A good reason to stop in ... Oxford

Oxford is more than just a linear country town. Photo by Thom Benny.
Oxford is more than just a linear country town. Photo by Thom Benny.
Ask them what they think of the drive north to Christchurch, and most people will speak of prolonged, straight stretches of travel tedium.

Big sky hanging over boring paddocks, punctuated by the occasional bridge or town.

It doesn't have to be this way.

If they could tolerate adding 40 minutes or so to their journey, they could instead enjoy the rolling, winding roads with views of mountains and gorges offered by the inland scenic route.

Roughly two hours from the turnoff at Winchester, just north of Timaru, lies the North Canterbury town of Oxford.

Like many of the places passed through on the main highway, Oxford is a linear town; unlike those places, though, it offers more reasons to visit or stay than just a garage and dairy.

With a population of about 1500, it's a rural town with a tight-knit community.

But drive down the main road and you pass two restaurants - one owned and operated by chef Jo Seagar - an antique shop, a town hall that doubles as a movie theatre, a modern swimming pool and a recently-built skateboard park.

That is not to mention the council building, which houses a Kiwibank branch and post office, and a modest library.

There are also one or two bed and breakfasts in close proximity.

If that's not enough to convince you it's worth spending time in this small, but well set up country town, then drive out of the centre towards the foothills and Ashley Gorge.

Some places one drives through have on their outskirts some form of rest area, some grass, a table or two.

Oxford's equivalent is about 10 minutes out of town.

A wide, safe river meanders past a willow-lined lawn on which many families can comfortably play sports, prepare food or sunbathe.

Past this main reserve, a road winds up into the forest, passes two smaller fields, and arrives at a car park from which a walking track leads to an impressive lookout.

This is but one of the walks the area has to offer.

Out the other end of the town is Mt Oxford, which can be climbed in a day or incorporated into an overnight trip to one of the area's huts.

For a small town far enough from the state highway, Oxford is thriving with activity and full of good reasons to stop in.

If stopping for a short break from driving, legs can be stretched in the antique shop and quality food found across the road.

If stopping for an hour or two, people are able to swim, skate, read or run errands.

If spending a night or two in Oxford, accommodation is on hand and the surrounding hills and forests hold much in the way of recreation and exploring.


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