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Timaru District is enjoyed by a population of approximately 47,300 people (2018), with the main population hub in Timaru City, of approximately 29,000. It has been built on rolling hills created from the lava flows of the extinct Mt Horrible volcano, with the result that many of the main streets are undulating, in clear contrast with the flat landscape of the Canterbury Plains to the north.

Timaru boasts a historically beautiful and compact central business district, linked to the Caroline Bay recreational area. The city has preserved much of its historic heritage, both in terms of its architecture and through local treasures housed in the excellent local museum. The Aigantighe Art Gallery enjoys a reputation as having one of the best collections of New Zealand and European art to be found in any regional city. Vistas from the central city over the iconic Caroline Bay through rolling hills to the Southern Alps, are breathtaking.  The name Timaru is taken from the Maori "Te Maru", meaning "The Place of shelter".

The Timaru urban area is the second-largest city in the Canterbury Region, two hours drive south of Christchurch, and two hours drive north of Dunedin in the South Canterbury Region.

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