What to Do in Timaru: The Hub of South Canterbury
Located between Dunedin and Christchurch, Timaru is a great place to stay the night on your South Island road trip. The large town has plenty to discover both in its streets and on the beach with an amazing museum and art gallery, as well as pleasant beach walks and picturesque parks. When night falls, talk a walk to Marine Parade to watch the little blue penguins returning to their burrows. Find out more about activities, attractions and experiences in this list of things to do in Timaru.
While you’re here, you might also like the 10 Underrated Places to Visit in Canterbury.
1. Visit the South Canterbury Museum
A must-visit in the city of Timaru, the South Canterbury Museum exhibits a wide range of interesting memorabilia from fashion to fossils. Discover local stories and learn about the South Canterbury region’s nature, history and culture. Watch a local historic film at the Heritage Theatre, take a look through the archives at the research area, and wander around the ever-changing array of exhibitions. The South Canterbury Museum is open from 10 am to 4:30 pm, Tuesday to Friday and 1 pm to 4:30 pm on weekends.
Location: Perth Street, Timaru.
2. Watch the Little Blue Penguins at Caroline Bay
When the sun goes down, the little blue penguins return to their burrows at Caroline Bay. Timaru offers one of the best free viewings of little blue penguins in New Zealand, with street lights making it easy to see the penguins. Watch the penguins from Marine Parade, but make sure to stay behind the fenced-off area and don’t use flash photography or shine lights at the penguins. Find out more about watching penguins in New Zealand in the 5 Tips for Watching New Zealand Penguins.
Location: Marine Parade, Caroline Bay, Timaru.
3. Check Out the Aigantighe Art Gallery
See international and local collections of artwork at the fantastic Aigantighe Art Gallery. Aigantigne is Gaelic for “at home” and pronounced “egg-and-tie”. It’s the third-largest art gallery in New Zealand and holds an impressive collection of New Zealand, Pacific, Asian and European art. There are ever-changing exhibitions, which historically have included living sculptures, historic painting replica dress-ups and Art Car, as well as a Sculpture Garden with open-air works. Find the Aigantighe Art Gallery open from 10 am to 4 pm, Monday to Friday and from 12 pm to 4 pm on weekends.
Location: 49 Wai-titi Road, Timaru.
4. Catch the Timaru Artisan Farmers Market
Saturday mornings in Timaru are best spent at the Timaru Artisan Farmers Market. Pick up fresh and local produce, mingle with the locals and experience a real Kiwi market. It’s a great place to pick up gifts for friends at home or simply treat yourself with preserves, cheeses, baking and organic goodies. There’s also hot food and drinks for sale. Catch the market from 9 am to 12:30 pm every Saturday.
Location: 2 George Street, Timaru.
5. Wander Around the Timaru Botanic Gardens
Timaru has a number of picturesque gardens and green spaces including the fabulous Timaru Botanic Gardens. The gardens feature an aviary, ornamental ponds, a conservatory and fernery, a children’s playground and many different collections of flowers and plants.
Location: Queen Street, Timaru.
6. Explore Caroline Bay
Caroline Bay is Timaru’s sandy beach and park area. Enjoy a lookout along a staircase, photo-worthy water features and more in this attractive part of town. It’s home to the Trevor Griffins Rose Garden, which is a beautiful sight in spring and summer with its geometric rose beds. There’s also a lovely walkway over boardwalks along the bay taking around 45 minutes to complete.
Location: Caroline Bay, Timaru.
7. Walk the South Beach Coastal Track
Enjoy excellent views of Caroline Bay, the Port and the town along the South Beach Coastal Track. This 20-minute walk is on a well-formed trail along a shingle beach following the coastline north toward the Timaru Harbour. It’s a pleasant walk to watch surfers on the waves and look out for wildlife like penguins, seals, dotterels, oystercatchers and terns.
Location: Patiti Point car park, Timaru.
8. Visit the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre or Take a Tour of the Tribal Site
For a real off-the-beaten-track experience and a unique insight into Maori history, join a personal guided tour of the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Site. Dive into a guided tour of the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre then follow your guide by car to the original site where you’ll get an in-depth tour of its tribal rock paintings and carvings. Tours run at 2 pm from Tuesday to Saturday between November and April. Otherwise, the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre is open all year from 10 am to 3 pm, Tuesday to Saturday.
Location: 2 George Street, Timaru.
