Timaru is a sleepy family town on the East Coast of the South Island about 2 hours drive from Christchurch. Most people drive through it on their way south and never consider stopping in and seeing the town. But there are incredible things to do in Timaru and the surrounding region! Outlined below is an intro to the coastal town of Timaru Canterbury, where to stay, where to eat and what to do as well as in the surrounding area.
Timaru is my home town and I am super excited to bring you an epic list of unique things to do in Timaru New Zealand from my perspective, having lived there for 20+ years! Let’s get stuck in.
Where is Timaru?
Located on State Highway 1 about 2 hours drive south of Christchurch. Take a look at the Map below.
The Timaru region is shown below. The surrounding regions such as the Mackenzie district and Waimate District are awesome places to go and explore that are not a long drive away. My favourite towns close by to Timaru are Pleasant Point, Fairlie and Geraldine. You will learn about what to do in these towns in this article!
How to get to Timaru, Canterbury
Most people access Timaru by self-driving. If you are looking at flying into the South Island your main stop would be Christchurch or Queenstown. Timaru is not a destination in and of itself however I think it should be! Most people hire cars to get anywhere in the South Island but you can catch a bus. There are a few bus tour companies that run to Timaru. Check out Intercity here or Atomic Shuttles.
My favourite way to get to any South Island town is hiring a campervan. Check out my article all about finding cheap campervan hire!
But I should let you know you can fly directly to Timaru from Wellington! Timaru has a small airport. But it is definitely more popular to access Timaru by self-driving.
Below are a few different driving time options for you.
Christchurch to Timaru- 2 hours
Timaru to Dunedin- 2.5 hours
Timaru to Oamaru- 1 hour
Timaru to Queenstown- 4 hours
Timaru to Wanaka- 3.5 hours
Timaru to Geraldine – 30 minutes
Timaru to Twizel- 2 hours
Timaru to Nelson- 7.5 hours
Timaru to Waimate- 30 minutes
Timaru to Lake Tekapo- 1 hour 20 minutes.
Timaru to Mt Cook- 2 hours 40 minutes.
Unique and best things to do in Timaru
In no particular order…
1. Caroline Bay
The most popular Timaru beach. Caroline bay is pretty much the hub of Timaru. The long beach is the perfect play area for children and adults. During winter dogs are allowed at ‘the bay’. The bay as locals call it isn’t just limited to caroline bay beach but rather the entire area. There is a heap of activities to do and at Christmas time it is home to the popular Caroline Bay carnival – When I was a kid it used to be one of my favourite things to do in Timaru!
What can you do at Caroline Bay?
A lot of things! But a few include…
- Walking up the piazza steps to watch the water fountain and look out to the stunning bay and surrounding mountains and port.
- Taking a stroll through the rose garden.
- Playing a 9 hole disc golf course.
- Walk along the beach.
- Use an exercise machine.
- Visit the bird aviary.
- Visit the ice cream shop.
- Play mini-golf.
- Play tennis.
- Or a game of basketball.
Rafting is an epic thing to do in any region but one reason to choose Timaru rafting is because you get to go down the turquoise waters of the Rangitata River. It’s a monster of a river and has rapids from grade 2 – grade 5. Try an experience with Rangitata Rafting when they re-open hopefully in 2021! Check out their website here for more details.
4. Maori Rock Art
Explore ancient Maori rock art sites in South Canterbury with Te Ana. An incredible educational experience. Start at the Maori rock art centre in Timaru and then follow the guides in your own vehicle out to the Opihi rock art sites. Allow 3 hours.
The tours run from November- April or by arrangement at 2pm daily. However, the Maori Rock Art centre at 2 George Street is open daily 10 am – 3pm.
Pop on over to Te Ana website here to learn more.
5. Shearers Quarters
Fancy feeding an assortment of farm animals and enjoying some delicious food? How about mini golf? Chess? A Maze? One of the best things to do in Timaru is visiting the Shearers Quarters. It is an awesome place to go to enjoy a range of activities.
Located just outside of Timaru in the small country area of Seadown.
Pop on over to The Shearers Quarters website to learn more!
6. Caroline Bay Pool
Take the kids to the lazy river or the hydro slide for a fun day out! For the adults try the lane pool, spa or sauna! ‘Cbay’ Timaru as the locals call it is an awesome place to stop in Timaru for some water fun!
Check out their website here for more details.
7. Blackett’s Lighthouse
Located on a beautiful coastal walk between Caroline Bay and Richmond Street is Blackett’s Lighthouse. It has been relocated but is a beautiful and historical structure to take a photo of and enjoy while walking to Benvenue cliffs.
