Niagara Falls Café/Restaurant has been part of the landscape since 1893 when a single classroom was erected, the large wooden building was established in 1895. The school is named, tongue in cheek, after the ‘other’ North American falls by a surveyor with a sense of humour who could see the similarity between the two.
The School supplied the settlement with education for the sawmillers’ and farmers’ children. When the mill closed the settlement dwindled. In 1972 the school was closed and its last pupils were sent to Quarry Hills School, along with those of Waikawa and Progress Valley Schools, which closed at the same time.
The school was then used to accommodate the expanding number of people wishing to attend the Presbyterian Church until it too closed, in 1991. Then it was an intermittent dance hall and music room before Rae Cavanagh set up Boot Hill Pottery here.
Rae and her husband Robin were also talented musicians who belonged to the legendary Progress Valley Possum Pickers. She potted in this idyllic setting until her death in 1999.
The eating oasis in the Catlins was set up by Amanda Banhidi and Trevor Leonard in 2001 on the 20th Anniversary of the Progress Valley Possum Pickers. Between them they turned the old school building into a mecca of local produce, arts and crafts. The executive secretary and diesel mechanic, confessed to knowing nothing about the professional hospitality industry when they opened the doors and just focused on creating foods they’d like to eat themselves.
That meant home grown vegetables and herbs and the best of Southland’s fresh produce – with cakes, slices and breads all made on the premises.
Niagara Falls Cafe became one of Southland’s most “discovered” eateries – recommended by Lonely Planet, Rough Guide, New Zealand Driving Holidays, Cuisine Magazine, AA Magazine, North and South as well as being a two time runner up in Cafe Magazine’s Best Cafe in Southland.
Won over by the location and the fresh-food ethos, in 2011 long-time darlings of the New Zealand cycling scene James and Laura Fairweather took over the cafe in partnership with Laura’s mother Sue Thompson and her brother Dale Thompson.
Laura, a keen cyclist became a regular sight on Catlins roads as she geared up for the 2012 and 2016 Para-Olympics where she won a gold, 2 silver and 2 bronze medals as a pilot on the tandem. The medals are on display in the cafe. These days she has three young sons and works at the cafe as a chef at the weekends.