2016 has been a big year for Oamaru. The quirky town has long been famous for its wildlife and architecture, but now it has a Guinness World Record for the largest gathering of steampunks in the world!
For the uninitiated, steampunk is a sort of science fiction movement based on mixing old with new; it takes modern technology and restyles it in a Victorian fashion. Earlier this year hundreds of steampunks descended on the town, and celebrated the sub-culture at Oamaru’s Steampunk HQ. Whilst at first glance this ordinary New Zealand town may seem an unlikely home for steampunk, but perhaps it’s unsurprising given the town’s proud Victorian heritage and very inventive locals.
Situated on the east coast of South Island, Oamaru is just 1½ hours from Dunedin and 3 hours south of Christchurch. But, despite its accessibility it has always been a little off the main tourist trail. Now though times are changing and the reasons for visiting Oamaru are clocking up. With that in mind New Zealand In Depth has put together a list of our favourite things to do in Oamaru:
#1 Go Penguin Watching
We start our list with Oamaru’s biggest and smallest attraction. Blue penguins measure on average 33cm in height and are the smallest species of penguin. A colony has made its home at a disused quarry in the town and visitors can watch as they return from the sea to their nests every evening. They’ve become such a tourist attraction that a special 25 metre underpass has recently been built to help them safely navigate a busy road. Larger and rarer yellow eyed penguins can also be found waddling ashore nearby at Bushy Beach.
#2 Take a step back in time at the Victorian Precinct
Oamaru is famous for its Victorian architecture and is home to some of New Zealand’s best-preserved buildings. They stand testament to the town’s glory years when, in the 19th century, gold mining and quarrying were booming. The Victorian precinct is the oldest part of the town and is full of quirky shops, cafes and galleries. Every year it holds a Victorian Heritage Festival. If you’re in town and have left your corsets and top hat at home, don’t worry! The Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust has a Victorian Wardrobe where you can hire costumes to make sure you fit right in.
#3 Visit the Vineyards
Waitaki is New Zealand’s newest wine region, with Pinot Gris, Pinot Noir, Riesling and Gewurztraminer amongst the main grape varieties. Take a day trip and go wine tasting at vineyards like Ostler, Kurow and Waitaki Braids.
#4 Relax in the Oamaru Public Gardens
These gardens are amongst the oldest in New Zealand. Opened in 1876, they comprise of 34 acres of sweeping lawns, immaculate rose gardens, an aviary and a Chinese garden. They are a wonderful place to relax or take a stroll for an hour or so.
#5 Taste Whitestone Cheeses
Whitestone Cheese is one of New Zealand’s leading specialist cheese producers. It takes its name from the limestone that is quarried nearby. The cheeses are made using traditional methods and natural ingredients. Visit the factory, enjoy a tasting in the shop or visit the caravan at Oamaru’s Sunday farmers market.
#6 Go Cycling
The famous Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Tour runs from Aoraki Mt Cook to Oamaru. It is the longest continuous ride in New Zealand and takes in some of the country’s most incredible scenery. In its entirety it takes 4-6 days to complete, but cycle operators will transfer you and your bicycle to a desired starting point if you want to experience a section of the trail.
#7 Discover Steampunk
If you’re a fan of steampunk or if you’d like to view a hybrid of Sherlock Holmes and Dr Who’s worlds then you need to visit Steampunk HQ. It is an industrial-inspired steam powered art gallery, showroom and museum with a sense of humour. One of its most famous exhibits is a full scale train engine that spits fire and billows smoke.
#8 Explore some mind blowing Geology
Half an hour south of Oamaru are the famous and iconic Moeraki Boulders. These huge, almost perfectly spherical rocks look like they’ve been washed ashore. Formed from natural concrete – calcite concretions – and measuring up to 2 metre high they are simply a photographer’s dream.
Half an hour north east of Oamaru are the Elephant Rocks, massive, weathered limestone formations. If they look familiar it may be because the area was used as Aslans camp in the 2005 Chronicles of Narnia film. They’re a popular place for bouldering and rock climbing.
A list like that shows there really is no shortage of things to do in Oamaru . If you’d like some interesting and quirky ideas for your trip to New Zealand then get in touch. You can send us an e-mail or give us call on +44 (0)1298 74040.
Many thanks to the Jameses at Pen-y-Bryn Lodge, Oamaru for sharing their wonderful photographs.