Access is off Benvenue Avenue where you can park. Or, walk from Caroline Bay towards the train track and you will see the walking track.
8. The Scenic Reserve for mountain biking or walking
Visiting the scenic reserve (or Centennial Park as it is formally known) is one of my favourite things to do in Timaru because it feels like a hidden oasis miles away from suburbia. But in actual fact, you are right in the midst of it!
The scenic reserve is a family-friendly location in Timaru for the pond where you can feed ducks, have a bbq, a picnic, walk the dogs or take a stroll or a mountain bike! There are lots of entry points to the park but the main way to get there is off Otipua Road or Claremont Road.
There are many different trails to choose from. This map here should give you some idea but look at the signs when you get there.
9. Play a game of tennis
There are lots of locations to play a game of tennis in Timaru if you have your own rackets. Some of my favourite spots include the Aorangi Stadium in summer, Mountainview High School or down at Caroline Bay. Or for better quality courts try Wai-iti Tennis ($5 casual entry) or the epic complex at the Trust Aoraki Tennis Centre, 27 Benvenue Ave.
Timaru is an awesome place to try a game of golf. There are many options to choose from in Timaru and the surrounding region. My favourite course is Gleniti and they have green fees. However, check out the Aoraki Tourism website for more golfing options!
11. Timaru Museum
The South Canterbury Museum is an awesome place to visit to learn about the history of South Canterbury. They have a range of long term displays and collections to see and changing exhibitions.
Location: 4 Perth Street, Timaru.
Check out their website here to learn more!
12. Botanic Gardens
The Timaru botanical gardens is a great place to go for a picnic and light stroll. My favourite place to visit is the aviary and the Band Rotunda (pictured below). Discover how to get there and more information here.
13. Timaru art gallery
The Aigantighe Art Gallery is a must-see while travelling through Timaru. The entry fee is FREE so why not visit some incredible art collections? They have exhibits too (may be a cost associated with them). Check out all you need to know including how to get there at the website here!
14. Farmers Market
Everyone loves a good farmers market with fresh produce right? Well, Timaru has an awesome small farmers market held every Saturday at 9 am – 12:30 in the town centre at 27 Strathallan St (The Community House Car park). Talk to the locals, grab some fresh produce, food or drink and enjoy the vibes.
Check out their Facebook page here for more details.
15. DB Draught Brewery tour
Some of New Zealand’s most popular beers are brewed and packaged at the DB Draught Brewery in Timaru including DB Draught, DB Export Gold and DB Export 33. Enjoy a taste of the day’s brews, stroll through the gear shop, meet the DB Clydesdales horses and learn a thing or two about the brewery and brewing process!
Cost: $20 per Adult, $10 13-18yrs, Under 13 Free
Discover more information on their website here.
16. Op shops Timaru – Visit the St John Op shop
Timaru has a plethora of opportunity shops to visit! You are bound to find something you are looking for at one of them. My favourite for clothes shopping and furniture is the St John op shop on Butler Street. The clothes are extremely cheap and in excellent condition. Plus the staff are really friendly and helpful!
Check out their Facebook page here for more details!
17. Movie Max
Movies in Timaru anyone? Discover what’s on at their website here.
18. Disc Golf
Disc golf? Yup! Golf with discs! There are 2 courses in Timaru, one at Caroline Bay and one at West End Park. Both of them are awesome options but in winter there are always soccer games going on at West End Park so I would recommend the course at Caroline Bay. Discover the course details on the app UDisc.
If you want to play a game at West End Park hire a disc set from Henry’s bottle store at the New World just minutes walk away (cash only) and the cost is $10 however you get $5 back when you return the discs. If you want to play at Caroline Bay hire a set from Monteiths bar or now called the Bay Hill brewery bar which is just above Caroline Bay. The cost is a $30 deposit and you get your money back when you return the discs.
19. Rock Climbing
One of my favourite Timaru activities is Rock Climbing! Timaru is home to a few awesome rock climbing spots including indoor and outdoor. If you know how to climb and have your own gear check out Spur Road here. If you are a beginner try the rock climbing indoor wall at Ara. They are open Wednesday’s 7-9 pm and the cost is $8 for students, $10 for adults and $6 for youth.
20. Visit the Little Blue Penguins
These little 40cm cuties are found along the marine parade heading into the rocks at dusk. It can be quite a popular attraction on the weekends and volunteers are out and about educating the public and keeping the penguins safe. The only season when you won’t see the penguins as often is in winter. However, you might be lucky to spot one!
I suggest popping on over to the Facebook Page for regular updates and to see if it is worth popping down!
