Timaru is the gateway to South Canterbury – a family-friendly destination with a surprising number of things to do.

The city is built around a port on the shores of Caroline Bay, with a history dating back to the whaling days of the1830s. The centre boasts some fine Edwardian buildings, good restaurants and pretty parks. You'll find a relaxed country vibe here, with plenty of time to enjoy the clear South Island air and big skies.

If the sun is out, make sure you head to broad, sandy Caroline Bay. The boardwalk is ideal for a gentle stroll, or lace up your running shoes and get your fitness fix. Come back after dark and you might even see one of Timaru's most unique attractions - little Blue Penguins in their habitat.

For wildlife of a different kind, head to Te Ana Maori Rock Art Museum in George Street. Eight pieces of ancient Maori art are housed here, including a stunning representation of the extinct Haast Eagle (Pouakai). See the largest eagle that ever lived, as recorded by the people who encountered it in pre-European times. Ngai Tahu guides are on hand to take you through the interactive exhibits and explain the stories behind them.

The Trevor Griffiths Rose Gardens provide a showcase for 1,200 rose varieties in an architecturally designed setting. Stop and smell a few of them. Then cap your day with refreshments or a fine meal in one of the town's top cafés or restaurants. You could order your flat white from one of Timaru's hippest cafés, Arthur Street Kitchen, or tuck into South Island salmon and venison in the Oxford, a sophisticated restaurant in a building dating back to 1925.

Timaru is also a great starting point for active adventures such as mountain biking, tramping, rafting, kayaking, skiing, horse riding, hunting and fishing. You'll never be short of things to do.

Hay bales image courtesy of Jeanna McDonald, South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce; Horse trekking in Peel forest image courtesy of South Canterbury Chamber of Commerce