Chief town of inland South Canterbury, 62 km north-west of Timaru. An accommodation house opened at Fairlie Creek (as it was known until 1892) in 1865. The railway reached the town in 1884 and a regular coach service to Aoraki/Mt Cook began in 1886. Fairlie is the service town for the Fairlie basin.

Meaning of place name
First known as Fairlies Creek, and supposedly named by David Hamilton, the brother-in-law of James Lister (or Lizter), a pioneer settler who set up an accommodation house beside the creek. At one time the name Hamilton was suggested but abandoned because of the prior claim of Hamilton in the North Island. David Hamilton then suggested Fairlie after the town in Ayreshire, where he and his wife had spent their honeymoon.