Globe-trotting Geraldine grandmother Esther Paddon this year explored some of the townships around South Canterbury. Today she takes a fresh look at her home town.
I was slightly puzzled as I read a sign on the footpath outside St Mary's church. "Love a Duck lunch?"
Whatever could that be? A lunch with duck on the menu? Or maybe a bunch of duck lovers who liked to rave about ducks over lunch? Yet again it could be lunch for old ducks like me!
An intriguing name. I needed to find out more.
It was just after noon on Friday, perfect timing to enjoy a meal with or without duck! I cautiously pushed open the door half expecting to be greeted by loud quacks. Sitting round two long tables were folk happily chatting and enjoying good food and good company. Not a sign of a duck. No, I speak too soon; there was a toy duck basket on the counter for grateful donations.
The lunch was started some years ago by Sylvia, who incidentally owned muscovy ducks which were the love of her life. "Love a duck lunch" is simply a social get-together for anyone who feels a tad lonely or hungry on Friday at noon.
Perhaps the lunch endorses the general perception of Geraldine. A town of old ducks where most of the population is on the countdown.
Let me put you right.
Geraldine, a picturesque town on the main south tourist route, is a great place to retire but older folk make only a small part of its 3000-odd population.
I discovered another group at the church called Mainly Music which sounds more straightforward than the ducks.
On Tuesday mornings young mothers can bring preschoolers for singing and action songs, followed by morning tea. When the parents have finished supervising the little ones eating, there are toys galore to keep the children occupied while the parents enjoy their cuppa and a natter. Some days they tell me there are up to 80 children who come along, proving Geraldine is not all retirees.
❏ ❏ ❏ Geraldine is full of life and vitality.
Part of the town's lively spirit lies in the resourcefulness of the community and its strategic location. As well as being the central hub for the surrounding farming community, it is a convenient stop for tourists.
If I was a tourist taking a break, the first thing on my mind would be food. Here Geraldine excels. There may not be a McDonald's or KFC but it has everything else. A bakery, milk bar, cafes, Subway, fish and chip shops, Indian and Chinese cuisine, restaurants, town and country bar or hotel diner. If you prefer you can also go to the local Super Value and buy food for a "do-it-yourself" meal and sit at one of the many picnic tables and enjoy.
Last April another large cafe opened on the outskirts of the town - The Geraldine Orchard Farm Shop and Cafe. They have an extensive stock of fruit, vege and delicatessen products as well as an on-site bakery, The Tin Kitchen. Their large cafe is proving very popular and offers inside and outside dining, plenty of parking and the most important factor - the food and coffee is fantastic.
While on the subject of food, there are several specialist shops catering for those who want something a little different.
Most towns are fortunate if they have one chocolate shop but Geraldine boasts two. Geraldine is fast becoming famed as a "chocolate town".
Coco, established by Mr Fellman, was the first original traditional chocolate shop. Liz, the owner now, uses Belgian chocolate and makes many of the handmade chocolates on the premises.
Their street sign proclaims they have the best hot chocolate in town. Not a chocolate fan? Try one of their selections of teas on offer or coffee. Homemade cake or desserts are a specialty.
At the other end of the town is Bull Rush Shop, which sells a French-style chocolate. They present an amazing adventure in taste. Feijoa and grapefruit, mandarin and oak-smoked chilli or perhaps you would like to try mango and manuka smoked nut.
Each shop has its own brands catering for niche markets.
Barkers, famed for their fruit products, have a factory near Geraldine where they started their family business over 40 years ago making elderberry wine. They built and run their business on the principles of integrity, quality and innovation. Now they have a shop in Geraldine where they sell a wide range of jams, pickles, juices and other specialist lines.
Evidence of the quality of their product can be seen in the many and varied awards they have won. Last year their orange, barley and passionfruit juice won the 2011 small producer, supreme award which shows they keep up with customer trends and produce the very best.
❏ ❏ ❏ While takeaway or gourmet food in the village will see you're never hungry, Geraldine also deals in high fashion with the emphasis on "Made in New Zealand".
I strolled into Just Country to find their fashion clothes, many made in New Zealand merino, are all designed by owner Cheryl Emerson. It is a far cry from Cheryl's humble beginnings more than 20 years ago, making and selling children's clothing.
Today this dynamic personality keeps her eye on fashion trends, creating her own style to suit her customers. Her motto - no compromise. With three shops in the South Island and an extensive customer base, she takes her shop "on tour" most months.
Geraldine also has designer fashions for sale for the fashion conscious at Outline 4 Women.
Downstairs in the old Post Office is another extensive and stylish showroom for Louk and Swazi clothing owned by Ken Horne and Louise Cowan. They sell everything from hard-wearing wet weather gear to the more fashionable warm and stylish merino and possum down.