9. Take the Kids to Famlan Farm Park
If you have little ones to entertain (or you’re just an animal lover, we’re not judging), then treat them to the ultimate Kiwi farm experience at Farmlan Farm Park. This might be an intimate and down-to-earth local farm setting but there are so many animals to meet that you’ll be entertained for hours. Gather some food and put on some “gumboots” (they have plenty) and enjoy encounters with goats, rabbits, ponies, alpacas, pigs and the list goes on! Farmlan Farm Park is open by appointment on weekdays and from 10 am to 3 pm on weekends.
Location: 19 Rosebrook Road, Claremont, Timaru.
10. Check Out the Tuhawaiki (Jack’s) Point Lighthouse
A neat photo spot and another pleasant walk on the outskirts of Timaru, the Tuhawaiki (Jack’s) Point Lighthouse is well worth the venture if you have the time. Park at either Scarborough Road or Ellis Road (the latter is slightly more scenic) and enjoy a 20-minute walk along the coast with sweeping pebble beaches to admire.
Location: Scarborough Road or Ellis Road, Timaru.
11. Have a Stroll on the Dashing Rocks Coastal Walk
If one lighthouse wasn’t enough, there’s another picture-perfect lighthouse at the north end of Caroline Bay along the Dashing Rocks Coastal Walk. This 1-hour stroll on well-formed walkways reveals some of the pleasant beaches of Timaru, Ashbury Park and Blackett’s Lighthouse alongside the railway line.
Location: Caroline Bay (and follow the signs), Timaru.
12. Tour the DB Draught Brewery
One of New Zealand’s largest beer brands has a brewery right here in Timaru. Learn the brewing process, past and present, in this insightful brewery tour at the DB Draught Brewery. The brewery is famous for making DB Draught, DB Export Gold and DB Export 33. At the end of the tour, you’ll sample the good stuff yourself and get the chance to browse the gift shop. Tours run at 1 pm from Monday to Saturday and bookings are essential. See more activities like this in the 5 Damn Good Brewery Tours in New Zealand.
Alternatively, check out the microbrewery of Ship Hop Brewery. Although they might not offer brewery tours, the bar is open on Fridays from lunchtime to 7/8 pm.
Location: DB Draught Brewery – Sheffield Street, Washdyke. Ship Hop Brewery – 7 Strathallan Street, Timaru.
13. Get the New Zealand Boutique Shopping Experience
Timaru is home to an eclectic range of boutiques that’s well worth putting some time aside for in your itinerary. Dive into the diverse blend of New Zealand and international clothing (for both women and men) at Black & Co, have a coffee and shop upmarket attire and accessories for guys and gals at Chillis & More, shop the local favourite Miss Timaru, pick up all sorts of trinkets (and cupcakes on a Friday) from Millie Rose, pick up Kiwi gifts from Tuesday, and the list goes on!
Location: Black & Co – 92 Stafford Street, Chillis & More – 21 Butler Street, Miss Timaru – 204 Stafford Street, Millie Rose – 281 Stafford Street and Tuesday – 88 Stafford Street.
14. Discover Timaru’s Eclectic Dining and Bar Scene
A trip to Timaru is not complete until you have sampled the flavours of its passionate artisans and eateries. Dine on health-conscious yet creative dishes at Amore Food Market & Café, claiming South Canterbury’s first 100% gluten-free, microwave-free, organic and plant-based cafe! Highlights for dinner include European cuisine in the charming historical architecture of The Oxford and the international vibes of Street Food Kitchen. For a nightcap, check out Hector’s Black for its cosy mismatched vintage couches, retro suitcase tables and all sorts of crazy antiques on display!
Location: Amore Food Market & Café – 1 Sarah Street, The Oxford – 152 Stafford Street, Street Food Kitchen – 2 George Street, and Hector’s Black – 129 Stafford Street.
15. Visit the Nearby Country Towns
Timaru is surrounded by two quaint Kiwi towns well worth visiting, Pleasant Point and Temuka. Pleasant Point is home to some fantastic eateries and some of the oldest remaining steam trains in the country at the Pleasant Point Museum & Railway. Temuka is a picturesque town with historical buildings, the Temuka Saleyards which is buzzing once a week, and the largest garden and park in the district at the Temuka Domain. Find out more in 5 Fun Things to Do at Pleasant Point and 6 Fun Things to Do in Temuka.
Location: Pleasant Point – 20 km (12 mi) north of Timaru, Temuka – 19 km (12 mi) north of Timaru.
More Things to Do in Timaru
That’s it for our list of the best things to do in Timaru, but there’s a lot more to explore in the area if you’re prepared to travel to some of the nearby attractions. Find out more in the following guides:
Finally, find more activities for your travels in the 51 Best Things to Do in the South Island.