A day out in Oxford, New Zealand

By: Jill Malcolm


They share a name, but Oxford in Canterbury couldn’t be further removed in character and geographical placement from the city in England it was most probably named for.

New Zealand’s Oxford has no prestigious university, spires or medieval buildings.

The first thing I saw as I breezed in for a quick visit to this small linear town near the foothills of the Southern Alps, was an extensive cemetery. There are perhaps more residents below ground in Oxford than there are above it.

The village, however, was far from dead. It was Sunday morning and a lively market was in full swing – a relaxed rural affair where everybody knew everybody.

I left the market and discovered just as much life in the village. Antique shops, clothing boutiques, shops of books and fancy goods were strung along Oxford’s main drag. None were quite so fancy as Maisey Blue where a pinkly painted vintage caravan resided in the rose garden. Behind it, in a 1890’s villa, was an array of cute and cuddly knick knacks, china, teddy bears, haberdashery and children’s clothing. Across the road was Pink Sugar where among soft pink and blue furnishings, a delicious vintage high-tea was being served on tiered cake-stands and fine-bone China.

In the 1850s, the milling of the native beech trees that covered the area was Oxford’s raison d’etre. Sheep farming followed. The early inhabitants, many of whom now lie in the graveyard, have not been forgotten. A comprehensive museum gave me a glimpse of life in the elegantly uncomfortable parlours and primitive kitchens, when horses were the only form of transport.

Out on the street is another reminder of Oxford’s past. The small wooden jail built in 1876, replaced an earlier one which had blown away. Three years later this replacement was also blown over (history does not relate if anyone was inside at the time) and had to be built of stronger stuff.

It’s easy to be blown away by Oxford.

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