Believing in the concept of knowing your customer needs, they have concentrated on a New Zealand-made product. Many of their overseas customers live in countries with opposite seasons to New Zealand and appreciate the availability of warm product year-round as well as branded New Zealand made.
"We didn't come to New Zealand to buy offshore products; we want something made in New Zealand", is a comment often overheard.
As well as the clothes, I was fascinated by their wonderful picture frame counter which is eye-catching and unique. Keeping to their theme of made in New Zealand, the local scenes are enlargements of photographs taken by Ken.
❏ ❏ ❏ Upstairs in the same building is McAtamney's Gallery, which displays art from both New Zealand and abroad.
Carolyn loves her gallery. Incidentally, she inspires and expresses her feelings by using her wonderful voice rather than a paint brush. However her understanding and love of art is a passion which she delights in sharing.
Where art is concerned I would be classed as mid-conservative, yet Carolyn's reasoning and eloquence gave me new insights and appreciation of the art displayed.
The latest acquisition at the gallery is a selection of beautiful handbags created by Kate of Arcadia, using only the best New Zealand cow hides.
Geraldine abounds in craft artisans but I only have space to include them as a bunch of enthusiastic, artistic and talented people.
Another interesting and innovative shop which is world renowned is The Giant Jersey. An enormous jersey, nearly 5 metres from wrist to wrist, adorns one wall and is in the Guinness Book of World Records.
Gillian and Michael Linton began knitting products with hand-knitting machines and are famed for the fine quality of their work.
Their shop display includes hand-knitted, and hand-machine knitted. They also stock merino and possum product from Waimate Knitwear.
The most attractive and eye-catching product to me is the beautiful hand-knitted socks. While most of their wool comes from New Zealand there is one exception in Opal sock wool imported from Germany. It is fascinating. You knit the socks plain and they come out looking like fairisle.
The socks look fabulous. They are fine, hard wearing and can be machine washed.
While at their shop, I took time to look at the Medieval Mosaic created by Michael. The mosaic mural is a recreation of the Bayeux tapestry and has been on display since 2001. However, part of the story of the Bayeux Tapestry was missing and over the past eight years, father and daughter Rachael have worked together researching and designing the two missing battles. A month ago they celebrated and launched the completed work.
Now they have another Guinness record to their credit: The largest spring steel mosaic in the world. It is a must-see in Geraldine.
❏ ❏ ❏ There are many small boutique shops in Geraldine specialising in craft and giftware.
I had to smile as I looked at some clocks in Hammer Hardware. One had the hands permanently set on 5pm and the caption read, "It must be 5pm somewhere". How many people would have expressed that thought at some time?
A shop to delight any young person is Grandpa's toys and, yes,
Grandpa does make some toys adding a unique and personal touch.
Geraldine boasts a thriving garden centre as well as a florist shop. Flowers Inc may seem a plain name for a flower shop but a walk inside reveals not only the floral artistry of flowers but other delicious fancies and gifts artistically arranged.
Two new shops which have opened this year (I did mention that Geraldine was thriving, didn't I?) caught my fancy.
Cottage Pantry caters for all baking requirements with the emphasis on specialty products packaged in attractive bags with a see-through window.
Because of demand their product range keeps increasing, especially in organic and gluten-free lines.
One of their best sellers is black rice from Thailand. I was told it packs a bigger antioxidant punch than blueberries or other red berries and is very pleasant on the palate. When cooked it is almost purple so makes a tasty and colourful addition when mixed with other rices. I have bought some to try myself.
They also have an art gallery where well known and emerging artists' work is for sale.
Back in the main street is The Kitchen Cupboard - a little gem full of brightness and colour. I think Rosemary in The Kitchen Cupboard nailed a point that is responsible for making Geraldine alive and vibrant.
"Geraldine is a great mix of small boutique shops and passionate owners that stock quality goods. We aim to attract by uniqueness and service that is second to none."
❏ ❏ ❏ Before I close let me add a word about the local museum which has over 80 voluntary helpers enabling it to open every day. It is small but most impressive. Since 2007 they have been planning extensions and now, with building consents granted, they are able to start turning their dreams into reality.
I was fascinated by the processes they use to preserve their treasures. One room out the back is kept at a constant temperature which allows valuables to be kept in optimum condition.
Want help tracing family history? Ask Sylvia who holds the unusual position as a voluntary qualified researcher.
Geraldine is a lovely place to live or visit. It abounds in river and bush walks and has the warm feel of a charming village.
Tourists help to keep Geraldine vibrant and residents can rightly take pride in their town. However, a word of warning to the locals. If you want your charming town to continue to exude enthusiasm and a joy in life, take heed of the underlying message I keep hearing.
"Buy local. Shoe leather is much cheaper than petrol."
- The Timaru Herald