Elisabeth Easther discovers a Kiwi jewel

Origin of name:

There is some debate over whether the town is named after the area of Oxford in England, the University of Oxford or if it was named after one of the Bishops of Oxford - whatever the reason, it was named by one Joseph Thomas, Chief Surveyor of the Canterbury Association in 1849.

Population: 1716.

Where is it: North Canterbury, in the Waimakariri district, 45 minutes west of Christchurch on Inland Scenic Route72.


Town Slogan: Best little town in New Zealand.

Town mascot: It'd have to be Mt Oxford.

Interesting: Oxford, originally a timber-milling town, was so bustling back in the day that it used to have two railway stations.

Biggest industry: Dairy farming; traditionally it was sheep and cropping, but has turned more to dairy over time.

Source of pride: The environment. Locals are aware of how pristine their neck of the woods is, and they're keen to keep it that way.

Town competition: The Oxford Half Marathon is a beauty, usually held in September. There are a few cycle races, too, road and mountain, because there's great cycling to be had round these parts.

Best reason to stop: In the township there are lots of cafes and craft places; at last count there were five craft shops. In the wider region, there's wonderful walking and lots of outdoorsy things: mountain biking, tramping, hunting and fishing.

Best art gallery: Arts in Oxford Gallery is hugely popular. Just two doors down from Jo Seagar's, they have new exhibitions every four to five weeks, as well as a workshop for classes where visitors can learn jewellery making, watercolour painting and even paint making from local pigments.

Best place to take the kids: Ashley Gorge Reserve has a stunning picnic area and the river is safe for swimming, with nice shallow areas for little ones and deeper areas for bigger kids.

Best place to get a drink: Really only two places, The West Oxford Hotel, and the Workingmen's Club.

Best food: Cafe 51 has won plenty of awards and with good reason; or for something a bit more casual, Jo Seagar's cafe and cooking school is popular. When she's running a course the roads are chocka.

Most famous local: Jo Seagar.

Best flat white: Seagar's Cafe 51; although that said, all the cafes are pretty good.

Best bakery: Village Foods is the closest thing to a bakery and it does great pies, especially steak and cheese.

Best local website: oxfordnz.co.nz
Best museum: Oxford Museum is popular with visitors, as is the old jail behind it. Oxford also has an observatory at the local area school which is available for groups and individuals to visit. cstarsoas.org.nz
Best walk: Ryde Falls is an easy forest walk to a waterfall, where there's a campground. Mt Oxford is good for a hearty day's walking, taking about four to five hours to get to the top.

Best view: The vista from top of Mt Oxford is perfectly pretty, looking out over the Canterbury Plains and up the back of the Lees Valley.

Best place to pull over: The reserve at Ashley Gorge - aside from the swimming, it also has a healthy mix of exotic and native forest, so excellent for hugging trees.

Best playground: Pearson Park, right in the township, has a great playground.

Here for a short time: Take a jet boat trip up the Waimak gorge, play a round of golf, go walking, try fishing in the Ashley. Do the arts and crafts trail or just admire the lovely old homesteads and lovingly restored workers' cottages.

Best-kept secret: Womersley Industries, the local hardware store is startlingly good. If someone didn't take you by the hand there, you wouldn't know about it, but they have everything you could ever dream of. It's like a big tin shed, a Mecca for blokes and whatever size screw, nut or bolt you want, they have it.

Best shop: Aside from Womersleys, there are loads of lovely gift shops selling the work of local artisans.

Best swim: The swimming pool at Pearson Park or the river at Ashley Gorge.

Wildest wildlife: The birdlife teems. There are lots of bellbirds, fantails, kereru and tui.

Regional park: DoC has a lot of land round Mt Oxford, with a sprinkling of huts for intrepid trampers.

Locals say: Oxford is the jewel in the crown of the Waimakariri.

Visitors say: We're not surprised many families have lived here for five generations, why would you leave?

Thank you to Dave, proprietor of Ashley Gorge Holiday Park, for divulging some secrets about what makes Oxford so great.