Please stay behind the barriers.
21. Flip Out
Keen for a trampoline park? Flip out Timaru is an awesome family friendly location to go for some fun. There are over 35 trampolines, open 7 days and they have a cafe! Check out their website here for more details.
22. Famlan Farm Park
Who doesn’t love an animal park? Timaru is home to Famlan Farm Park which is an awesome cheap outing for animal lovers. Visit Kunekune pigs, alpacas, sheep, chickens, ducks, guinea pigs, ponies, rabbits and more awesome farm animals. Located in Claremont on 19 Rosebrook Rd.
Check out their website here for opening hours and directions.
Cost: $9 for adults, $9 for children and under 24 months is free. They also have bags of food ($1.50) and buckets ($6) to feed the animals with!
There are plenty of walks to choose from in Timaru and the surrounding area. Outlined below are some of the best walking options within the town.
Timaru Lighthouse walk- Jacks Point
The newly built walkway to Jacks Point lighthouse is a popular option for incredible rugged coastline views and panoramic shots looking back at Timaru and the foothills. One of the best Things to do, Timaru NZ. The walk goes between Scarborough Road and Ellis Rd and the lighthouse is somewhere in the middle.
It is a 5km return trip but you can walk to the lighthouse and back for a shorter option of 3.2 km.
It is also dog friendly!
One of my favourite walks in Timaru is to Dashing Rocks. Play on the rocks and witness the roaring tide come crashing over them. It is a great spot to take your dog for a walk.
The walk starts at Moore Street and walks over the Benvenue cliffs where you will witness stunning views over Caroline Bay. The walk continues through farmland behind the freezing works back up to Pacific Street. Walk up the hill and turn right onto Moore Street back to your car. – The walk can be done in either direction.
Click here to see the map.
The scenic reserve also known as Centennial Park is a 65 hectare nature oasis in the middle of Timaru. It is an awesome place for a picnic, bike and walk! There are many tracks to pick from check out the map here for a detailed version or basic version here.
Salt Water Creek walking options
Another option connecting to the scenic reserve is the Otipua Creek walk. A nice walk through native bush and riparian planting. Cross Coonoor Road and you will join up to the Salt Water Creek Walk. From there keep going until you get to the main road- King Street and cross the bridge to join Otipua Wetland walk. Then you can even join up with the Jacks point lighthouse walk! You can do parts of these walks or do the entire thing for a 2 hour walking adventure!
Otipua Wetland map and more details here.
Otipua Creek map and more details here.
Saltwater Creek map and more details here.
A nice stroll through native bush and countryside views. The loop track takes 30 minutes and is located in Claremont just outside of Timaru city.
Map and more details here.
Best places to eat and drink in Timaru
Street Food Kitchen
The funkiest bar in Timaru with alternative art work and good vibes. It is one of the best things to do in Timaru and an awesome place to grab a drink. Plus they have delicious cocktails!
They have lots of craft beer including Panhead on tap. They have tapa style food with an ever-changing menu. A key staple on their menu is the fried chicken and bao buns! A must visit bar and restaurant in Timaru.
Check out their website here. They also do deliveries!
The Speight’s Ale House
Is another great option for delicious food and great beverages. What I love most about ‘Speights’ is the setting. Inside it is nice and cosy with a farm barn type feel and they have a beautiful courtyard outside. In summer the small lawn is a great place to grab a bean bag and enjoy a beverage or two! One of the best places to eat in Timaru.
Speights and Street Food Kitchen are in the historical Landing Services Building.
Check out their website and menu here.
Bay Hill Brewery Bar
In a picture-perfect setting on the Bay Hill just down from the piazza. Look down on Caroline Bay while having a beverage outside at one of their bar leaners. One of the best Timaru things to do is visiting the Bay Hill Brewery Bar. Inside it is nice and cosy with lots of booths to choose from and their food is delicious. I highly recommend their waffles for dessert!!
Learn more and see their menu here.
One of the best cafes in Timaru is Coffee Culture. Fancy a really good bagel and some delicious cabinet food? Look no further than Coffee Culture. Their coffee is awesome and the location is superb in the town centre.
Go for a stroll down the historical main street of Timaru (I recommend strolling through the arcade and checking out the Artma Spiritual gallery and the second-hand op shop Second Impressions) and then come back and enjoy a coffee.
Check out the Coffee Culture website here.
Bullock Restaurant and Bar
The perfect place for a drink just off the main road. The setting is awesome! It is american grill style and has family friendly vibes. I really enjoy sitting outside next to the fire in winter in the covered outdoor area.
