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Enterprising Ashburton - flourishing Mid Canterbury centre

Dorothy - 22/11/02

Ashburton, the town centre of Mid Canterbury, is flourishing and the home of enterprises:

  • designline, the largest bus and coach building firm in the Southern Hemisphere
  • Five Star Beef, New Zealand's largest beef finishing feedlot, producing top quality grain-fed beef for export to Japan
  • Lake Hood, a man-made lake, an imaginative development for water sports and a holiday housing area
  • Ashford Crafts, New Zealand's largest spinning wheel and weaving loom manufacturer
  • Peter Lynn Kites, selling worldwide, appearing in the Guinness Book of Records
  • The New Zealand Sock Company, specialising in sports socks
  • agriculture businesses, traditional and innovative support for farmers.

Riverside Industrial Park
If you visit designline you will drive through the Riverside Industrial Park developed by the Ashburton District Council - clear evidence of growing businesses and the support given to enterprises setting up in the town.

designline was established in 1985 with a staff of three and now employs eighty six, producing around 120 vehicles per year. It has become well known worldwide for developing the Hybrid Electric Vehicle, used in Christchurch and Japan.

Christchurch Shuttle
Hybrid Electric Vehicle
Photo source Peter Hunt

The Five Star Feed Lot at Wakanui takes in healthy animals at about eighteen months old, pampers them in a stress-free environment and feeds them a scientifically planned diet of grain so that they nearly double their weight in around 250 days, producing the type of grain-fed marbled beef valued by Japanese gourmets.

Five Star Feed Lot
Five Star Feed Lot at Wakanui

The Mill House
The Mill House, site of Ashford's cafe and showroom
Ashford Crafts - craft shop, cafe and craft village
The emphasis at Ashford's is on what is handmade and traditional. They supply traditional spinning wheels and looms, the cafe is set in the historic Mill House, hand crafted products are sold in the shop and the food in the cafe is all handmade. There is also a museum on the site featuring a unique collection of spinning wheels from around the world, including original Ashford spinning wheels made in 1937, a 1750 English flax spinning wheel and an 1889 Japanese silk wheel and reel.

In Ashford Carft Village the Eastside Gallery is a cooperative of crafts people from the Ashburton district. Wood 'N' Things, as its name suggests, sells wooden furniture and restored antique furniture. Times Past also sells antiques - a wide range of collectibles. There is also a photography and picture framing business and a garden centre.

Peter Lynn Kites
Peter Lynn, engineer and inventor, has established a multimillion-dollar company, the biggest seller of large kites around the world. He has invented the world's two largest kites, MegaRay, a stingray and Megabite, a trilobite (an extinct marine arthropod). He now focuses on designing traction kites which can pull a board, a craft or a vehicle. With the large kites have come new sports, buggying and kite surfing - which have become very popular with thrill seekers. The large kites are also used for promotion.

A place of initiative from the beginning
For early Ngai Tahu Maori the area around Ashburton was a place of transitory occupation, not permanent settlement. The first European settlers were mainly English, Irish or Scottish, drawn to the area by the available farmland.

William Turton - a man of enterprise
The first settlers were William Turton and his wife and young family who came to the area in 1858 to set up a ferry service over the Ashburton River. This was followed by an accommodation house and stables on 300 acres of land which they leased from the Canterbury Provincial Government. Because they operated a ferry and offered accommodation they were permitted to sell liquor, and their house became a social centre for the runholders. William Turton was also the postmaster and a shopkeeper.

The town of Ashburton was named after an early runholder, the Hon. Thomas Baring, later Lord Ashburton.

The railway link
In 1874 the railway from Christchurch reached Ashburton and the town grew as a result. In 1878 the town became a borough, and blocks of land were reserved for municipal purposes. For the first fifty years the Borough Council worked despite money shortages to develop and maintain streets, lighting, a water supply, a sewerage system, drainage, sanitation, parks, education facilities, a library, and health services. Since then the area has prospered and the town is attractively laid out and well serviced.

Prosperity of Ashburton linked to the prosperity of farmers
Many of the businesses in the town support the farming community and have been adversely affected by any downturn in farmers' incomes. In the late 1980s and well through the 1990s farmers were getting low prices for their wool, meat and crops. At this time Ashburton experienced high unemployment especially among its young people.

Now after some good seasons farmers' prosperity has returned with lamb prices going as high as $NZ 85.00 a lamb. The number of sheep in New Zealand has dropped from 70 million to about 45 million. This has led to a shortfall in the number of carcasses offered for sale and so the price has risen.

A number of dairy farms have been established in Mid Canterbury, some through farmers converting their farms from sheep to dairy operations, and some through new families buying land and setting up dairy farms. The dairy farmers are short of labour, so there are jobs available in this area.

The new initiatives in manufacturing and the improved profitability of the farming-related businesses have opened up new job opportunities. A recent estimate was that 27% of the Ashburton workforce was employed in manufacturing.

