Somewhere north of Temuka, heading up State Highway One, my colleague pointed out the car window and asked "what's that?"

I don't know about you, but I've known what a farm irrigator was for as long as I can remember. But this was the first time my 26-year-old city-dwelling colleague had been in the South Island for longer than about 36 hours.

Yet she has toured Europe, Asia and the United States.

New Zealand, drop your plans to book that trip to the Gold Coast. Visit Caroline Bay instead. Never heard of it? Let me tell you.

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The Bay, as the locals call it, used to be the mecca for holidaying South Island families. Caroline Bay is why Timaru was called the Riviera of the South.

The 1960s and 70s were The Bay's heyday. There was the annual Miss Caroline Bay Beauty Pageant, the yearly summer carnival, the ferris wheel going around for all the happy kids.

Today, when you stand on the piazza above The Bay, you can still sense how grand it was when when they first tried to build an English seaside resort. Postcards from a 100 years ago show crowds of elegantly dressed men and women along the promenade, listening to brass bands in the rotunda, splashing around in full bathing suits.

But the heyday is over. Sure, crowds still come to the the big events, but it's not what it was. One evening, I counted two kayakers, one yachtie and an old couple out for a walk.

No one has replaced the broken glass in the smelly outdoors lift that takes you down to the promenade. No one has repainted the old hotel that once was the destination for views across the Bay.

Caroline Bay is probably the victim of international travel. Nowadays, us North Islanders can get to a beach in Fiji as fast as we can get to Timaru.

But we'd be doing ourselves a favour if we tried a holiday at Caroline Bay instead of giving our hard-earned cash to the Australians and Fijians.

Kiwi farmers in places like Timaru are hurting. This week's forecast drop in the milk pay-out will hurt them more. It will hurt towns next. Then it will hurt the cities.

So every coffee we buy in a small town cafe, every night we book in a regional hotel, every pizza we order from Timaru's takeaway joints, is making up for a coffee, a night or a pizza a dairy farmer isn't buying.

To be fair, Timaru will have to do a bit to lure us back from the Islands. The town should fix that window pane and paint those buildings.

The restaurant you've been recommended because it has the best views in town shouldn't be closed on a Wednesday night, and you shouldn't have to wait 90 minutes for breakfast. But what's a late breakfast when there's so much to see?

We detoured to Oamaru this week. There's an old part of the town they call the Victorian precinct. When you look up the narrow street, with the limestone buildings lining both sides, it looks like the quaint set from a Hollywood movie.

Somewhere on the road between Oamaru and Timaru, my colleague decided she wanted to visit the South Island for a second time. She's so keen, she decided to fly down for Easter weekend.

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