Check out their menu and website here.
Ship Hop Brewery
A local brewery! Ship Hop is a small brewery located in the town centre. They do tastings and takeaways. I highly recommend checking them out and supporting local. The team are really friendly and you are bound to find something you like!
Check out their Facebook page here.
Next to the New World supermarket is one of my favourite cafes for breakfast. The Village cafe has incredible $5 breakfasts until 10:30 in the morning and the coffee is incredible!! It is a good spot for the oldies and youngins!
Check out their Facebook Page here for more details.
Best places to stay in Timaru
One of my favourite ways to find accommodation is always Airbnb. Take a look at a few different options on the Airbnb Timaru website here!
- Stay Timaru – An awesome option for location and vibrant interior. Just 700m from Caroline Bay! One of the best Timaru hotels!
- The Grosvenor- Is in a perfect location literally in the town centre. The hotel is in a historic building and a la carte breakfast, restaurant and bar!
- Coastal Ridge Apartment – 3 minutes drive from the town centre with friendly staff. One of the best Timaru motels!
- Bay Viaduct Motor Lodge- Is awesome accommodation with a private balcony located just back from the main road!
- Timaru top 10 Holiday Park- The ultimate Timaru camping ground. Bright and vibrant accommodation only 6 minutes drive from Caroline Bay. They have bungalows, rooms, apartments and camping sites to choose from!
- Glenmark Holiday Park- An awesome family-friendly location with an outdoor pool in the summer and kids playground!
- For free camping check out the Timaru Council site here. My favourite is at Caroline Bay!
Backpackers / Cheap accommodation Timaru.
- Anchor Motel and Backpackers- Is probably the best backpackers, Timaru and one of your only options! It has a large and open space in a great location just minutes walk from Caroline Bay.
- Otherwise, try the Top 10 Holiday park or Glenmark Holiday Park as they both have budget-friendly accommodation.
Timaru is a great place to base yourself while exploring the surrounding region. There is so much to see and do that they will be different posts in and of themselves. However, some of my favourite places to visit are Geraldine, Fairlie and Pleasant Point. Discover more about what’s on offer in my favourite towns below!
Things to do near Timaru
As mentioned at the start of this post I am including some of my favourite towns around Timaru that I think you will enjoy visiting! Discover them below!
What to do in Geraldine
Geraldine is a gorgeous quiet town underneath the foothills of the Southern Alps. It is a great place to go for a picnic or short stroll.
Located on the scenic route from Christchurch – Tekapo on State Highway 79.
I recommend trying the following activities in Geraldine…
- Taking a stroll along the river walk. Check out the map here for more information.
- Visiting the newly built Barkers Restaurant for some incredible food (my good friend is the baker! Look how good the treats looks below!). They also have a range of Barkers products.
- Visiting Valley Brewery- For good vibes and a delicious drop or bite to eat! Located on the Highway between Geraldine and Fairlie (just 7 minutes from Geraldine). Check out their website here.
- Visiting the Running Duck- For delicious food and a quirky bach like atmosphere. They do incredible burgers and delicious coffee! I highly recommend the Halloumi burger and a chai latte! Discover more on their website here.
- Take a walk around Talbot Forest – An awesome place to enjoy the native bush. There are a range of walking tracks to choose from. Check out the Department of Conservation website here for more details.
- Visit Peel forest- A hub of walking tracks! The most popular is Mt Peel, a 3-5 hour climb and a great day walk looking down on the region. There are other less strenuous walks too. Check out Doc website here for more details.
- Canyoning! This is definitely next on my list of adventures to try in South Canterbury. Canyoning is one of my favourite experiences and such a confidence-building activity. Check out Big Rock Adventures to learn more and book your adventure today! I will be joining you soon!!
Accommodation Geraldine NZ
There are many Geraldine accommodation options to choose from. One of my favourite ways to find accommodation is always Airbnb. Take a look at a few different options on the Airbnb Geraldine page here.
Below are a few different options for you!
- Geraldine Heritage Hotel- A restaurant, bar, casino and accommodation in a historical building! What more could you ask for?
- Four Peaks Motel- Is a nice tidy accommodation option with great hosts!
- Andorra Motel – Is situated in a private and relaxed garden setting with an outdoor pool, BBQ and children’s playground! The rooms are clean and comfortable.
- Pukeko Cottage by the Park and Pool- A cute accommodation filled with love. A home away from home experience!
- Geraldine Top 10 Holiday Park – 2 minutes walk from the centre of town with awesome facilities with mountain bike hire and more!
- For freedom camping try Arundel Bridge.
