George Hayter visited Winchester, New Zealand, and found it a lot smaller than its namesake on this side of the globe

WE were following the main road through New Zealand, driving down the Canterbury Plain on the east side of the South Island, when we came across the name on a direction sign.

Until then, none of us in the car, myself, my wife, two kids and mother-in law, had any idea there was a Winchester in New Zealand.

Any surprise is a cause for excitement on a long drive over flat terrain, so we decided to stop for lunch.

It was lucky that we had sandwiches because, unlike Winchester in Hampshire, Winchester in New Zealand has little for the gourmet.

If you ever make it to New Zealand, I would advise you not to plan on having a night out in Winchester.

When we followed the main road, State Highway 1, into the town, we found we'd come out the other end while we were still thinking we hadn't reached the middle.

So we turned round, drove back in and stopped at the only dining establishment, the Wolseley Hotel.

This turned out to be an earthy pub serving bar meals. Other customers were mostly wearing T-shirts and baseball caps, and the friendly manager, Alistair Herbert, told us that most of the guests paying $55 (£21) for a room were truck-drivers.

Framed old photos on the wall reveal that there has been a hotel on the site since 1883.

The other source of food in Winchester is strictly takeaway. The pay kiosk at the Caltex petrol station has a range stretching from ice-cream to steak-and-cheese pies, with little in between.

The only rival to the Wolseley Hotel for accommodation that we found was the homely Pinewood Motel which, like most of New Zealand, offers outstanding tourist value. A double room is $65 to $75 (£25 to £29) including kitchenette.

Kerry McBride, who has jointly owned the motel for the last three years, told us the town, population 500, was centred on dairy farming. The number of tractors scurrying up and down the main drag certainly bore that out.

Although it was a bank holiday, Winchester Store, selling crafts that looked ideal for tourists, was closed.

Standing outside the shop proved an alarming experience, as it sits on the town's principal road junction, where cars turning off Highway 1 for beauty spots such as Lake Tekapo and the Southern Alps tend to accelerate round the blind corner.

One thing unites Winchester, New Zealand, with the county town of Hampshire: both are known for having a posh school.

Waihi, for boys aged eight to 13, is one of the South Island's top boarding schools.

We found a roadside bench just past the petrol station and watched the passing tractors and camper vans as we munched through our cheese-and-lettuce sandwiches and drank our flasked tea.

We later found that much of the traffic was heading for the A&P showground on the outskirts of town. Most towns in NZ have an A&P: it stands for "agricultural and pastoral".

As well as a spring agricultural show with show-jumping, Winchester's A&P is used for polo, but, that day, the ground was crowded out for the town's celebrated "swapmeet".

Similar to a car boot sale but with more sense of occasion, it is held during the first weekend of April.

Soaring peaks and bubbling mud have to be part of any tourist's visit to New Zealand, but so must quiet little towns like Winchester.

They are the heart of the Kiwi lifestyle.