The town of Oamaru isn’t on the main backpacker trail around New Zealand. It’s not a big city, there’s no nightlife scene, and it’s generally a pretty quiet place. I heard about this seaside, South Island town in passing, but it was only mentioned for the penguins. However, the name stuck in my head.
Back in December, I was looking for a place to stop-over between Christchurch and Dunedin, so I did a quick search for ideas. After seeing a few photos of the Oamaru Historic District, I knew I wanted to add it to my itinerary.
If you read my post about Art Deco in Napier, then you know I’m really into architecture. I couldn’t give a lecture on it, but nothing inspires me to take out my camera like a beautiful building (except maybe a well-placed cactus). Oamaru’s Historic District is the town’s original commercial center, where original Victorian buildings still stand.
Oamaru Historic District
Oamaru was established in the late 19th century. Using the abundant limestone available in the area, beautiful white stone structures were built in the Victorian style. Many of these buildings have been preserved and restored by the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust. The Victorian Precinct is home to most of the Trust’s buildings.
Wandering through the Oamaru Historic District today, you’ll feel as if you’ve been transported back to the 19th century. This area is “New Zealand’s most complete streetscape of Victorian commercial buildings“. Along the cobblestone streets are artists, shops, and galleries that uphold the character and charm of the Victorian era.
In addition to the Victorian architecture in historic Oamaru, old grain warehouses have been converted into workshops and studios, adding to the old-world feeling of the Victorian Precinct.
The grand architecture of Oamaru’s Historic District attracts fans of both Victorian and Steampunk cultures. Every year, Oamaru hosts a Victorian Heritage Celebration and a Steampunk Festival. At both events, you’ll find enthusiasts from all over dressed in costume.
The popularity of steampunk in Oamaru is a direct influence of the Victorian and neo-classical architecture. Steampunk is a sci-fi genre based on Victorian-era machinery (mostly steam-power), and the universe that may have been created had this technology remained prominent. Steampunk HQ, an art gallery dedicated to this genre, is located in the Oamaru Historic District.
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