Why live in Ashburton?
Judith and Ron Armstrong retired from their farm at Dorie and made their home in Ashburton. I asked them why they chose Ashburton. The answer was that it is a pleasant place with friendly people and a wide choice of activities. Judith remarked that life in the town revolved around organisations and no one needed to be bored. She listed some of the groups:

  • garden clubs, popular in a town where many homes have attractive gardens
  • heritage rose enthusiasts, a specialty gardeners' group
  • farm forestry - a group supporting those developing this as an extra cash crop
  • book club supported by the excellent new library offering reading for adults and children and a children's holiday programme
  • Save the Children Fund
  • Women's Division of Federated Farmers - one activity being helping young mothers on farms with support from older women for three weeks or a month's help from a housekeeper
  • The Women's Institute offering meetings with interesting speakers and group trips
  • Probus clubs providing meetings and trips for retired business and professional people
  • tramping club with two tramps a month, in the foothills at Mt Somers or Awa Awa Reserve, to Lake Heron and along the Erewhon Road to Lake Camp, Lake Emma, Lake Clearwater, or north to the Port Hills
  • sports clubs - cricket, Mid Canterbury rugby, soccer, tennis, two golf clubs, bowls, croquet, Ashburton Swim Club, all-weather floodlit hockey and tennis facilities

Sports facilities are well provided for with the extensive Domain. There is an excellent aquatic centre with an Olympic-size swimming pool and an area for using rubber blow-ups and boats.

Armstrongs' Garden
The Armstrongs' garden
Photo source Ron Armstrong

The Ashburton Hospital not only serves the people of Mid Canterbury. Patients travel from other areas for some types of surgery and other treatments.

Education is well catered for with schools at all levels - pre-schools, primary school in the town and surrounding areas and Ashburton College providing secondary education for pupils from a wide area in Mid Canterbury.

The main Christian denominations have established fine churches in the town and congregations not only hold services but are involved in community care.

There is a Marae at Hakatere, on the edge of the town, and Te Whare O Ta Whaki in the grounds of Ashburton College.

Why visit Ashburton?
The Ashburton Gardens and Domain

As early as 1863 the surveyor set aside 72 acres for recreational purposes, now termed the Domain. Visitors to the town benefit from this early planning and subsequent development of the beautiful Ashburton Gardens.

Ashburton Gardens
The Ashburton Gardens in spring
Photo source Ron Armstrong

The gardens in autumn - ducks seek a haven in the shooting season
Photo source Ron Armstrong

The Domain is worth a visit at any time of the year. The entrance at the north end on West Street has ample parking, a children's play area, a skate board park and a flying fox.

Mid Canterbury Events
Check on the dates for Ashburton's "Wheels Week", the Methven Summer school, the race meetings, arts and crafts exhibitions, the A & P Show, golf tournaments, brass band concerts, the annual Bookarama, Rakaia Salmon Fishing Competition, the Ruapuna garden fete, Garden competitions - the list goes on.
Contact the Ashburton Visitor Information Centre for dates.
Phone 03 308 1050

Wheels Week is an important event in Ashburton, with displays in various areas, weekend car racing in Smallbones Drive and a procession as the climax on the final Saturday.

Wheels week
Wheels Week Procession along East Street
Photo source Ron Armstrong

Places to visit close to the town
The Ashburton Museum and Art Gallery, the Plains Vintage Railway and Historical Museum, the Aviation Museum - depending on your interests any of these are well worth a visit.

The railway enthusiasts at the Railway Museum have spent six years restoring a vintage steam engine, the K88, which hauled New Zealand's first inter-city train, from Christchurch to Dunedin on September 6, 1878. It 1926 it was written off and for 47 years it lay in a Southland river. It was put on display beside the main line on February 10, 2002 when the last Christchurch-bound Southerner train passed by.

Lake Hood for water sports
This man-made lake, 5 minutes from Ashburton, has been built to provide an international 8-lane rowing and water ski course. It is ideal for dinghy sailing. Picnic areas and beaches are being developed. 150 residential subdivision sections are offered for sale. The sections are canal-based and residents will be able to launch their boats from the boundary of their section.

is the Salmon Capital of New Zealand. The Rakaia River, a braided river, is crossed by a bridge which is 1.8 kilometres long. This brings southbound travellers into Mid Canterbury, and many stop in Rakaia to fish, visit the local craftspeople, picnic in the domain or in picnic spots along the riverbank or have a meal in the township.

Visitors pour into the area for the annual Rakaia Salmon Fishing Competition in the last weekend in February. This enterprising community also runs an annual jet sprint, a ploughing match, golf tournaments and the Rakaia Shears competition.

Enjoy Ashburton and Rakaia and then head inland
The thriving town of Methven offers accommodation for skiing on Mount Hutt in the winter and a range of activities all year round. For more information on Mid Canterbury read in NZine about the Scenic Inland Highway and the townships along the route.


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