Central Otago expanse will take your breath away, writes Elisabeth Easther.

Origin of name:

Named by the surveyor Thomson in 1857 for Tarras Waters in Dumfries, Scotland.

Population: 230

Town icon: Shrek, the giant merino sheep.


Town motto: The Northern Gateway to Central Otago

A stitch in time: The kneelers at Tarras Church (combined Anglican, Presbyterian) are famous for depicting the histories of local families and were a Rural Women project in 1993 to celebrate NZ Women's Suffrage.

Famous locals: Susan Brady (actress), Camilla Rutherford (photographer), Christina Perriam (fashion designer) plus a bunch of award-winning winemakers. And don't forget All Blacks Neil Purvis and Simon Maling.

Sheep trick: Shrek the hermit merino sheep was found around these parts and the local school has published two books about him; funds raised help make the school extra awesome.

Rumour has it: Many years ago when poet Sam Hunt passed through, it's believed he went to the store looking for The Last Mango in Tarras.

Top websites: tarras.org.nz and centralotagonz.com.

Informative: Tarras Rural Women produce a beautiful brochure called "The Tarras Guide". Featuring all the attractions, history and a map it's available in most of the village shops.

Big business: Sheep and wine keep the village afloat with a gradual shift towards cattle. Although statistics indicate over two thirds of the locals make their living from something other than farming.

Source of pride: The strength of the community. Also, you can get away from it all in Tarras, yet still enjoy urban fripperies like soy lattes and gluten-free brownies.

Weather report: Tarras is one of New Zealand's driest towns, with annual rainfall between 300 and 500 mm.

Socks appeal: Farmers respectfully remove their gumboots before entering the cafe or store - and it's said you can tell a lot about a person from their socks.

Town fiestas: Rural Women is a grand collection of women who get things done. They put on various events including the terrific Taste of Tarras - a self-drive tour of Tarras and Bendigo vineyards, featuring fabulous local wine and food.

Slow down: Village life revolves around the store and cafe; so, if you pop in to simply get the keys to the tip, be sure to set aside a good half hour to say hello to everyone

Kids love: Being close to nature, growing up with chooks, pigs, horses and turkeys. Riding motorbikes and shooting rabbits, not to mention skiing and snow boarding all winter.

Best park: Tarras is one big park.

Best playground: The school has an amazing playground set in immaculate grounds.

Facilities: That said, the school was in the news recently because the town has no public loo and the kids are rightfully unhappy when passers by stop to relieve themselves in the school grounds - so come on Central Otago District Council, please find a solution to this unsavoury problem.

Best walks: Big walks, short walks they're all here. Five minutes' drive away at the Welshtown carpark you'll find The Bendigo Conservation Area where you can walk around the Matilda and Aurora batteries, examine mine shafts and the remains of stone dwellings. Interpretation panels explain the various routes you can tackle. Or 17kms north of Tarras on Old Faithful Rd you can explore Nine Mile Historic Reserve and the remains of the historic Lindis Pass Hotel and the nearby Lindis River where gold Otago's first gold was discovered. Camping in the reserve is a great adventure.

Best views: The vast open spaces around Tarras are glorious, look across the Dunstan Range to the east and the Pisa Range to the west. To the south, gaze down the Cromwell Valley, or northwest to Matukituki Valley. In winter, the St Bathans Ranges in the northeast look like a vast wedding cake.

Best place to pull over: Driving into Tarras from Cromwell, stop in at Rocky Point Pottery, when you first catch sight of St Bathans and the Lindis Pass you start to breathe differently because the land is so open and expansive.

Best swim: The Lindis River has lots of little dipping spots, if you ask nicely a local will point the way. Or befriend someone who has a key to the school pool.

Vintage fun: Mrs Robinson's is an emporium filled with vintage delights, fabric, furniture and quirky things.

Nice arts: Rocky Point Pottery sells an extensive selection of wares displayed in a genuine adobe building that dates back to 1869.

Top shop: Tarras Country Store sells all the basic groceries, ice creams, milk shakes plus they provide a postal service, petrol, deli treats and homewares and the prices are really reasonable

Woolly for you: Poke your nose into Perriam at the back of the store to view a warm selection of merino sheep fashion from Bendigo Station. Jerseys, socks, knitting wool, books, carved horn sticks ...

Cream of the coffee: The Country Cafe is perfect for a snack or full meal, with indoor or outdoor seating, you could park up for the whole day. And yes, it is the only cafe but the coffee is actually excellent.

Baked: The Country Cafe makes brownies, cherry crumble, ginger crunch, divine cakes, bacon and egg pies and in winter the roaring fire keeps things cosy.

Wet your whistle: The Country Cafe is licensed, while the store has a wine tasting room where you can sample all the local vinos.

Best mountain biking: A lot of the walking trails round here can be cycled or, slightly further afield, the Clutha Trails are astonishing.

Best adventures: Trout fishing, road cycling, motorbike touring or trot over to the nearby Wanaka airfield and take a trip in a biplane or try skydiving. The local golf course is also fun - but mind the sheep.

Best kept secret: Don't go to bed too early - the night sky twinkles and has virtually no light pollution.

Wildlife: Enormous sheep, millions of rabbits, hawks, karearea (New Zealand falcon) and flocks of ducks. There's also a flourishing finch population.

Safety warning: Cyclists watch out, in magpie nesting season the birds become very territorial and sometimes they target riders.

The verdict: Magpies aside, Tarras is a hotbed of awesome.



In Central Otago in the Clutha Valley on SH8, and about 20 minutes drive to Cromwell or Wanaka.