Often referred to as a city (population almost 30,000), the South Canterbury town of Timaru is conveniently situated 164 km south of Christchurch, 197 km north of Dunedin and close to ski fields, making it an ideal weekend or holiday destination. Barely an hour north of Oamaru, my granddaughter Sophia (five) and I are excited to see what new adventures we will find there.
‘I loved going to Timaru for Christmas carnivals at Caroline Bay when I wasn’t much older than you,’ I explained to her on the drive. ‘What will we do today?’ she asked. I replied with: ‘After a morning of shopping, then lunch, I have a few surprises to show you.’ Her enthusiasm for the day ahead was catching.
An impressive statue of a horse and rider, visible from the state highway, has always intrigued me on hurried trips to Christchurch. Now, having time to check it out, we drive past the industrial area, to the Washdyke Racecourse grounds. The champion Thoroughbred racehorse Phar Lap was foaled (4 October 1926) at Seadown, near Timaru. Trained in Australia, he become the third highest stakes winner in the world, winning the 1930 Melbourne Cup and the Agua Caliente Handicap in Tijuana, Mexico. Phar Lap’s total earnings were a massive £66,738, almost $3 million today. Unfortunately, he died in California from a mysterious illness in 1932.
Highly recommended as a ‘must-visit’, our next stop (midtown in Perth Street) is the South Canterbury Museum. Welcomed by a friendly gentleman at reception, we learn admission is free and Sophia was invited to become a Museum Super Explorer. Given a ‘passport’ and activity sheet on a clipboard, she was made to feel important and took on her role with huge enthusiasm.
Butterfly collections, kiwis, an array of birds, moa bones and much more are all immaculately displayed, while a replica of Richard Pearse’s ‘flying machine’ hangs from the ceiling. A remarkable achiever, this local farmer and inventor singlehandedly built and flew the microlight-looking apparatus in March 1903, months before the more famous Wright brothers’ flight. The museum is filled with lifelike murals incorporating realistic mannequins, enabling us to become immersed in the scene. Like an actress on a movie set, Sophia was full of questions which thankfully I could answer by reading all the information documented. It was a marvellous immersive show, not tell, experience.
Driving up Wai-iti Road on Māori Hill led us to the Aigantighe Art Gallery. Pronounced ‘egg and tie’ and Gaelic for ‘at home’, this grand old mansion was built as a retirement home by Alexander and Helen Grant in 1908. Emigrating from Scotland they farmed in the Mackenzie Country and when Mrs Grant died at 101, she bequeathed the estate and much of her art collection to the Timaru community in 1956. The timeless elegance of stained-glass windows, staircases and original fireplaces makes a befitting atmosphere for the internationally renowned art collections. With priceless pieces including Charles Goldie, Frances Hodgkins, Colin McCahon and other international and local artists, Aigantighe is the South Island’s third largest public art museum – although sadly the heritage part is currently closed due to earthquake damage. Outside, garden sculptures contrast the works inside. Throwing autumn leaves was a great release of energy for Sophia after two hours of intense learning.
My suggestion to go for a brisk stroll around the Timaru Botanic Gardens before returning home was positively received. Heading south towards State Highway One, the gardens are located in Queen Street, Parkside. Dominant at the main entrance, a statue of the famous Scottish poet Robbie Burns led us into the grounds. Opened by the Duke of Gloucester in 1935, the 210 hectares had been former wasteland and as far back as 1864, the Provincial Council, had enough foresight to set aside the area to make a reserve, utilising convict labour from the local jail to plant the trees and shrubs, flower roots and bulbs donated by the public. A glasshouse was erected in 1905, followed by a band rotunda in 1912 to commemorate the Coronation of King George V. In 1938, land was set aside adjacent to the Timaru Hospital, to provide an area for patients and visitors to enjoy. With rose gardens, native plant collections, a Queen Victoria garden and a children’s playground, the Timaru Botanic Gardens are an asset for all ages to enjoy.
While Sophia chased dozens of ducks down a hillside, I was engrossed in photographing the late autumn colours. Heading back out of town we both wholeheartedly agreed that Timaru is, without a doubt, an awesome place to learn about our heritage and history and have fun at the same time. We will definitely return soon to continue our exploration.
WORDS Liz Cadogan
WHERE TO EAT & DRINK
Foodies delight! There is plenty on offer when it comes to the dining scene in Timaru – come prepared to eat your way around this seaside town.
Rustic bold flavours marry perfectly together at this central bistro.
STREET FOOD KITCHEN
Taking influence from street food vendors across the globe, there is an ever-changing menu to discover here.
FUSION RESTAURANT CAFÉ & BAR
Situated on Timaru’s famous dining strip, The Bay Hill, here you will find award-winning modern cuisine.
SAIKOU TEPPANYAKI & WHISKY BAR
Exceptional Japanese cuisine with an emphasis on whiskys and craft beers, these tapa style dishes are made to share.
This quirky bar boasts amazing cocktails and is full of antiques and crazy stuff. Well worth a visit!
A beautiful country fare café located in the stables of a gorgeous 1890s home, you feel like you are miles away from anywhere, not five minutes from town.
WHERE TO SHOP
A hub of creativity and design talent, there will be something for every size, style and budget when it comes to shopping!
Established in Timaru in 1883, like its Christchurch counterpart, Ballantynes Timaru has you covered for every occasion.
A store for men, women and children, Evolv is always buzzing, boasting clothes and accessories for all.
An iconic retailer, this destination store maintains a large ever-changing showcase of fashion.
HEAD OVER HEELS
Shoe lovers look no further when it comes to finding something for your feet. You will literally fall,
head over heels!
From trusted local brands to international bestsellers, Camerons is renowned for quality and value.
WORDS Liz Cadogan