- Rawhiti Backpackers- A friendly and comfy place to stay in Geraldine that has a lot of character!
What to do in Pleasant Point
Pleasant Point is as the name suggests quite a pleasant place to visit! It is on the way to Fairlie and is a nice place to take a drive and have a picnic. My favourite things to do there are:
- Grab a real fruit ice cream from Strawberry Divine- Open from September for the season.
- Taking a ride on the steam train at the Pleasant Point Museum and Railway! You can’t miss this gorgeous platform while driving through Pleasant Point. It is an awesome activity for kids. Check out their Facebook Page here for more information.
Places to stay in Pleasant Point
I recommend trying the options below or staying in Timaru! It takes 20 minutes to drive from Timaru to Pleasant Point.
- Magnolia Cottage B&B- Amazing breakfasts with friendly hosts in a garden setting.
- Serenity Motels- Gorgeous accommodation with private terraces.
- Camping- Try Pleasant Point Motor Camp or any of the options in Timaru.
What to do in Fairlie
There are heaps of activities to do in Fairlie. It is one of my favourite towns near Timaru. I am sure you will enjoy it too! Some of my favourite things to do there are.
- Visiting the Farm Barn for a coffee or bite to eat! It is on the highway from Geraldine to Fairlie and is now one of my favourite places to go for a coffee. They have animals to play with, a cute little gift shop and a stunning indoor setting with cosy blankets and a cottage-like feel. I enjoy sitting in front of the fire in winter. Check out the photos below!
- Visit the Alpaca Farm.
- The Fairlie Bakehouse! Seriously this place is SO good. It is actually the main reason I got to Fairlie. Their pies are incredibly popular and absolutely amazing and full of heaps of ingredients. They do things like pork belly, venison, salmon and bacon, vegetarian, chicken and mushroom and the flavours seem to be ever changing. I love their cronuts and brownies. I could probably write a whole post about them!!
- Visiting Lake Opuha for a stroll or if you have a boat it is a popular place to go for some fun including fishing!
Best places to stay in Fairlie
There are plenty of awesome accommodation options in Fairlie to choose from. Outlined below are a few different options for you.
- Musterers High Country Accommodation- Fancy staying in unit accommodation with animals you can feed nearby? They have a hot tub available too!
- Mackenzie Motels- Clean and tidy accommodation with a private balcony and lovely hosts.
- Allandale Lodge- A home away from home experience with lovely hosts in a restored school house!
- Fairlie Holiday Park – An awesome holiday park with everything you need in the heart of Fairlie.
The best walks around Timaru
While there are a few walking options in Timaru city the best walks are actually around the region. You can drive 2 hours and be in the absolute wilderness and in some of the best walks in the South Island. I have outlined a few walks below that are not that far away.
Is about a 45 minute drive from Timaru and a great spot to go to swim underneath a waterfall! The entire walk takes 1.5 hours max. Keep an eye out for wallabies! Learn more including how to get there at Doc website here.
Raincliff and Pioneer Park
Is a popular spot to go for school camps but there is actually a range of walking options to choose from 30 minutes to 2 hours. Check out the Doc website here for more details.
Is a hidden gem just of the Geraldine – Fairlie Highway. It is iconic for the old Lime Stone Kiln pictured below. Hiking options take from 20 minutes – 3 hours. I enjoy the 8km circuit. Discover more at the doc website here.
Starting on Rangitata Gorge road is an awesome mountain walk in the Mt Peel conservation area not far from Mt Peel. It takes around 3 – 4 hours to Summit Coal Hill. Be rewarded with epic views looking down on the Rangitata River. Discover more information from Wilderness Magazine here.
Orari Gorge Track
A lovely 3.3km loop track that follows an old tramway through mainly kanuka trees. Check out more details at the DOC website here.
View limestone rocks, tall trees while walking near the river. It is a great spot for a picnic and swimming. Check out more details at the Timaru Council website here.
Waimate is South of Timaru and a nice little rural town. The popular White Horse Hill is an awesome walking option that takes you up to the hills looking down on the coast. Guns bush track is also another option that is through the bush and eventually takes you out to the mountains. Check out more details about walking in Waimate here.
Spurs Hut track
One of my favourite walks close to Timaru via North Opuha track.It starts walking through open farmland next to a river and then gets into rolling hillside. You can take your dog and it is a popular hunting spot. The walk for most people finishes when you get to the hut. Discover more about the walk and directions from Wilderness mag here.
Distance: 8km one way.
Hopefully, this article has helped you decide on what to do in Timaru! If you have any questions please feel free to drop them in the box below!
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