Ashburton, a country town in South Canterbury, is one of those places that most people simply pass through on the way to somewhere else.

One State Highway 1, just 85 kilometers southwest of Christchurch, this predominantly rural service town was named after Francis Baring, the 3rd Baron Ashburton, who’s only claim to fame was being a British politician, first as a Whig and then as a Tory.

On the face of it, it would seem that Ashburton doesn’t have much going for it. After all, it didn’t even rate a mention in the Lonely Planet New Zealand’s South Island guidebook.

But there is, it seems, more to Ashburton than meets the eye.

Wander around the sprawling 37-hectare Ashburton Domain and Gardens and you might come across this century old tree, complete with tombstone in memory of Florence Nightingale.  The tree was planted in 1910, by the Mayoress of Ashburton, to commemorate the work that Florence Nightengale had done for humanity.

But then again, there’s more to this tombstone than meets the eye. Turns out that one of Florence Nightingale’s friends was the mother of the 3rd Baron Ashburton.

Further up the road from the Domain sits the town’s war memorial (the one thing that you can guarantee to find in every town – big or small – in New Zealand).  Featuring a square obelisk, decorated with a wreath and oak and fern leaves, it was unveiled in 1928.

History rules in Ashburton. There are, in fact, six museums scattered around the town and it’s surrounds cover everything from local history to trains, firefighting, vintage cars, woodworking, and aviation.

But it’s not all war memorials, old trees, and museums in Ashburton.

Positioned as it is between two major rivers, the Rakaia and the Rangitata,, Ashburton is also the gateway to some of New Zealand’s best salmon, trout, and fly fishing spots.

(photos @Liz Lewis)

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Liz Lewis is a New Zealand based writer who favors wine tasting and food markets over bungy jumping and mountain climbing.