26 Dec 2022

Rebuilt arena unveiled in time for start of Caroline Bay carnival

10:59 am on 26 December 2022
TIMARU - DECEMBER 26:   Caroline Bay,Timaru,South Canterbury,South Island,December 19,2004 in New Zealand.(Photo by Jo Hale/Getty Images)    *** Local Caption ***

Caroline Bay is the setting for Timaru's annual summer carnival. Photo: Getty Images

Bums on seats is the ultimate aim for any event - and those visiting Timaru's Caroline Bay carnival from today will be the first to try out the Soundshell's new open-air seating complex.

The unveiling of the new arena coincides with the return of the carnival that had to be canned last year due to the pandemic, the first time this had happened in its 111-year history.

Every year, thousands of people are drawn to the bay during carnival time which runs for two weeks from Boxing Day featuring twice daily free concerts, amusement rides, sideshows and competitions.

The Octopus ride at the Caroline Bay carnival

Rides such as the octopus are drawcards. Photo: Supplied / Caroline Bay Association

Timaru District Council has spent $3.45 million to replace the previous 64-year-old seating. In February 2018, the council received a report identifying problems with the condition of the concrete, meaning the seats would be unsafe within five years.

It was decided to do a "like with like" replacement although wheelchair ramps have been added this time. The old seating was demolished earlier this year.

Work nears an end for new seating at Caroline Bay

Workers doing some landscaping after the installation of the new seating. Photo: RNZ / Maree Mahony

The concerts on the Soundshell are an institution for Canterbury people. Some of the country's most prominent artists have performed in the past including the Topp Twins, Stan Walker, Patsy Rigger, Andrew Fagan, Jason Kerrison and Annie Crummer.

A budget in the region of $350,000 must cover artists' fees and accommodation, prizes and other expenses.

Caroline Bay Association secretary / treasurer Kevin Fahey said with the country's cost of living crisis taking hold, it was tough to make the figures work for events such as the carnival.

"For 112 years, so far we have been very lucky to keep it going even through two World Wars, but Covid was the worst thing to affect us," Fahey said.

"For families to come to the carnival and see a free concert, enjoy the playground and the beach with the games and rides being kept at affordable prices for families is a good reason people like to return each year."

He has lined up about a dozen performers to keep the crowds entertained over the carnival that will run through to 9 January.

About 90 or so volunteers are indispensable with one honoured recently for 75 years' service, while others have been giving up their time to work at the carnival for between 40 and 60 years. Young people get involved as well.

Caroline Bay merry-go-round

Providing some enjoyment for people, especially children, is satisfying for dozens of volunteers. Photo: Supplied / Caroline Bay Association

Fahey, who has been in his role for 25 years, said the look of delight on children's faces as they rode the merry go round was sufficient reward for all those who helped.

"The volunteers enjoy it because they know they're putting on something worthwhile for the community."

The Caroline Bay Association was set up in 1911 and soon after members organised the first carnival.

Caroline Bay carnival - has been running for 111 years with just one cancellation - 2021

The carnival has been held every since 1911, except over the 2021-2022 summer. Photo: Supplied / South Canterbury Museum

The association's aim was to raise money so it could run the carnival and provide amenities to enhance the bay. An aviary, the children's playground and pool, mini-golf, a rose garden and a tearooms are among many new attractions added down the years.

Visitors from outside the South Canterbury region are vital to its success. Although it's doubtful they will rival the numbers reached in the summer of 1926 when 23,000 day trippers travelled by rail to Timaru to spend some time at the carnival, which was held over just two days.

Many will remember the beauty pageants such as Miss Caroline Bay and Princess of the Sands that drew dozens of contestants a generation ago. As their popularity faded, they have been replaced with talent quests.

Hundreds of hours went into running a successful event and Fahey said a run of good weather was the most important thing they needed now to encourage holiday-makers to attend, spend some money and enjoy what was on offer.

A sign outlining Caroline Bay's history on the main street of Timaru.

A sign on the main street of Timaru outlines Caroline Bay's history. Photo: RNZ / Maree Mahony

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