The Middlemarch Singles’ Ball – gather your team!

It’s now so famous (and not just in our ‘Kiwi goldfish bowl’) that it needs almost no introduction. The Middlemarch Singles’ Ball is a swinging biennial night out in a paddock (yes, you heard us correctly) in the tiny gateway-to-the-Maniototo town of Middlemarch – population hovers around 300. We should mention here that attendees are assured of a heated marquee even if there will be grass beneath their feet! The gumboots and stiletto evening is a not-to-be-missed country event-of-the-year, and the best news is that tickets are on sale now. April 20th is the date for the dance, and you’ll need to be in quick if you want to get one.

The ball began life back in 2001 as a way of finding single Middlemarch farmers a wife (and in the hopes one of them would marry a nurse because the district seriously needed one). However, the ball proved to be such a hugely successful fundraiser for the town’s community infrastructure (the swimming pool, the community hall … the list goes on) that it still continues to this day. As well, it also gives a big boost to the coffers of local businesses, some of which stay open into the wee small hours, providing snacks until the much-anticipated country supper makes its appearance on groaning tables.

Such is the ball’s fame that a play and sequel have even been written about it. The work of Ella West, the original sit-com style performance poses a serious problem: all the tickets to the ball have been sold to females (the dances have been so successful that there are now no local bachelors looking for wives). But with fundraising essential, the ball must go on. Invitations are therefore sent out to the only males willing to come, a bunch of chaps from Auckland who are not quite your rural kind of bloke …!

Despite the now somewhat racy posters which advertise the ball, and Facebook photos of 20-something lasses dancing the night away in skimpy outfits, and lads clutching a stubbie in each hand, the dance actually draws in a mixed age group, and we have it on good authority that those in the 50 plus bracket will be in for a ton of fun if they attend. (The secret is to go in numbers so start gathering your team now!).

There’s no need to make the somewhat arduous journey by car, either. Get yourself to Dunedin on a cheapie flight or bus, and book ahead to secure a seat on the Taieri Gorge ‘love train’ which departs for the dance from Dunedin’s railway station (a sight worth seeing in its own right) at around 4pm (BYO isn’t permitted but you’ll find a cash bar and buffet on board to tide you over). The three-hour journey is a people-watching extravaganza, and the train will return you to the city (departing at 11.30pm from Middlemarch) when the ‘do’ is over.

Of course, if you do travel to the ball by car, there are a host of cute B&Bs in the town to give you the sleepover you’ll no doubt be wanting; and you can head to Kissing Gate Cafe next morning for a reviving coffee and brunch (just be sure to book as it’s a busy weekend!). In fact, Middlemarch is at the centre of so much interest that it might pay to take a week off work and make the ball just the beginning of an adventure into historic gold mining sites, the famous Central Otago Rail Trail, or a tramp up to Big Hut and Leaning Lodge perched on the hills that overlook the town.

Tempted? You can book your ticket (for the ball and the train) right here.