Oamaru, New Zealand is mostly known for its beautiful Victorian style architecture. The white-washed buildings and old warehouses have been preserved in the Historic Precinct. As you walk the cobblestone streets, you may believe you’ve actually been transported back to the 19th century. All of this makes it the perfect setting for Steampunk.
Because of the Victorian architecture, Steampunk culture has flourished in Oamaru. Artists and enthusiasts gather here for a little taste of 19th century England. Steampunk artists show and sell their work in local galleries, and you’ll find plenty of Steampunk fashion and costumes in the shops.
Steampunk HQ, a gallery established in 2011, is the center of it all. It’s the best place to get a taste of steampunk culture and find out what it’s all about.
What is Steampunk
Steampunk is a sci-fi genre based on the steam-powered innovations of the Victorian era. Basically, it’s a re-imagining of the “future” if the themes of the late 19th century had progressed. The steampunk universe is a mix of historical settings and futurist ideas. It’s kind of like if modern day had turned out the way authors like Jules Vernon had imagined it in their stories.
The steampunk style is mostly found in art, literature, and fashion, but it pops up in all types of media. One of the major themes is steam-based technology, so you’ll come across a lot of steam engines in art work or stories. Artwork tends to include industrial elements like metals, bolts, and machinery. There are also some design and aesthetic similarities to art nouveau, and the steampunk universe is sometimes set in a post-apocalyptic era.
Steampunk HQ is dedicated to the steampunk style. It’s some kind of mix between a museum, an art gallery, and a junkyard. I say junkyard in the best way possible, as the steampunk style often reuses found objects to create art and has a post-apocalyptic element.
Steampunk HQ is interactive, allowing you to be a part of the art. More than just a visual gallery, the art makes use of sound, light, and texture to create a full experience.
There are two rooms inside filled with pieces by various artists. Outside, you’ll find the junkyard. An old train car, rusted barrels, a semi-truck cab, and some other large objects and sculptures are placed around the courtyard for visitors to explore.
Back inside is my favorite exhibit: The Portal.
The Portal is an interactive light and sound exhibit. From the outside, all you see is a door with instructions written next to it: wait for the green light, enter, and close the door behind you. Inside is a small room that looks endless. The room is covered in mirrors and strings of lights. Once the door is closed, the show begins.
The room goes dark and eerie, ethereal music starts up. Then the lights come into play, changing colors, blinking on and off, creating patterns. The experience lasts for about 2 minutes. It’s both relaxing and stimulating, and a bit transcendental.
I went into The Portal twice during my visit to Steampunk HQ. It is a vision of what time travel might look like or feel like. Check out my Steller story below to see more from The Portal, including a quick video clip.
Location: 1 Itchen St, Oamaru, New Zealand
Hours: Daily 10 am – 5 pm
Price: Adults $10
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