Over arching appeal
by Andy Bryenton
It seems the many smaller Kiwi towns, who thrive on the tourist dollar, have taken a very small-town-America approach to branding, just up the road from the small town of Darfield; you’ll find a gigantic doughnut in Springfield, hinting at the town’s namesake on the television show The Simpsons.
Then there’s a massive crayfish up the coast in Kaikoura and the famous statue of an enormous salmon in Rakaia. They all stem from the first Kiwi tourist photo-op, the big L&P bottle up north in Paeroa. However, Darfield doesn’t do big fibreglass statues. Its famous icon isn’t something that was dreamed up by the local tourism board or promotions society, but a phenomenon that’s only found in a couple of places worldwide. It’s something, which gives the town a certain character and charm you can’t express with artfully formed concrete.
Since the 1850s, when the town (to be known as Horndon Junction) was founded by the Deans family as part of the large Homebush cattle station, a defining feature of the plains has been the curiously strong, singularly insistent north-west wind, which can range from a hot and dry exhalation to the precursor of gales. Early settlers talked of the nor’wester in poetic and descriptive terms, with many feeling that the wind was ominous or a little otherworldly. Indeed, this kind of ‘fohn’ wind, born of the shadow of mountains over a flat plain, is also found in the lee of America’s Rocky Mountains, where the local Native American first nations people call it the Chinook wind. The Blackfoot, for example, call their version of the fohn wind ‘the snow eater’, and anthropomorphise it in legends.
Here on the Canterbury plains, in a town that was soon to drop the Horndon name to twin with Darfield in South Yorkshire, the nor’wester shaped the kind of settlement which was to grow. As a fishing village looks to the sea or a mining town clings to the mountainside, Darfield is akin to those US towns, which are at home in the vast plainlands. It’s a town built on farming, and the wind from the north-west gives it a symbolic icon overhead which is better than a statue of a big cow or vegetable crop; the high band of blue sky and white cloud locals call the Nor’west Arch.
Scientifically, it’s explained by the high atmospheric water vapour which streams across the Southern Alps forming a band of cloud high in the sky.
For the travellers who pass beneath it for the first time, it’s quite a unique sight.
Travellers aplenty pass through Darfield headed for ski holidays or up over the mountains to the West Coast. It’s a great place to stop while on the road for some hospitality, refreshment and a deeper look at what is a varied main street. Like many of New Zealand’s rural service towns, there’s more depth to the stores and products on offer than the casual glance would reveal. Darfield is still proud of its status as a hub in the centre of the plains, and a look at the map will show that the town sits at the focus of a web of transport arteries, a pumping economic heart for the immediate region.
Much of that economy is down-to-earth rural, though growth, especially in the form of new housing developments, is slowly changing the periphery.
As in the US, that big sky and the wide open land seem to spark innovation.
Big drawcards on the map show that Darfield is strategically located indeed; this is the home of the region’s largest secondary school, with a roll many urban institutions can’t boast. With dairy a significant force on the plains and in the nation’s economic engine room, it’s hard to overlook the fact that Darfield is home to some heavy hardware, the largest milk powder drying machinery in the world, at the local Fonterra plant.
For those readers who live just down the road from Darfield, there has never been a better time to stop by and visit. Many will have passed through this hub on journeys here and there, but with change boosting communities all over Selwyn, it’s time to take a closer look at the crossroads south of the Waimakariri. From businesses to help you tidy up those winter chores and make farming more profitable, through to destinations for arts and crafts, delicious food and a relaxing weekend mini-break, Darfield has a bit of everything, wrapped up in old fashioned hospitality. Those who live there already know that their place is something a bit special; a real, honest Kiwi town situated under the Nor’west Arch but overshadowed by none.