Elisabeth Easther explores a Central Otago hamlet, population 300, where newcomers are welcomed with a community dinner.

Origin of name:

Originally called Oven Hill, it was later renamed Millers Flat after Walter Miller, an early settler who farmed there from 1849.

Population: 300 and growing steadily.

Don't listen: If your hosts tell you it never rains in Central Otago, they're lying. Although the sun does shine whenever it isn't raining

Advertisement

Famous locals: Children's author Kyle Mewburn creates his masterpieces in Millers Flat -- if you've not read the Dinosaur Rescue series you don't know what you're missing. Marion Mewburn is a world-class potter, whose studio you can visit by appointment. Paddy-Ann Pemberton, the region's Town Crier lives there, as does Eoin Garden, former chairman of Silver Fern Farms.

Now hear this: Millers Flat has its own catchy song, go to YouTube to see and hear more.

Best website: millersflat.com
Engineering icon: The distinctive Millers Flat Bridge is a four-span steel truss bridge designed by Robert Hay. Opened in 1899, it's rather gorgeous.

Claim to fame: Part of Vodafone's Piggy Sue commercial was shot there using the blue bridge.

Big business: Once it was gold, now it's fruit and farming.

Source of pride: The townspeople love how Millers Flat has retained its untouched Central Otago charm - it's just a nice place to live.

Welcome arms: The locals hold an annual potluck dinner to welcome newcomers to the fold.

Town fiestas: The Boxing Day Rodeo is a whopper, drawing riders from both sides of the Tasman. Teviot Wearable Tartan Art Awards get bigger each year. Or stop by in August for the regional schools rugby and netball tournaments. And this year there was the first Opera in the Garden, featuring food culture and wine - just like Glyndebourne only further south. And it was so successful it's set to become a biennial event.

Here for a short time: Just cruise around, preferably by bike, and enjoy the tranquillity and beauty.

Best reason to stop: To shop for a home and start a new life.

Kids love: The pool, the great outdoors, the playgrounds - and it's safe for playing and riding bikes without being helicoptered over.

Best park: There's a swag of room to run around at the sports ground.

Best playground: The school has a fantastic adventure playground with heaps of cool stuff for climbing, a flying fox and a big slide.

Best facilities: Lavatories can be found beside the community hall.

Best walk: Amble along the old rail lines to Horseshoe Bend Bridge and visit the grave of Somebody's Darling and William Rigney, the kindly soul who gave a complete stranger a decent burial. or stride along any portion of the Clutha River - it's gorgeous.

Mountain bikers above Lake Roxburgh.
Mountain bikers above Lake Roxburgh.

Best view:

if you like walking up hills, trot up the back of the village heading towards Lake Onslow and aim for the ridges above the valley floor for views of the majestic Clutha as it winds its way under the blue bridge.

Best place to pull over: Dilapidated Teviot Woolshed, once one of the biggest in the land, it was destroyed by arson in the 1920s and is now a picturesque ruin.

Best swim: The War Memorial Baths were saved by locals who raised enough money to keep them open and have them solar heated too. The pool is 32m and the water gets up to 27C during summer and visitors can obtain day passes to cool off.

Fun to be had: There are tennis courts, a small library, a volunteer fire brigade, but don't bring your bowling gear because the club has let the lawn grow long.

Best museum: The old bakehouse is being restored and will be reborn as The Heritage Centre, a museum and groovy gift shop.

Artistic pursuits: This hamlet is paradise for photographers, painters and poets and the stars are so bright you could read a book by their light.

Down like a dog: Visit on a Monday or Thursday and do yoga in the hall with Anna Perkins, a teacher with something of a cult following.

She leads a relatively demanding class, whose devotees range in age from 9 to gold-card. The perfect antidote to a day in the saddle.

Crowning glory: Central Otago's largest commercial pumpkin grower is based in Millers Flat.

Top shop: Faigan's Store, owned by four generations of the Faigen family, has recently closed and a cafe and shop will soon open in its place. Set to be awesome.

Best digs: Quince Cottage is simply delightful with culinary influences from Ottolenghi and Stephanie Alexander, a potager garden the Queen would envy and the most welcoming hosts.

On a budget: The camping ground, right by the river, is under new management and is being given a much needed revamp, which will include a cafe.

Cream of the coffee: The pub's the only place at present and they do a fine brew but when the new cafes are up and running, you'll be spoiled for choice.

Best food: If you're staying at Quince Cottage you're in luck. Otherwise it's down to the tavern for traditional pub grub where the lamb shanks and pork ribs rock. Again, when those new cafes open ...

Crocus pocus: Saffron producer Sarah MacDougall painstakingly picks all those little stamens by hand at Minzion Station - procure a little packet if you're able.

Wet your whistle: Millers Flat Tavern on the other side of the bridge on State Highway 8 is good for a cold brew on a hot day.

Best biking: The Clutha Gold Trail is darling, as is The Roxburgh Gorge Trail. If you're feeling turbo-charged, however, pedal up the public gravel road to Mt Teviot.

Best adventures: Go fishing and angle for a 6kg salmon on the river, try for a trout on Lake Onslow or go gold panning.

Best-kept secret: In late January the cicada hatch at Lake Onslow makes fishing exceptional.

Wildlife: Salmon, trout, cicadas, quail, bunnies, sheep, pigs, deer, ducks, hawks.

Safety warnings: Do NOT swim in the river, even if you think you're a strong one, few people are a match for this current, the fastest flowing river in New Zealand.

The verdict: Miller's Flat is small but perfectly formed.

Miller's Flat graves. Photo / Tony Dons
Miller's Flat graves. Photo / Tony Dons

CHECKLIST

Where is it

Snug at the southern end of Central Otago's Teviot Valley, Millers Flat sits beside the Clutha River, 17km from Roxburgh.