South Canterbury

9 of the Best Things to Do in Timaru

Timaru is a town most people pass through rather than spend the night. But even if you’re visiting on the way to somewhere else (most likely somewhere better) there are still some fun things to do in Timaru. Most of these centre on Caroline Bay, one of the better “city beaches” in New Zealand, but there are a few other things to check out. Join me on this virtual tour of Timaru, my former hometown!

Caroline Bay

If you’re passing through Timaru and feel like stretching your legs, a quick visit to Caroline Bay is your best bet. The beach is great and the water is nice and calm. It’s a good place to swim, hang out by the beach or explore the gardens, sculptures, pools and other things on offer behind the beach.

If you’re in Timaru in the summertime, you’ll want to check out the carnival. This place comes alive at night and it’s quite a unique thing to see in the South Island (I haven’t seen anything else like it at least). If you’re lucky you might also spot little blue penguins at Caroline Bay – your best bet is to go to the southern end of the beach at around dusk.

The Coastal Track

From Caroline Bay there’s a track which takes you north along the coastline. There are some nice views along the way and one of the first spots you’ll come to is an old lighthouse. You can keep walking towards the big headland you’ll see in the distance (it’s not that far though). You can also drive to several points along this track if you’re feeling a bit lazy.

Caroline Bay, Timaru, New Zealand

The Piazza

I remember when this was being planned and it was controversial at the time. It’s a big viewing platform / lift that takes you from the gardens behind Caroline Bay to the top of the hill close to the main shopping / eating area. The views are pretty good from the top and there are plenty of places to sit and relax up there (and also a little outdoor bar thing just across the road).

See the Historic Streets

Timaru is home to one of the most picturesque “high streets” in New Zealand. Stafford Street, which runs right through the centre of town, is lined with consistently old and pretty buildings dating back to as far as the late 1800s – it’s a very relaxing place to wander, do some shopping and grab a coffee. This is another good spot to head if you’re passing through town on your way north to Christchurch or South towards Oamaru and Dunedin. There are also some interesting old buildings on some of the side streets. Head towards the train station and you’ll see some old warehouses, and there’s also the Speights Ale House which sits inside yet another old building.

Check out the Churches

Timaru is home to some nice old churches, including St Mary’s Anglican Church and Sacred Heart Basilica. The latter is the best one to see but is currently shrouded in scaffolding —  it’s an impressive building when it’s free from clutter.

South Canterbury Museum

This museum is compact and packed full of a huge variety of artifacts and displays. It details most aspects of this region’s history, including the pre-European times, colonization and more recent occurrences. There are also some New Zealand wildlife displays and a replica of Richard Pearce’s plane. Pearce is one of the most famous Timaruvians (well, he lived in nearby Temuka) – he was close to being the first person to fly a motorized vehicle but was apparently beaten to the punch by the Wright Brothers (although this is still controversial in Timaru).

Aiganthige Art Gallery

If you want to see some art in Timaru this is probably your best bet. It’s worth a quick look but don’t expect to see anything too iconic. There are some cool sculptures in the garden though and part of the gallery is in an old house (although this part is closed – you can still see it from outside though).

Just across the road you’ll find Tighnafeile House. It’s one of the grandest old buildings in Timaru and is now a hotel — it would be a great place to stay if you feel like splashing out.

Timaru Botanic Gardens

There are botanic gardens in almost every city (and big town) in New Zealand and they aren’t usually high (or get mentions at all) in these kinds of posts. Timaru Botanic Gardens are a little different though, and it’s not (only) mentioned here because I’m scraping the barrel. What makes this place unique is that you can drive around pretty much the whole thing. Why walk when you can drive! 

The Jon Algie Origins Tour

As I said before, I originally hail from Timaru. I was born there — and raised until I was 10 – before moving to Dunedin. One of the best things to do in Timaru (probably only for truly die hard fans of this blog) is to see a few of the key places from my childhood. You could check out Timaru Hospital, where I was born, walk up Wai-iti Road (where I spent my last few years in Timaru) or head to Ashbury Park, the scene of many a game of cricket featuring, you guessed it, me.

Other Things to Do in Timaru

You could check out one of the last remaining United Video stores in New Zealand, do a Maori rock painting tour (we balked at the $130 price for this though, and we’d seen some similar things in the Waitaki Valley), or hmm, that actually seems like everything!

Nearby Towns

Timaru is close to some small, rural towns including Pleasant Point (where you’ll find an old steam train if you time your visit right), Temuka (fairly nondescript but a decent small town) and, slightly further afield, Geraldine and Waimate. None of these places are likely to set your world on fire but they could be worth a look.

Where is Timaru?

Timaru is two hours south of Christchurch and two and a half hours north of Dunedin. You’ll pass through when driving between these two cities, otherwise you’ll miss it entirely (it’s not on the way from Christchurch to Mount Cook / Queenstown, for example.

Eating in Timaru

We’ve driven through Timaru countless times over the last few years and we often stop there for dinner or lunch. We’re big fans of Burger Fuel (a local NZ burger chain) – we don’t have it in Dunedin so it’s always a nice treat. We also got a good iced coffee at Coffee Culture the other day (we were mainly attracted by the outdoor seating) and there are lots of other bars, cafes and restaurants scattered around the town centre.

Are you planning on driving through Timaru? Did this post convince you to stop there? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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