With the sheep and the All Blacks link there are few places as true blue South Island, says Elisabeth Easther.

Where is it?

In the Waitaki District at the southern end of the Mackenzie Basin; 340km from Christchurch and 220km from Dunedin.

Origin of name? Omarama is Maori for Place of Light - a reference to the amazingly clear skies and lit-up nights.

Population? 267 (2013 Census).


Slogan? Gliding Capital of New Zealand - Omarama is one of the top three gliding destinations in the world.

Town icon? The giant merino sheep made of Oamaru stone in the main street.

Famous locals? Richie McCaw grew up not far from Omarama and these days he visits to indulge his passion for gliding.

Infamous locals? There's a fellow called Hat who's lived in the area for more than 30 years. Hat owns a bus down by the river on a piece of land called The Republic of Hat and he's quite the character.

Best websites? discoveromarama.co.nz and hottubsomarama.co.nz.

Biggest business? Sitting in the fork of Mt Cook and Queenstown, the district sees a lot of tour buses pass through but it's still mainly farming - predominantly sheep, with three local stations providing wool to Icebreaker.

Sources of pride? The views are astonishing, while the lakes and rivers make for fabulous fishing, and the gliding isn't too shabby either.

Town fiestas? The Gliding Grand Prix is a big deal. The Omarama Rodeo, which is in the middle of the circuit, brings people from far and wide. But the fruitiest event has to be the Bark Up in December where everyone goes to the pub to see and hear whose dog can bark the loudest.

Best reasons to stop? Go to the Clay Cliffs, 10km out of town, or soak away your worries in the clear mountain water of the famous Hot Tubs Omarama, a health spa tucked away in the tussocks with stunning views. Or hire a bike and knock off some of the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail.

Best place to take kids? Ladybird Hill is amazing - catch your own trout or salmon in their ponds and they'll cook it for you while the kids frolic and the adults relax with a vino in their mini vineyard.

All Blacks captain Richie McCaw grew up near Omarama. Photo / Peter Meecham
All Blacks captain Richie McCaw grew up near Omarama. Photo / Peter Meecham

Best playground?

There's a good bunch of swinging and sliding to be done by the community hall and there's a bike park there too.

Best walk? In town, there's a track behind Ladybird Hill called Lookout Pt. It takes just 20 minutes to get to the top of the hill and once you're there you'll be rewarded with great views of the valley. Further up towards Twizel and Lake Ohau there are a range of DoC tracks.

Best view? The aforementioned Lookout Pt.

Best place to pull over? Driving in from Lindis Pass from Wanaka or Queenstown, you'll want to stop to see the Clay Cliffs in the distance. Down the valley heading towards Oamaru you'll see great views of Lake Benmore, and there are gobsmacking views of Mt Cook when you're headed towards Twizel.

Best swims? The lakes and rivers all rock, the school has a nice pool which people can rent keys for and, of course, there are always those simmering hot tubs.

Nice arts? Totara Peak Gallery has a gladiator-themed shop, with loads of old props from the TV series Xena: Warrior Princess.

Cream of the coffee? Ladybird Hill also does great coffee. Pop to the hotel which has a cafe attached or check out the newest kid on the block, Olive Grove (4 Chainhills Highway).

Get baked: The Four Square operates a mini bakery and makes amazing bread, among other things.

Best food? Olive Grove, Ladybird Hill, The Wrinkly Rams and Kahu (68 Airport Road) are all well recommended. And if you fancy an authentic Turkish kebab, pop along to The Love Shack, a cart that parks up outside the Olive Grove.

Wet your whistle: The Omarama Hotel pub is the place to go.

Best mountain biking? Aside from the Alps 2 Ocean that covers a route from Mt Cook to Oamaru, there are also super tracks round Lake Ohau and the top of Lake Benmore Dam.

Best adventure? Go gliding, take a trial flight and experience the peace of soaring.

Best kept secret? The Clay Cliffs aren't advertised a great deal so not many people know about them but when you're walking towards them it's hard to believe your eyes, and when you're among them you're surrounded by prehistoric cliffs - it's like being back in the Stone Age.

Wildlife? The biggest draws are the salmon in the canals, the trout in the rivers and the huge merino sheep.

Floral tribute: From mid-November to January when the lupins bloom around the lakes and Lindis Pass, and the world explodes with crazy colours as the landscape bursts into life.

Locals say? Gliding on? We invented it.

Thanks to Beckie.