Welcome to Ashburton, a picturesque town nestled in the heart of New Zealand’s South Island. Known for its tranquil rural landscapes, friendly locals, and a wealth of outdoor adventures, Ashburton is a hidden gem that offers a wide range of activities and attractions for visitors of all ages and interests.

In this comprehensive guide, we’ll take you on a virtual tour of Ashburton, exploring the best things to do, places to visit, and experiences to savor. Whether you’re a nature enthusiast, a history buff, or simply seeking a relaxing getaway, Ashburton has something to offer everyone. Let’s dive into the charm and beauty of this South Island treasure.

1. Discover Ashburton’s History and Culture

Ashburton’s Early Days:

Ashburton’s history dates back to the 19th century when it was founded as a farming settlement. Its rich agricultural heritage is still evident today, with vast farmlands and fields of crops stretching as far as the eye can see. Take a stroll through the town center, and you’ll encounter charming historic buildings that reflect Ashburton’s past.

Ashburton's Early Days

Ashburton Museum: A Glimpse into the Past:

For a deeper dive into Ashburton’s history, pay a visit to the Ashburton Museum. This fascinating museum showcases a diverse range of exhibits, including Maori artifacts, early settler memorabilia, and displays about the region’s agricultural roots. It’s a fantastic way to gain insight into the town’s evolution over the years.

Heritage Walks and Historic Sites:

Ashburton offers several heritage walks that allow you to explore the town’s historic sites at your own pace. The Ashburton Heritage Walk takes you on a journey through time, highlighting landmarks like the Old Post Office, Hotel Ashburton, and the Clock Tower. Don’t forget your camera; there are plenty of photo opportunities along the way.

2. Get Closer to Nature

Ashburton Lakes District:

The Ashburton District is blessed with stunning natural beauty, and the Ashburton Lakes District is a testament to this. A short drive from Ashburton, this area features several pristine lakes, including Lake Clearwater and Lake Heron. It’s a paradise for nature enthusiasts, offering opportunities for picnicking, birdwatching, and water-based activities like kayaking and paddleboarding.

Lake Heron

Hakatere Conservation Park:

Located adjacent to the Ashburton Lakes, the Hakatere Conservation Park is a haven for outdoor adventurers. Here, you can embark on hikes through alpine tussocklands, spot unique wildlife, and revel in the breathtaking views of the Southern Alps. If you’re visiting during the winter, the park also transforms into a snowy wonderland, perfect for skiing and snowboarding.

Rakaia Gorge:

Just a short drive from Ashburton lies the Rakaia Gorge, where the Rakaia River carves its way through dramatic limestone cliffs. The gorge is a picturesque spot for a leisurely walk, picnicking, or simply taking in the stunning scenery. It’s also a popular fishing location, known for salmon and trout.

Fishing and Boating:

Ashburton’s proximity to rivers and lakes makes it an ideal destination for fishing and boating enthusiasts. Whether you prefer casting a line in the Rakaia River, fly fishing in the high-country lakes, or enjoying a tranquil day of boating on Lake Hood, there are plenty of opportunities to enjoy New Zealand’s angling traditions.

3. Outdoor Adventures

Hiking and Walking Trails:

Ashburton and its surrounding areas offer a plethora of hiking and walking trails suitable for all levels of fitness. The Ashburton Lakes Walkway, Methven Walkway, and Hakatere Potts Road Walkway are just a few examples of trails that showcase the region’s natural beauty. For the more adventurous, tackle the multi-day Te Araroa Trail, which spans the length of New Zealand.

Mountain Biking:

Grab your mountain bike and explore the region’s diverse terrain. The Ashburton Hoon Hay Mountain Bike Park features a range of tracks suitable for riders of various skill levels. Alternatively, venture into the nearby foothills for exhilarating off-road experiences.

Golfing in Ashburton:

Ashburton boasts a beautifully maintained golf course that provides a scenic and relaxing way to spend a day outdoors. The Ashburton Golf Club welcomes visitors and offers a challenging 18-hole course set against a backdrop of rolling hills and mountains.

Horse Riding:

Saddle up and discover Ashburton’s landscapes on horseback. Several local operators offer horse riding adventures, from peaceful rides through farmland to thrilling treks in the foothills.

4. Family-Friendly Activities

Ashburton Domain and Playground:

For a family-friendly day out, head to the Ashburton Domain. This expansive park features well-maintained gardens, walking paths, and a fantastic playground for kids to enjoy. Pack a picnic and relax under the shade of the trees while the little ones have a blast on the playground equipment.

Ashburton Domain
Ashburton Domain

Trotts Garden:

Trotts Garden is a horticultural wonderland that will enchant visitors of all ages. Wander through vibrant flower beds, explore themed gardens, and marvel at the intricate landscaping. It’s a serene and picturesque spot for a leisurely stroll or a peaceful moment of reflection.

Aviation Museum:

The Ashburton Aviation Museum is a captivating destination for aviation enthusiasts and history buffs. It features an impressive collection of vintage aircraft, including World War II planes, helicopters, and memorabilia. The museum offers a fascinating glimpse into New Zealand’s aviation heritage.

Aquatic Center:

Cool off and have some fun at the Ashburton Aquatic Center. This modern facility boasts indoor and outdoor pools, water slides, and a dedicated children’s area, making it an ideal place for families to splash around and enjoy a day of water-based recreation.

