South Otago's magical, mechanical Lost Gypsy Gallery

A unique exhibition filling a house bus in the remote Catlins is gaining an international reputation.

Most kiwis have probably never heard of the 'Lost Gypsy Gallery' but thousands of tourists make the trip up the southern coast each summer just to check it out.

Australasia's largest collection of rustic automata is packed into an old motorhome in the small surfing settlement of Papatowai.

Blair Somerville is the wizard behind the tiny mechanical masterpieces, using items recycled from old machines or the local beach.

"Because I love beachcombing, I love mechanics. So I was kind of joining that stuff together," Mr Somerville says.

Turning that "stuff" into intricate creations: some hand-cranked, others using small motors or solenoids to create mesmerising artworks.

"Something that draws your eye in. [There's] something about momentum and movement that captures people."

But after setting up the indoor gallery, the organic mechanic needed room to grow...

His self-proclaimed 'Theatre of Sorts' is a larger showcase for his major installations and one-off machines.

"I've sort of got book-loads of ideas, and it's just finding the time to nut them out.

"And it's just so much experimentation. And at the end of it you come up with something that looks so simple, but people don't see all the failed ones."

Glowing reviews from international guidebooks persuade tourists it's worth making the journey around the south-eastern coast to check out the unique gallery.

"It's nice when you make people's day," he says.

The Lost Gypsy's even beaten Te Papa to the title of Best museum and gallery in the Rankers travel awards for the last three years.

That's encouraged Mr Somerville to take his art on the road, creating an exhibition he hopes to tour the country.

"I've got lots of ideas, and some of them are just a bit too delicate for this situation. But in a proper gallery, you're able to organise people a bit better."

But with the Lost Gypsy welcoming visitors right through until the end of summer, tackling those new works will have to be a winter project.