New Zealand is famous for its magnetic and exotic nature but less well known for other unique characteristics and culture that shapes the New Zealand identity and makes the people "Kiwis." One of New Zealand's oddest museums is located off the beaten track in the far south of the country in an area few international visitors explore (unless they are going there to see New Zealand's forgotten penguins).For another taste of Kiwi ingenuity and creative thought, spend a night in the grain silos that have been converted into an Airbnb. New Zealand is a rewarding country to visit, and being a small country far off in the southern reaches of the Pacific thousands of miles from the rest of the world it gives rise to a singular way of thinking.


What To Expect At the Lost Gypsy Museum

"In the beginning, there was … the bus. Having morphed into ‘The Lost Gypsy Gallery’ (1999) this old Leyland house bus has undergone multiple transformations and at least 10 coats of paint. Since then, Blair has obsessively filled the bus with his automata creations, donated curios and personal memorabilia."The Lost Gypsy Museum

Tucked away in the South Island's Catlins between the southernmost cities of Dunedin and Invercargill is a green house-truck-come-musuem. Venture inside and see the artist studio of one Blair Somerville - an artist-craftsman-tinkerer extraordinaire.

Blair moved to Papatowai over two decades ago. He then embarked on his life project - The Lost Gypsy. Almost everything one sees at the museum has been imagined and tinkered by hand by Blair.

Outside in the garden see his quirky little creations including wind-up and water-driven gizmos fashioned from various objects he found about the place. The automated gadgets are created from such things as shells, toys, coins, wood, watches, and wire.

  • Location: The Sleepy Village of Papatowai In The South Coast's Stunning Catlins Region
  • Creator: Blair Somerville
  • Automated: Many Of the Gadgets and Gizmos Are Water Powered

For around two decades Blair Somerville has been busy meticulously tinkering away with random curiosities. See his unconventional laboratory of everyday items turned into bizarre creations and contraptions.

Related: Meet New Zealand's Forgotten Islands On A 45 Minute Off-Set

An Interactive Museum

The museum is an interactive one. Climb into the green caravan and crank a handle to make an iron whale look like it’s swimming through the air or turn on a television by peddling a bike. Here the sounds of an iconic native bird called the kakapo through a re-purposed old-fashioned hair dryer.

Those brave enough to flush the toilet are rewarded with the sound of a piano like none other. To make sinister rusty tentacles flail about in the garden wind the handle of the Rare Brush-Tailed Box.

Walk through the gate and find three converted water tanks filled with numerous ready-to-be-played-with automata. Be mused and intrigued by a man's creativity and originality. See what gizmo does what. See buttons marked with signs like "There are many temptations in life, the button below is one of them."

Related: Tour The Otago Peninsula To See New Zealand's Only Albatross Colony

Visiting The Lost Gypsy Museum

While driving around the less toured south coast of the South Island, remember to pop in for a look at the quirkiest museum of the South Pacific.

  • Gallery: $ free
  • Museum: $8 NZD ($5 USD)
  • Open: 10 am – 5 pm in Summer (end Oct–end April)
  • Closed: Wednesdays

While there isn't a restaurant, there is a funky little coffee caravan at the site, so one can grab a warm beverage while checking out the more eccentric side of New Zealand.

The coffee caravan also offers local Kiwi bakery specials like Carol's homemade bakeries.

The Penguins of The Catlins

The Catlins are also famous for their population of the world's rarest penguin - the Yellow-eyed penguin. Around 5 of the approximately 21 species of penguins in the world are to be found in New Zealand and its outlying islands (the three species on the mainland are the Yellow-eyed Penguin, the Fiordland Penguin, and the Little Blue Penguin).

  • See: The Yellow-Eyed Penguin On The Coast

To see the yellow-eyed penguin, camp and hike along the coast of the Catlins. Alternatively, one can also book a guided tour of the penguins and other marine wildlife a little up the coast at the Otago Peninsula.

New Zealand is perhaps one of the easiest places in the world to see penguins and the only easily accessible place to have three species of penguins