5. Sampling Ashburton’s Culinary Delights

Ashburton Farmers’ Market:

Experience the flavors of Ashburton by visiting the local farmers’ market, held every Saturday morning. Here, you’ll find an array of fresh produce, artisanal goods, and delicious treats. It’s an excellent opportunity to sample regional specialties and mingle with friendly locals.

Local Cafés and Restaurants:

Ashburton offers a variety of dining options to suit all tastes and preferences. From cozy cafés serving up gourmet coffee and pastries to restaurants specializing in New Zealand cuisine, there’s no shortage of places to satisfy your culinary cravings.

Food and Wine Tours:

If you’re a food and wine enthusiast, consider joining a guided food and wine tour to explore Ashburton’s gastronomic scene. These tours often include visits to local wineries, cheese producers, and gourmet food shops, providing a delightful tasting experience.

6. Art and Culture

Ashburton Art Gallery:

For a dose of culture and creativity, visit the Ashburton Art Gallery. This contemporary gallery showcases a diverse range of artwork, from paintings and sculptures to multimedia installations. Check their schedule for rotating exhibitions featuring both local and international artists.

Artisan Workshops:

Ashburton is home to talented artisans who craft unique pieces of art and handcrafted goods. Spend some time exploring local workshops and studios, where you can watch artists at work and even purchase one-of-a-kind souvenirs.

Live Performances:

Keep an eye out for live performances happening in Ashburton. Local theaters and performance spaces host a variety of events throughout the year, including plays, musicals, and concerts featuring both local and touring artists.

7. Day Trips from Ashburton

Methven and Mt. Hutt:

Just a short drive from Ashburton, Methven is a charming alpine town known for its proximity to Mt. Hutt, one of New Zealand’s premier ski resorts. In the winter, you can hit the slopes for skiing and snowboarding, while the summer offers hiking, mountain biking, and golfing opportunities.

Lake Tekapo and the Church of the Good Shepherd:

A day trip to Lake Tekapo is a must. Admire the stunning turquoise waters of the lake and visit the iconic Church of the Good Shepherd, which offers breathtaking views of the Southern Alps. Don’t forget to soak in the nearby Tekapo Springs hot pools.

Lake Tekapo

Geraldine and the Talbot Forest Cheese Factory:

Explore the charming town of Geraldine, known for its boutique shopping and friendly atmosphere. While you’re there, visit the Talbot Forest Cheese Factory to sample some of the region’s finest cheeses.

Christchurch, the Garden City:

If you’re looking for a city experience, consider a day trip to Christchurch, also known as the Garden City. Explore the Botanic Gardens, take a punt ride on the Avon River, and visit the Christchurch Art Gallery Te Puna o Waiwhetū.

8. Events and Festivals

Ashburton Wheels Week:

One of Ashburton’s most exciting annual events is Ashburton Wheels Week. This week-long celebration of all things wheels features classic cars, motorcycles, and even soapbox derby racing. It’s a fun-filled event for the whole family.

The A&P Show:

The Ashburton A&P Show is a showcase of rural life in New Zealand. Held annually, this event includes livestock competitions, equestrian displays, entertainment, and plenty of delicious food and drink options.

Mid Canterbury Rugby:

If you’re a sports enthusiast, catch a Mid Canterbury rugby game. The local team, Mid Canterbury Rugby Football Union, often competes in the Heartland Championship, and watching a match is a great way to immerse yourself in New Zealand’s sporting culture.

9. Practical Tips for Visiting Ashburton

Getting to Ashburton:

Ashburton is located in the Canterbury region of New Zealand’s South Island. The nearest international airport is Christchurch International Airport, which is approximately a 1.5-hour drive from Ashburton. You can rent a car at the airport or use shuttle services for transportation to Ashburton.

Where to Stay:

Ashburton offers a range of accommodation options, from cozy bed and breakfasts and motels to modern hotels. Whether you prefer staying in the town center or enjoying a peaceful rural retreat, you’ll find suitable lodging to suit your needs.

Local Transportation:

While Ashburton is best explored by car, the town itself is relatively compact and pedestrian-friendly, making it easy to explore on foot. If you plan on venturing beyond Ashburton, consider renting a vehicle for added convenience.

Weather and Best Time to Visit:

Ashburton experiences a temperate climate, with warm summers and cool winters. The best time to visit depends on your preferences. Summer (December to February) offers pleasant weather for outdoor activities, while winter (June to August) is ideal for skiing and snow sports in the nearby mountains. Spring and autumn are also great times to visit, with milder temperatures and fewer crowds.

10. Conclusion: Embrace Ashburton’s Unique Charm

As we conclude our comprehensive guide to Ashburton, we hope you’ve gained a newfound appreciation for this charming South Island destination. Whether you’re drawn to its rich history, stunning natural beauty, outdoor adventures, or culinary delights, Ashburton offers a diverse range of experiences that will leave you with lasting memories.

So, pack your bags, put on your hiking boots, and get ready to immerse yourself in Ashburton’s unique charm. Whether you’re exploring its heritage sites, embarking on outdoor adventures, or simply savoring the flavors of the region, Ashburton invites you to embrace the warmth of its community and the beauty of its landscapes.

Discover the hidden gems, create unforgettable moments, and embark on your own Ashburton adventure. It’s a place where the heart of New Zealand beats with every step you take.

Explore, experience, and enjoy Ashburton – a true Kiwi gem waiting to be discovered.