Oamaru is one of those little towns that is easy to miss on the map but is definitely not to be missed on a journey through the south island of New Zealand. Andrew and I had intended to simply drive through Oamaru on our way south towards Dunedin. Not only did we end up stopping there for 2 nights, we have ended up returning to visit twice since arriving in Dunedin.
Situated on the east coast of the south island of New Zealand, Oamaru saw Maori settlers around 1100AD. It was discovered in 1770 by James Cook on the Endeavour and settlers from Europe first arrived in 1814. They were mainly sealers and whalers, due to the abundance of wildlife in the area.
There was a fair bit of fighting between both the Maori and the settlers, and the Oamaru settlers and those further up the coast. The settlers eventually developed the town into the thriving center it is today, with much of the architecture based on the Victorian era of England. Today it is possible to feel like you have truly stepped back in time simply by walking down the streets of Oamaru.
Things to Do
More than 70 buildings in central Oamaru have been classified as historical Victorian buildings. The general ambience leads one to feel like they have really entered a different era. There are a number of different festivals that celebrate the unique culture here, including the annual steampunk festival and the annual Waitaki Victorian Fete.
On Sundays there is also a farmer’s market that is worth checking out. On fine days, locals can be seen strolling the streets in Victorian garb and sitting down to tea (or coffee) in the farmers market to enjoy some live music and add to the general ambience of the town.
Checking out some of the interesting shops, museums, and parks in the area is also a good way to spend the day. Andrew and I aren’t usually big on antique shops, but there were some truly interesting things like old carousel horses, wagons, and toys.
The playground at the harbour is also worth visiting with a truly intimidating zipline (seriously…this thing is for kids?!). Andrew and I spent about an hour playing in the playground and exploring the harbour. There was an amazing slide, neat sculptures, and a funky tube treadmill thing.
The Rainbow Confectionary in Oamaru is seriously dangerous for anyone who likes candy…and who doesn’t? The confectionary is largely a seconds store, where they sell candy products from their manufacturing process for steep discounts.
One of the best things? All of their products are gluten free! Including the licorice, which I haven’t been able to have for quite awhile. Andrew and I were (somewhat) good and only spent about $20. Of course, this bought us about 5kg of candy. We are expecting it to last us for the next few months though and plan to share some with new friends during random board game nights. Nothing like candy and board games to start new friendships!
Oamaru is home to New Zealand’s largest blue penguin colony. Unfortunately due to time and budget constraints, Andrew and I didn’t have the opportunity to visit the penguins on this pass through Oamaru.
The penguins are best viewed during the evening when they are returning home from a day at sea. Prices are $30-$45 per adult and photography is not permitted.
Oamaru Steampunk Museum
The steampunk museum will get its own post because it is seriously cool. In brief, though, go to the steampunk museum if you visit Oamaru! It is cool.
Steampunk is a melding of Victorian era architecture with science fiction steam technology. First introduced by writer Jules Verne, it has developed its own fan base and sub-culture; the hit show Firefly is a somewhat good example of steampunk. The museum showcases a number of different sculptures, displays, and experiences that make for an interesting visit.
Read more in my next post!