Nestled in berry country, this sunny town is bursting with Edwardian elegance, discovers Elisabeth Easther.

Where is it?

Tucked halfway between Christchurch and Dunedin, Waimate is in the South Canterbury province, not too far from the coast.

Origin of name: Maori originally called the area Te Waimatemate, meaning "slowly moving waters".

Population: 3500.


Claims to fame: Wallabies and wine, strawberries and streetcar racing.

Town icon: A white horse monument on the Hunters Hills is a tribute to the Clydesdales that were instrumental in developing the land; it's made of concrete slabs and is 18m high and 14.6m long.

Town monument: The Clock Tower, a memorial to WWII, which was officially ticked off in 1956 by war hero Sir Howard Kippenberger.

Famous locals: Norman Kirk (Prime Minister, 1972-74), Margaret Cruickshank (New Zealand's first practising female GP), Eric Batchelor (the mostly highly decorated NCO of WWII) and Jeanie Collier (first woman to own land in NZ).

Founding local: Michael Studholme — settled the area in 1854 having developed a peaceful accord with local chief Te Huruhuru and is still referred to as the Father of Waimate.

Statue #1: Dr Margaret Cruickshank died of influenza in 1918, and in 1923 a statue of her was unveiled in Seddon Square. The inscription reads: "The beloved physician, faithful until death."

Statue #2:

The female figure Zealandia — a reminder of the Boer War — stands beneath a coronation oak.

Best website:

Big business: Dairy farming, horticulture and light industry.

Over the hill: If retirement is on your radar, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better spot than Waimate — the gardens are pretty, the houses don't cost a bomb and the weather is great.

Source of pride: Epic strawberries, stunning scenery and Edwardian elegance.

Town fiestas: South Canterbury A&P Show (November), the Caledonian Games (January), Waimate 50 (a motorsport festival — October), Strawberry Fare and Rodeo (December), Edwardian Heritage Group Weekend (March).

Kids love: Kelsey's Bush Farmyard Holiday Park, for camping, animal experiences and great views of coast and bush. Visit EnkleDooVery Korna to pat soft, tame wallabies. Or take the kids to the Regent Cinema, where there's still an interval for icecreams.

Best park #1: Victoria Park, established in 1881 for fun and games; today the trees and flowers are glorious. With a velodrome, tennis and netball courts, paddling pool, soundshell and pavilion, it also has camping facilities.

Best park #2: Knottingley Park is fabulous for cricket, equestrian and canine events, picnics, walking and hugging trees in the fabulous arboretum.

Best playground: The skate park by the pools has a great play area.

Best walks: The hills around Waimate are perfect for working up a sweat. The Whitehorse Track is two hours return from the end of Point Bush Rd. Garlands Track is a pleasant one-hour stroll, or you can trot up Mt Nimrod — four hours return and you must be fit.

Best view:

White Horse Lookout

offers views across Waimate to the Pacific Ocean and through to the Waitaki Valley.

Best swim: Normal Kirk Memorial Pools, with an outdoor grassy area for relaxing.

Best museum: Waimate Historical Museum is an endearing collection of historic buildings, including the old courthouse, memorabilia, artefacts and archives for genealogists.

Historical outings: Wandering respectfully around the old cemetery will teach you a fair bit. Or check out the Strawberry Heritage Trail — a three-hour drive taking in historic highlights. Bushtown Waimate is a replica Edwardian town bringing the logging past to life. Featuring a steam sawmill, bushman's hut and miniature train, they have big plans for the future.

Nice arts: Waimate Arts Society put on exhibitions. Or visit Vines Restaurant, where works of local artists are shown at the cellar door.

Top shops: The secondhand shops are a treat.

Cream of the coffee:

Nosh do a mean brew and their slices are legendary, ditto their bacon butties.

Butlers Berry Farm and Cafe

sell their own fruity produce.

Best food: Vines Winery Restaurant & Cellar Door at Point Bush provides outstanding cuisine, tasting platters, seafood, lamb, duck — and the best views in town. Or try the Naked Chip for delicious fish and chips.

Wet your whistle: Waimate Hotel on the corner of Queen and High streets is perfect for a friendly pint and a steak, even a bed.

Best digs: Te Kiteroa Lodge is extra special. An outstanding historic mansion, there are turret rooms, a hot tub and charming hosts.

Best mountain biking: This neck of the woods is heaven for riders — from the 60km Pentland Traverse to Meyers Pass Trail, a mostly gravel track. Hakataramea Pass is 100km of riding with sweeping views of the Alps and Mt Cook. And if you fancy something fresh, Whitehorse Big Easy is a new 9km walking and biking track through native bush.

But wait, there's more:

Around here you'll also find wetlands (

Lake Wainono

) and golf clubs, opportunities for hunting, fishing and horse trekking.

Best kept secret: A lot of people know this is berry country but not that it's also award-winning wine country.

Wildlife: Bennett's wallabies were introduced from Tasmania in 1874 — to be hunted, poor chaps — and today these creatures live wild in the countryside. A wallaby features on a yellow shed pointing the way to the town. Native birds flourish here too, and out on the coast you might see little blue penguins or seals. And because this used to be moa country, keep your eyes peeled for bones.

The verdict: Waimate? Why not.

Air New Zealand flies to nearby Timaru from Auckland, via Wellington.