Halfway between Dunedin and Christchurch, you’ll find Timaru, a gorgeous city high on charm.
One of your first stops should be the Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre and Opihi Rock Art sites, to gain an appreciation and understanding of the lives of the original inhabitants of this place. A three-hour, self-drive tour takes you to limestone caves, where the ancestors of the local Ngai Tahu people painted images on the walls and ceilings. Book in early for the onsite tour which includes a one hour guided tour of the rock art centre.
While you’re out that way, stop at the Otipua Wetlands. A walking and cycling path winds around this beautiful four-hectare lake, taking you past the outlet where the lagoon drains to the sea, as well as across swampland. Two islands in the centre of the lake provide respite for birds, including royal spoonbills, swans, scaup, plus a variety of ducks, herons, cormorants and gulls.
To learn about more recent heritage, head to the South Canterbury Museum. Permanent displays include natural history collections – fossils, insects, birds; Maori history, such as the seasonal food-gathering cycle, plus textile and craft items; European settlement; social history, including an extensive textile and costume collection; and documentary history including photographs, books, flyers, and posters. Interactive and thoughtful curation will keep everyone busy, and additional programming during school holidays make them a great time to visit with the kids.
Something different is a night at the Kiwi Observatory. This unique, backyard observatory boasts amazing sky-watching equipment with research grade telescopes. Book a tour (by donation, $15 minimum per person) and learn about the objects you’re seeing in the sky and across the Milky Way, guided by enthusiastic amateur astronomers. Tours commence from 7pm in winter, 9pm in summer.
Timaru is home to a number of wonderful parks, and these two are definitely worth exploring. The expansive Centennial Park, sprawling across 65 hectares, is a popular place to run, walk, bike, sail, fish and picnic. It’s stunning in autumn, as the leaves change and drop. The Timaru Botanic Gardens, in south Timaru, includes an aviary, ponds, and special collections including a rose garden, conservatory and fernery, native plant collections and pinetum. Both are ideal for a peaceful stroll and quiet time out.
For the perfect place to pick up a quirky souvenir, head to Tuesday on Stafford Street. This fun shop will occupy and entertain with its unique and interesting selection of goodies, from toys and cards, to bags, gifts – even possum fur cushions! You’ll find something here you won’t find anywhere else, to always remind you of Timaru.
In summer, visitors and locals alike flock to Catherine Bay. This long, deep, sandy beach has calm waters, making it great for swimming, kayaking and stand-up paddle-boarding. Connected to town by an easy walking track, it’s a beautiful spot to come at any time of day, any time of year. Wander down after dinner and see the lights twinkling across at the Port.
If you want to stay nearby, the Comfort Hotel Benevue located right on Caroline Bay is within easy walking distance of everything Timaru has to offer. Choose from studio, one-or two-bedroom rooms, suites, or apartments. Each room has internet access and a kitchenette, and if you’ve overindulged, the light, airy, excellently appointed gym is complementary to guests. This hotel really does put you right at the heart of the best of Timaru.