In the early settler days before the harbour was built, there were numerous shipwrecks. The coast continues to be a dramatic feature of the town and one of the best places to experience this is on the walkway along Benvenue Cliffs, with spray kicking up as the Pacific herds in against the basalt. The working port is central to the economic vibrancy of the town, set on the eastern side of Caroline Bay, the port works 24/7 with large container ships coming in from all over the world.
The building of the harbour had a dramatic impact on the coastline; in particular the sand piling up at foot of the clay cliffs is how the beach of Caroline Bay was established. Caroline Bay turned Timaru into a seaside holiday destination. Christmas carnivals have been held at the bay since 1911, attracting thousands. Recent developments on the bay include the building of a piazza on the top of Bay Hill. The view from the piazza on a clear day is absolutely stunning, offering a wonderful panorama across the bay, the Pacific and inland to the Southern Alps. Timaru has evolved slowly and as a result of this the city has some wonderful examples of early 20th-century architecture, notably along the main street, Stafford Street.