Story: South Canterbury places

Page 6. Timaru

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South Canterbury’s largest centre of population, and only city. Timaru had a population in 2013 of 27,048, slightly up on the 2006 figure of 26,895. It peaked at close to 30,000 in the early 1970s. The town developed at the only sheltered point on the coast between Banks Peninsula and North Otago, and owes much of its prosperity to its artificial harbour, first developed in the late 1800s.


Timaru became an industrial centre processing products from South Canterbury farms. Relatively slow growth since the 1950s means the town has, like nearby Temuka, a well-preserved early 20th-century main street and other notable historic buildings. It is the administrative centre for the Timaru District, which now includes Temuka and Geraldine and extends north to the Rangitātā River.

Schools and hospital

Timaru has five secondary schools. Timaru Boys’ and Girls’ high schools (single-sex), Mountainview high school (co-educational), Roncalli College (Catholic co-educational) and Craighead Diocesan (Anglican girls’ school). Timaru is also the site of the region’s only general hospital.

A sheltered spot

The name Timaru could be a variant of Te Maru (meaning ‘the place of shelter’) – referring to the safe water behind the reefs. The name may also have a connection with Maru, a chief of the South Island Ngāi Tahu tribe.

Caroline Bay

Caroline Bay was once described as a ‘dreary and uninviting line of rock under a cliff over which was dumped night soil and rubbish’. 1 After the construction of Timaru’s artificial harbour, currents created a sandy beach under the cliffs, inviting bathers and visitors. The borough council leased the new foreshore from the harbour board in 1902 and decided to turn the bay into a European-style beach resort. Tea rooms, a hot-water swimming pool and a band rotunda were built. A ‘sound shell’ (for concerts) replaced the rotunda in 1937. Later, a piazza was built to improve access to the bay from the top of Bay Hill. Christmas carnivals have been held at Caroline Bay since 1911, attracting thousands.

Hunters Hills

Prominent South Canterbury foothill range, west of Timaru. West of the range itself are the upper Waihao and Hakataramea valleys. One of the highest peaks, at 1,525 metres, is Mt Nimrod, ‘a mighty hunter before the Lord’ (Genesis 10:19). There is a television mast on another Hunters Hills summit, Mt Studholme.

Otaio River

The Otaio River rises in the southern Hunters Hills and flows across downlands to the coast south of the Pareora River. The reserve at Otaio Gorge, where the river issues from the hills, protects a small area of surviving native bush and is typical of the camping and picnic spots along the foot of the Hunters Hills.


The township of Pareora is 14 km south of Timaru. It grew up around a freezing works which opened in 1904 and still operates. The Pareora River drains the northern Hunters Hills. The lower gorge of the Pareora River has been the source of Timaru’s water since 1874.

St Andrews

Settlement 17 km south-west of Timaru with a 2013 population of 180. It was linked to Timaru by rail in 1876, and grew after the subdivision of the Pareora Run. It remains a rural service town.


Industrial suburb 5 km north of Timaru’s city centre. Its first industry was a boiling-down works, opened in 1869. Its industries today include a substantial brewery. The Washdyke Lagoon is to the east of the suburb. Because the coastline changed after Timaru’s port was built, the lagoon is much smaller than it once was.

  1. Oliver A. Gillespie, South Canterbury: a record of settlement. Timaru: South Canterbury Centennial History Committee, 1958, p. 182. › Back
How to cite this page:

John Wilson, 'South Canterbury places - Timaru', Te Ara - the Encyclopedia of New Zealand, (accessed 17 June 2024)

Story by John Wilson, published 28 Feb 2007, updated 17 Aug 2015