and their horses over the river. James Knarsten and his entrepreneurial business partner - Joseph Harrison, opened the first store at the Taieri Mouth. They also ran the ferry up the river which delivered passengers, supplies and mail to the gold miners of the 1860’s. River trips to Picnic Gully (today’s John Bull Picnic Area) were popular and the timber industry also thrived in the area.
Further on from the modern bridge and cribs, just past the fishing fleet docks, you can stop at the stone cairn lookout and admire Taieri Island. The island was known as Moturata to the local Maori and it was the Taieri Whaling station from 1839-1841, and for a brief period in 1844. Luckily for the whales, the site was abandoned in 1845.
The Island was re-inhabited by signalman at a pilot station from 1862 – 1864. They used a serious of flags, balls and lanterns to guide ships into the Taieri River. Today it is a sanctuary for sooty shearwaters, blue penguins, gulls, seals and even the odd sea lion. Adventurous souls can walk out to the Island if there if the tide and the weather is right, as long as they leave their dogs at home.
When we visited jet boats, kayakers, and jet skiers were on the river, and there are many secret fishing spots if you can convince a local to tell you where they are. Due to the depth and fast flowing currents the Taieri River is not an ideal swimming spot, and to get wet the 2 kilometres of white sandy beach is the place to go.