Timaru Attractions

Hiring a rental car gives you the freedom and flexibility to make the most of your time exploring Timaru and surrounding areas, such as Tekapo. 

Here are a few of the attractions you might like to consider checking out. 

For more ideas, check out the South Canterbury Tourism website.

Caroline Bay

Often simply referred to as ‘the Bay’, Caroline Bay is the best-known park in and around Timaru. A railway line separates Caroline Bay from the main shopping district — pedestrians can cross over on a staircase or lift.

Located on the waterfront downtown, Caroline Bay enjoys a prime harbour outlook over the Pacific Ocean. It has a popular swimming beach that’s well sheltered by the breakwater (there are no other sandy beaches between the Banks Peninsula and Oamaru). A colony of little penguins has also cropped up around Caroline Bay. Beyond the beach, the park extends for a whopping 34 hectares.

It’s a great spot to relax, with endless large spaces punctuated by sculptures, murals and other objects of historic significance. There are barbecues, an outdoor gym, a small train and a playground to cater to families, plus plenty of parking for your rental car. Feeling active? Check out the tennis and beach volleyball courts, the skate park, and the mini-golf course.

An annual carnival is held here at Caroline Bay every summer and has been going strong for over a century. Concerts, rides and games draw families from near and far.

The Timaru region is renowned for its roses, and the award-winning Trevor Griffiths Rose Garden can be found at Caroline Bay. It is at its finest in late November to early December. Named for a local rosarian, and designed by Canterbury architect Sir Miles Warren, it features 60 rose beds arranged around a central pergola, statue, and fountain pool. There are well over 1,000 types of roses within these gardens! They can be viewed from above, at the piazza. The layout is rather distinctive, featuring steel structures that underpin the whole design.

Moeraki Boulders

Roughly 125 km down the coast from Timaru, Moeraki is about an hour and a half’s drive and makes for a nice getaway as a day trip, or a scenic stop on a road trip heading further south. The Moeraki boulders, which are well signposted off the main highway, are a fascinating sight and one of the most popular natural attractions in this area.

What makes these enormous rocks such geological oddities? They are almost perfect spheres, just scattered about on the beach, with some appearing to emerge from the cliffs behind. Maori legend tells that the boulders are the remains of baskets and vegetables that washed ashore after the wrecking of a canoe at nearby Shag Point. The scientific explanation is that they were formed up to 65 million years ago the result of the erosion of sedimentary rocks. Calcium and carbonates gathered around charged particles to build up and form the boulders, which then slowly raised from the sea bed over time.

Their sheer scale can’t be overestimated — some are up to 3 metres wide and weigh several tonnes! It’s great fun to wander around them, snapping pictures from various angles.

Park your rental car securely in the carpark by the scenic reserve, and stroll down to the beach. The walk only takes a couple of minutes. There’s a loop track from the cafe above that leads to an elevated viewing point. You may get lucky and see playful Hector’s dolphins out to sea.

At the southern edge of the Moeraki peninsula lies Katiki Point, where you’ll come across a historic lighthouse, the site of a Maori village, and lots of marine wildlife from yellow-eyed penguins to fur seals. And if you’re continuing on down the coast, Shag Point / Matakaea is also home to a host of marine life.

South Canterbury Museum

As you might expect, the South Canterbury Museum is devoted to chronicling the heritage of the surrounding region, its land and its residents. That is the focus of its permanent displays, while temporary exhibitions branch out into other natural and cultural areas.

There are two full levels of material, and film footage screened in the heritage theatre.

The natural history section boasts a wealth of information and dozens of fossils — birds, insects, marine and other creatures. The butterfly and bird egg collections are something quite special.

The Maori section is very worthwhile. Maori pioneers first settled here an estimated 800 to 1000 years ago, and this collection includes a wealth of archaeological finds, plus the remnants of certain textiles and crafts. It offers an insight into the seasonal approach they took to make the most of the land’s resources and food crops and survive.

The history of European arrival, from explorers to missionaries and general immigration, is also laid out. Through maps, books and everyday items we can piece together an idea of what it was like to live here, through the eyes of those who came before us.

The social history displays include objects related to various industries, from pottery to manufacturing and foodstuffs. Check out, too, the vast costume collection with lots of period garments (especially those from the Edwardian era and later).

Another highlight is a model replica of the aircraft that was designed and flown by Richard Pearse from his shed. It is said this local aviation pioneer actually beat the Wright brothers to it.

You will find the South Canterbury Museum on Perth Street in Timaru, next to St Mary’s church. Note that it is closed on Mondays.

Te Ana Maori Rock Art Centre

The majority of rock art in New Zealand is scattered through the South Island, predominantly concentrated in the South Canterbury region, with hundreds of sites within a short radius of the town of Timaru. They date back to the original arrival of the Maori up to a millennium ago and offer a glimpse into the lives of these early inhabitants.

There are two common forms: either carved into stone or painted or drawn onto the surface. The limestone rocks are vulnerable to outdoor elements and easily eroded, however, as are some of the paints that were used — typically made from animal fats mixed with soot, ochre or vegetable gum.

Timaru’s rock art centre, located downtown on George St, is a non-profit operation, with proceeds going back into preserving this aspect of tribal culture. The Ngai Tahu Maori Rock Art Trust was established to support local councils and communities in managing their rock art legacies, protecting these for the future.

At this unique attraction, you can observe the most significant collection of ancient Maori rock art in New Zealand and the world. Maori guides dispense with stories and traditions; an interactive exhibit retells the story of Pouakai, an enormous eagle that once rampaged through the skies, and the cave of the fearsome taniwha (in which rock art comes to life on its own).

The Te Ana centre also stocks a variety of artworks, inspired by ancient rock art, which you can purchase to take home, and support the Ngai Tahu tribe as well in doing so.

For a truly immersive experience, a three-hour tour incorporating a trip out to the Opihi Rock Art site can’t be surpassed. Follow ancient trails to see these murals and etchings up close and deepen your appreciation.