Riverton, Western Southland
Liz Carlson

Aparima / Riverton

Thirty kilometres from Invercargill, the seaside town of Riverton, Aparima, is one of the most popular towns in Western Southland and is a great stop on the Southern Scenic Route. The township is nestled at the western end of Oreti Beach, set in a picturesque location on both sides of the estuary of the Aparima River (also known as Jacobs River). The fondly named “Riviera of the South” is a fantastic place for a family holiday or a real New Zealand “crib” (seaside bach) experience.

Riverton's surrounding beaches and estuary are natural playgrounds. Taramea Bay is particularly popular as it provides safe, easy swimming, while Mitchell's Bay is great for surfing. Dolphins regularly swim into the bays and up Riverton's Aparima River, providing plenty of photo fodder for visitors and locals alike and awe-inspiring close encounters for lucky swimmers.

Nearly 200 years old, Aparima Riverton is the oldest Pākehā settlement in Southland and one of the earliest European settlements in New Zealand. Before the arrival of Europeans, it was home to a substantial Māori settlement called Aparima due to its proximity to the ocean and river as well as the abundance of kaimoana (seafood). Captain John Howell established a whaling station here in the mid 1830s and married a high-ranking local Māori woman which saw him acquire a lot of land. Today, a large memorial beside the Aparima River estuary commemorates Howell.

The excellent Te Hikoi Southern Journey Heritage Museum provides engaging insights into the unique and dramatic history of Māori and European settlement in the area. As well as the museum, the small main streets of Riverton are dotted with local artists' studios and a plethora of cafes, vintage shops, and local goods stores.

Riverton firsts

As Southland’s oldest Pākehā settlement, Aparima Riverton won a number of firsts for Southland: the first school was opened in 1837, and within a few years there were three, including one for Māori children. The first hospital opened in 1861. Also in 1861, the first recorded horse race was held at a newly built track on the edge of town.