11th of September, 2018
Often overlooked, Oamaru is a curious little town with lots to see and do. It is the largest town in North Otago and is the main town in the Waitaki District.
I first visited on my tiki tour of the South Island, it was added onto our itinerary at the last moment, as we had discovered the Blue Penguin Centre and the Moeraki Boulders, ( The Moeraki Boulders did not disappoint, that’s for another blog). Having moved to New Zealand and spent time living and working in Twizel, Oamaru became quite a focal point for me thereafter.
Real New Zealand Tours recommend at least 1 day and 1 night here if your itinerary permits it, and here’s why!
Oamaru is a happy town where people are proud of their Victorian heritage. It is one of the few places in New Zealand with beautiful architecture, the buildings were handcrafted from the local white Oamaru stone.
Steam Punk HQ is found in the huge Grain Elevator building dating back to the 1880’s. Steampunk is a quirky and fun museum. It features an interesting collection of retro-futuristic sci-fi art, movies, sculpture and sound. Oamaru's Victorian precinct is the perfect setting for steampunk, as the architecture is a great backdrop for this alternative version of 19th century England. Once inside we found ourselves amazed and sometimes stupefied at many of the exhibits and rides! One of our favourite rooms was the portal, a retro-futuristic mirror and lighting installation with original glowing light sculptures.
Following on from the Steam Punk HQ is the Victorian Precinct. A street with Victorian buildings, with a real soul and cosmopolitan vibe. Some shopkeepers dress up in Victorian clothes as a daily habit. Many of the shops are run by local artists selling exquisite Oamaru stone sculptures, or divine homemade soaps, and wonderful artwork. Take the time to talk to the owners and you won’t be disappointed. I was invited to more than one local art gallery, pottery workshops and even a knitting group! The architecture alone is enough to lure tourists to Oamaru, then add the amazingly happy, proud and interesting people and it just gets better.
Take time to poke around the shops which are packed full of super curious items, most of which are for sale! Perhaps you will dress up in Victorian costumes and even climb on board the penny farthing. Expect to see many cyclists on normal bikes, as this is where the awesome Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail finishes. Browse in The Adventure Bookshop, the only bookshop I have ever been to where there is a boat inside!
Another great attraction to visit is the newly opened Whitestone City. Set in another fabulous grain store, this museum will connect you with the Victorian past. Walk down a Victorian Street with a grocery and pharmacy, there is a barber and a school room, a playground and a pub. Packed full of information and staffed by the most enthusiast people ever, this again comes very highly recommended by Real New Zealand Tours.
Perhaps after all the exploring, you might feel a little thirsty, this is not a problem in modern-day Oamaru. In years gone by alcohol was banned, you will learn all about the wild days of Oamaru in the Whitestone Museum. You can visit a very fine whisky shop and the Scott’s Brewing Company. The brewery produces New Zealand’s only gluten-free beer. Another iconic drinking establishment and well worth a visit is the Criterion Hotel.
So much to see and do and haven’t got down the Ocean yet! There is an awesome play park with interesting tree carvings, great for the young and the old.
Then there is the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, which is like the icing on the cake! The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony provides visitors with an opportunity to see little penguins in their natural environment. A tour during the day allows visitors to peek into the penguins’ nests, stroll through their habitat and learn about their fascinating lives. In the evening, visitors are captivated by watching the nightly arrival of penguins from their days’ fishing at sea. We went for an evening tour and it was magical. It was like the waves burped and out came lots of tiny little penguins! They were so sweet and determined to get their nests. There was a big seal on the beach and the penguins had to manoeuvre around him. Simply special to be so close to nature, a memory to cherish for life. Oamaru was the first town in the world to build a small underpass under the road for the penguins to be able to cross the road safely. Just adorable.
Oamaru really does have it all. Mostly centred around the Victorian precinct and Victorian times, but if you want a blast back into the 70s to be sure to visit the Lagonda Tea Rooms half down the high street on the right-hand side. The décor is incredible and the custard slices are divine!
The Botanical gardens situated a little further away from the Victorian precinct are a beautiful place to visit. Wonderfully landscaped, a lovely place to contemplate your amazing Real New Zealand Road trip. Heading North out of Oamaru is the iconic “lolly” factory. A colourful building where many of New Zealand’s yummiest sweets are made.
Also when travelling into Oamaru from the South, take note of all the crosses at the base of the trees. These are a poignant memory to the 1000’s of Anzaks lost in both the World Wars.
Finish your visit at the beautiful viewing point looking down over Oamaru and be amazed at how much this little town has to offer, it’s certainly a Real New Zealand Tours’ favourite!