A major service centre for the local farming district, Ashburton sits between the Rakaia and Rangitata Rivers. When European settlers first arrived here, the area was a dry, tussock-covered expanse with hardly any trees. Extensive irrigation schemes have transformed the land, and the story of Ashburton’s triumph over drought is told at the town’s main museum (there are six museums in Ashburton, including a vintage railway museum, aviation museum and car museum). Local art and craft galleries provide interesting shopping. Both of the nearby rivers are known for salmon and sea-run trout. Functional facts: Approx. population 27,400 full range of shops and services, i-SITE Visitor Centre.