What to Do in Oxford: The Hidden Gem of Canterbury
Travellers are always surprised at how hard it is to leave this rural town in Canterbury. Located on the foothills of the Southern Alps, about 55km (34 miles) inland from Christchurch, Oxford is a must-visit for anyone who loves the outdoors. Oxford is surrounded by sparkling braided rivers emerging from dramatic river gorges. Getting those alpine views are a mere hike away. As for the town itself, expect country charm from the popular Oxford Farmers’ Market to the raw fresh milk vending machines available. Find what to do in this hidden gem of the South Island with this list of things to do in Oxford.
1. Hike in the Oxford Forest
Explore the foothills of the Southern Alps in the wild and wonderful Oxford Forest. This 11,350ha (28,046-acre) area of native forest and open tussock landscape features walks to the five-tier Ryde Falls and half-day to multi-day hikes. You’ll certainly get a taste for more, which is ideal, as there’s also the Mt Thomas Forest Conservation Area also to explore. Pick your walk with our 10 Best Walks in Oxford.
Location: Coopers Creek car park – Mountain Road (10km/6 miles northwest of Oxford), View Hill car park – Perhams Road (16km/10 miles northwest of Oxford)
2. Hit the Mountain Biking Trails
Oxford is also an excellent base for mountain biking. Choose from the flowing pastoral lands of the View Hill Domain with expansive views from the mountains, across the Canterbury Plains and over to the Christchurch Port Hills. There are also mountain biking trails offering more of a challenge in the Oxford Forest and Mt Thomas Forest. Find out more in 5 Best Bike Trails in Oxford.
Location: View Hill Domain, Oxford Forest & Mt Thomas Forest
3. Enjoy the Town Walks
For a gentle stroll and a great way to see the town of Oxford and its surrounds, do one of the seven town walks. Most of the walks start from Pearson Park and incorporate the town’s historical buildings, delve into native bush, and up to a lookout. Pick up a trail map from the Oxford Service Centre, or have a look at some of the highlights in our Oxford walking guide.
Location: Pearson Park
4. Check Out the Oxford Farmers’ Market
Experience a real country Kiwi market at the Oxford Farmers’ Market. The market is on every Sunday, whatever the weather, with over 25 stalls to browse. See, try and buy a wide range of local meats, fruit, vegetables, preserves, flowers, baking, sauces and pick up some brunch and coffee.
Location: Main Road
5. Picnic and Camp at Ashley Gorge
If looking for a destination campsite or simply a gorgeous environment for a picnic, consider Ashley Gorge. This unspoiled area is an attractive forest setting with ice-cold alpine water running through the gorge.
Location: Ashley Gorge Road, 9km (6 miles) north of Oxford
6. Catch an Open Night at the Oxford Observatory
With little light pollution, Oxford is a fantastic place to observe the southern night’s sky. Amp up the experience by seeing the stars through the powerful dome telescope at the Oxford Observatory. The observatory has regular open days, which is posted on their Facebook page.
Location: Oxford Area School
7. Check Out the Local Art Galleries
Oxford is a quirky little country town that you’ll want to explore. You’ll get a great idea about the culture of the town through the art galleries and craft stores. Pop into Arts in Oxford to see the latest exhibition. Pick up something unique from Oxford Cottage Crafts. See glass works at the Creative Glass Studio. Find something special at the Village Green Antiques.
Location: Arts in Oxford, Oxford Cottage Crafts and Village Green Antiques – Main Street. Creative Glass Studio – 5 Bay Road.
8. Visit the Oxford Museum
Step into the past and see how the early settlers used to work the land through the displays at the Oxford Museum. See exhibitions on sawmilling, farming and general home-life and enjoy the vintage machinery displays. The museum is open Wednesday and Friday-Sunday during summer, and Sunday year-round.
Location: 70 Main Street
9. Indulge in Country Cuisine
It doesn’t get more country than sampling fresh raw milk! Bring your own bottle or buy a glass bottle from Cavan Farm Fresh Milk where you can use the vending machines to buy the freshest milk out there! Oxford also has a couple of great bakeries to try real New Zealand pies. For something a little whimsical, have high tea served on fine china at Pink Sugar.
Location: Cavan Farm – 56 Ashley Gorge Road, Pink Sugar – 76 Main Street
10. Snap Up Some Photos of Waimakariri Gorge
For more stunning landscapes to snap up, make sure you visit Waimakariri Gorge. Waimakariri means “cold rushing water” and the river was once used by the early Maori to collect greenstone. At the gorge, there is a picturesque picnic area with wonderful views across the Canterbury Plains. The river bed of the shallow braided river is an interesting place to explore and get photos of the magnificent New Zealand landscape.
Location: Inland Scenic Route 72, 8km west of Oxford