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Exploring New Zealand

Timaru Area Guide

The low hills and volcanic bluestone buildings of the port city of Timaru come as a welcome change after the two-hour drive south from Christchurch down the long straight sections of state highway 1.

The name Timaru is derived from the Maori Te Maru meaning 'place of shelter', from the time it provided a safe haven for Maori people canoeing between Canterbury and Otago, and the city remains a popular halfway stopping point on the drive between Christchurch and Dunedin.

Timaru's safe, sandy stretch of beach beside the port at Caroline Bay has been popular with holidaymakers for more than a century, and it retains some of its traditional flavour, with promenades, a playground and picnic areas. The bay is busiest during the annual two-week Christmas-New Year carnival, when there is a fair, amusement rides and free open-air concerts.

The central business district is clustered among the historic Victorian and Edwardian buildings of Stafford Street. The Visitor Centre is just off Stafford Street, at 2 George Street, in the historic Landing Service Building, used in the 19th century when small boats were winched over the shingle beach into the building to load and unload their cargo.

The South Canterbury Museum is uphill from here on Perth Street and has displays of Maori artefacts, and memorabilia from Timaru's early history as a whaling base. The museum also houses the wonderful collection of butterflies, moths, eggs and colourful shells put together by the 19th century naturalist, E.P. Seally. Hanging over the main hall of the museum is a replica of the delicate aircraft used by Richard Pearse in 1902 in his attempt to be the first man in the world to achieve powered flight.

The Aigantighe (pronounced 'egg and tie') Art Gallery, just outside the centre of town on Wai-iti Road, is the South Island's third largest art museum. The 1908 mansion provides a good setting for the 900-piece collection of New Zealand and European art dating back to the 17th century, and its sculpture garden makes the perfect place for a bring-your-own picnic.

The Visitor Centre can give advice on walks around the city, including the Dashing Rocks Walkway, a sea cliffs walk north from town along Caroline Bay, past the wooden 1878 Blackett's Lighthouse and the Benvenue Cliffs, to Dashing Rocks, passing old shipwrecks along the way.

To get a real sense of history, visit the Pleasant Point area, a 20-minute drive inland from Timaru, where moa hunters left a record of their visit 500 years ago in the rock art they created in open-sided limestone rock shelters. Access to many of the rock drawings is over private land, so ask at the Visitor Centre about arranging access.