Ashburton Area GuideThe small farming town of Ashburton lies on the plains, an hour's drive down the long, straight stretch of state highway 1 south west of Christchurch.
Ashburton is neatly divided into two halves by the railway line, which runs between the town's main streets, simply named East and West Streets. State highway 1 becomes West Street as it enters town at the northern end and bypasses the town centre. On the other side of the line is the main shopping street of East Street where most of the town's shops, cafes and pubs, and the Visitor Centre, are located.
The Ashburton Art Gallery and Museum occupies an airy space in the former County Council building on Baring Square East, just off East Street. The art gallery shows touring art exhibitions, while the museum concentrates on the development of farming in the area, and the efforts by the early settlers to transform the wide expanse of wind-blown tussock-covered land into pastoral farmland, the wide snow-fed braided rivers with their constantly changing fords providing one of their first challenges.
The Ashburton Domain, on West Street, is a pleasant place to amble and picnic, particularly in spring and autumn when its 37-hectare botanic gardens are at their most attractive. The domain's quaint fitness circuit with its 20 stations, and signs advocating the correct amount of exercise for families and athletes, provides a fun diversion for families.
In May, Ashburton holds Wheels Week, a celebration of all things wheeled, with a huge street parade featuring vehicles of all kinds, including penny-farthings, traction engines, classic cars, and military vehicles. The Wheels Week website has a full programme.
Across the Ashburton River, at the southern edge of town, is the family-friendly Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum, which runs short steam train excursions on its public open afternoons on the second Sunday of each month, from October to June.