Elisabeth Easther finds a town full of golden opportunities.
Where is it?
50 km south of Dunedin, in the Clutha District.
Origin of current name: It's either a shortened version of Milltown (for the early flour and oat mills) or a reference to the English poet, with many of the streets named for British bards.
Original name: Known by Maori as Tokomairiro, this translates loosely as "poling a canoe through reeds", which means there was some epic drainage work back in the day to turn this land from boggy to productive.
Town motto: Town of opportunities.
Claim to fame: Back in 1878, the country's first long-distance telephony system linked Milton to Dunedin, presumably for short chats about gold.
Famous locals: Sam Hayes (TV personality), Daryl Tuffey (cricketer) and three former All Blacks (Frank Oliver, Ken Bloxham and Edward Stewart). Aviation pioneer Richard Pearse lived here for a while, too.
Business leaders: Big players include Calder Stewart, Pan Pac and Otago Corrections Facility (aka The Milton Hilton).
Source of pride: This community knows how to pull together; is always looking out for each other.
Kinky: Milton's main street has an unusual kink in it. Some people say it was put in to protect a tree, others claim two surveyors were heading towards town from different directions and weren't quite on the same page. You can decide which you prefer.
Town fiestas: The Tokomairiro A&P Show is held every December and is full of good old-fashioned country fun with equestrian events, dog trials, trade displays, entertainment and wagonloads of laughs. There are also some very impressive poultry shows.
Here for a short time: Browse the quirky range of shops, head out the back to Bull Creek or Crystals Beach, go for a walk then enjoy a pint at the pub.
Kids love: Milburn Whale Fossils and Lookout, just outside of Milton heading north. Not only are the views fantastic, visitors can admire the displays of whale and dolphin fossils that have been dug up out of nearby lime quarries — estimated as being 24-34 million years old — they'll blow your mind. And if that's not enough, the history of the area's lime and phosphate past is also told there.
Best park: Moore Park has a skate park, basketball hoop, playground and the neatest children's cycle park built largely by volunteers — families flock there.
Nature's finery: 16km northeast of Milton, Lake Waihola is a large freshwater lake popular with windsurfers, boaties and rowers. Fishing is pretty swish there too.
Another playground: Taylor Park playground is pretty cool, next to the swimming pool and the camping ground.
Furry feeling: Windermere Alpacas and Llamas is a fab farm experience, where you can get up close and personal with those endearing long-necked creatures.
Best walks: McNally Track is three hours' return and passes through forest and farm. The view from the lookout at the top is a winner, although it's closed during lambing. Crystals Beach is also lovely for brisk strolls.
Best view: Lake Waihola with its stupendous reflections is hard to beat, or, within Milton itself, the looming gothic church is a popular photo op.
Best swim: Bull Creek on the seashore is a sweet little holiday spot with safe swimming, fishing and walking. Or in winter, go to the indoor pool in town.
Best museum: Milton Butchery Museum. Around the back of South Kill Abattoir, Rex and Joy Spence have collected photos and equipment covering 50 fascinating years of butchery. Probably not suitable for vegans.
Historic buildings: Look out for the Old Sod Cottage (built 1860s), McGill's Flour Mill (1860s) and the Alliance Textile Mills (built in 1897 and still operating). The gothic Tokomairiro Presbyterian Church (completed in 1889) is also a wondrous sight.
Top shops: Waimate Knitwear and The Merino Story shop are perfect for picking up Kiwi-made luxury merino goods. The vintage and antique shops are also excellent, ditto Curious Clothing, where you can get remarkably groovy clothing.
Cream of the coffee: Cafe Lola and Kink in the Road (the bistro at The White Horse Inn) can both be relied on. Night n Day also do a fine cuppa, while the newest kid on the block The Blue Mill Kitchen is fast making a strong impression.
Best mountain biking: A little further inland you'll reach Lawrence, where you can start (or finish) the magnificent Clutha Gold Cycle Trail.
Best adventure: Hunting and fishing are both easily accessible if you're that way inclined.
Best kept secret: The local Lions Club operates a manure stand for people who want their gardens to flourish. Raising money by raising vegetables.
Wildlife: Go for a walk around Sinclair Wetlands, a 315-hectare network of river channels, swamps and pools where visitors can kayak, camp, and even volunteer. With 46 different species of birds, there are also eels, whitebait and freshwater crayfish — all of them living safe in the knowledge that no humans can catch them. Which must be very comforting, especially for the dear little whitebait.
The verdict: Endearing, fun and picturesque.
Air New Zealand flies non-stop to Dunedin from Auckland up to three times a day.