12 Hours in Timaru

Mural painted on side of building in Timaru.

Make the most of your flying visit to Timaru with our 12 hour guide, which will have you sipping the best coffee, nipping into intriguing boutiques and galleries, learning about the ancient practice of Māori rock art and filling up on the best food in town. 

The locals refer to their petite town as the Riviera of the South, and while it’s all a bit of tongue-in-cheek fun, there is definitely something to this statement. The stunning Caroline Bay and harbour and the easy walking township filled with historical buildings and plenty to pique your interest, make this underdog of the east coast a place well worth visiting. 

Whether you make Timaru your main destination or stop en-route North or South, make sure you take some time to get to know this gem of a town. 

Morning

Arthur Street Kitchen

8 Arthur Street, Timaru

Begin your day in style at possibly the hippest café in town. Arthur Street Kitchen is a landmark of the Timaru café scene and has been operating from its stunning old brick building for many years. A firm locals’ favourite, this place slings homemade baking, cooking and great coffee from early morning ‘til late afternoon. There’s a large back garden to sit in the sun and a sandpit to keep little ones busy, plus a maze of rooms to settle into indoors, as well as a street-side window for quick take-out orders. Local art on the walls and regular live music gigs keep the café interesting throughout the year.

Central Timaru Historic Walk

Timaru CBD

Once you’ve fuelled up on coffee and breakfast, it’s time to take those legs on a stroll with a 30 minute self-guided tour of the town centre to appreciate Timaru’s historic, central architecture. Start by downloading the Timaru Trails app which provides you with lots of information about the buildings and landmarks at every stop.

The journey will have you not merely strolling past, but admiring a number of buildings of various architectural styles from the late 1800s to mid-1900s. Expect to come across Victorian, Edwardian and Arts & Crafts buildings as well as more modern styles, in particular, the stunning Warren & Mahoney designed Timaru Public Library. 

Hit the boutiques

Various locations around Timaru

Along or after the architectural tour is a good time to hit some of the most intriguing boutiques in town. 

If you’re after a good read or simply appreciate an independently run bookshop, Bay Hill Books is your destination. The petite bookstore stocks an impressive range of titles and is run by very knowledgeable bibliophilists.

Next stop down the street is Millie Rose Boutique, which is known for producing incredibly tasty, delicate cupcakes as well as boasting a huge range of giftware, art and fashion. And since we mentioned fashion, you best poke your nose into Black & Co as well. This store is neatly curated to offer an exclusive range of not-so-common brands from New Zealand and overseas, with an emphasis on natural materials.

For a bit of fun, pop into You’re the Bomb, home of small batch, hand crafted bath bombs in a number of surprising forms. Last, but by no means least, make sure to walk through the doors of Dead2Be – this store offers unique, quality home and giftware you won’t find elsewhere.

Afternoon

Lunch at Saikou

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2 Sefton Street East, Timaru

There must be a bit of grumble in that tummy after all that walking, so it’s time to head back up Stafford Street, nip around the corner and enter Saikou. This Asian fusion restaurant offers a peek of Caroline Bay through its large windows and an atmospheric surrounding for your midday meal. With dishes designed to share, ordering a variety of nibbles will have you tasting a selection of teppanyaki goodness while leaving enough space for an afternoon snack and dinner as well. And since you’re on holiday, why not pair your lunch with a sneaky drink from the whisky bar?

York Street Gallery

21 York Street, Timaru

After lunch it’s another walking tour, but with one single destination: York Street Gallery of Fine Art. Just a few blocks away from town central, getting here won't take you too long. Look out for a bright orange building clad in various pieces of art and you’ve found what you were looking for. Wander through the rooms filled with stunning art in a mixture of mediums. Gallery owner Debbie Tempelton-Page is a sculptor herself and has extensive knowledge of all of the artworks she exhibits. You may well find yourself having a cup of tea and a chinwag with her, which is not a bad way to learn about the creative community of the small coastal town.

Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre

2 George Street, Timaru

Next, head back over to the harbour side of town and enter Te Ana Māori Rock Art Centre. You’ll immediately sense that you’ve come to a special place as you enter the stone-clad building. This is where you can view actual pieces of rock art removed from their ancient sites more than a century ago, and also learn about the practice as well the mahika kai (seasonal journeys) of Aotearoa’s indigenous people. To deepen your knowledge, join a local Ngai Tahu guide for an immersive visit, or book a site-tour of the very places where the artworks were created.

Caroline Bay Walk

Timaru Port

To top off your cultural intake, head to Caroline Bay for a pre-dinner walk. Just a short stroll away lies the stunning bay and sandy Waimataitai beach. The bay area was one of the first New Zealand beaches to be developed along the lines of an English seaside resort. There’s a rookery of penguins in the rocks, plenty of native birds and, if you’re lucky, you might even spot dolphins or seals swimming in the shallow waters or further out on the edge of the bay. While here, you can also take a stroll through the stunning rose gardens and walk the steps of the open-air auditorium.

View of Caroline Bay, Timaru.

Evening

Dinner at The Oxford

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152 Stafford Street

Loop back around to the lower end of Stafford Street and find your dinner destination, The Oxford, housed in a stunning early 1900s heritage art deco building. Take note of the large black and white photograph on the back wall. Remember that aforementioned open-air auditorium? The photograph shows the auditorium in all its glory, filled to the brim with people in an era when social distancing was unheard of. If you choose to sit at the bar, take time to look closely at the famous Timaru image and you may just find a few visual tricks. The Oxford is famous for serving French Bistro style dishes that are created around the ethos of uncomplicated quality. Expect classy, yet casual service and a wine list that is hard to match.

Nightcap at Hector Black's

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129 Stafford Street

Finish the day off the right way, with a nightcap at the curious Hector Black’s lounge bar across the road from The Oxford. There is more to take in here than one can possibly manage with just one visit, but to appreciate the unique atmosphere of the bar is most definitely on the can-do list for anyone that walks through the doors. A vintage lover's paradise, Hector Black’s is furnished with an eclectic mix of antiques, vintage curiosities and paintings. There are also plenty of comfy leather seating to settle into and an extensive drinks list to choose your tipple of choice to wind down with.