Oamaru is mostly known for a few things: the blue penguins, the Victorian architecture, and the Steampunk culture.
This seaside town is located on the Eastern coast of New Zealand’s South Island, between Christchurch and Dunedin. Most people visit mainly to see the blue penguins return to shore in the evenings, but Oamaru draws a lot of attention for its architecture as well. A local limestone was used for most of the commercial buildings in the late 19th century, and many well-preserved Victorian-era buildings still stand today. This Victorian setting has become the perfect place for Steampunk artists and enthusiasts to gather.
Outside of the three main draws of Oamaru, there is still plenty to see and do. Wandering through the Victorian Precinct is a lot of fun, and it’s a chance to pop into some interesting shops and see the local galleries. There are some beautiful parks and gardens, as well as hiking trails nearby. It’s a great town to spend a day or two on your way down the east coast.
Here’s a quick guide to help you plan your stay in Oamaru, New Zealand.
Guide to Oamaru, New Zealand
Breakfast at Collective Café
The Harbour Street Collective Café is located in the Historic Precinct. It’s a really cool, open café with lots of seating. You can head in for a coffee and pastry or order a full breakfast. I had the French toast and it was sooooo yummy. I returned a second time for a chai latte and a coy place to catch up on reading.
Explore the Victorian Precinct
The historic precinct is filled with white-washed Victorian buildings, interesting shops, and old-warehouses-turned-art-studios. It’s a fun area to explore for a few hours. There are a lot of vintage shops with steampunk-style garments, used bookstores, and a few artist galleries. You definitely get the feeling that you’ve been transported back to Victorian England and it’s such a creative and inspiring area.
Read Next: Oamaru Historic District
Steampunk HQ is a gallery/art collaboration dedicated to the steampunk style. Steampunk is pretty popular in Oamaru due to the Victorian architecture of the historic precinct. It creates the perfect backdrop for steampunk culture. Head to the interactive Steampunk HQ to find out what it’s all about and be sure to check out The Portal.
Read Next: Steampunk HQ
Lunch at the Galley
Along the waterfront, just a short walk from the historic precinct, sits the Galley. It’s small, but it’s hard to miss thanks to the industrial-style design of the café. The food is simple but perfect for lunchtime. I had a vegetarian burger that really hit the spot. Sit outside on the patio on a sunny day, but do beware of the seagulls!
The Forrester Gallery is Oamaru’s main art gallery. It is housed in a beautiful whitestone neo-classical building. The building was built in the 1880’s for the Bank of New South Wales, and it became the Forrester Gallery in 1983. You really only need an hour to browse the collections.
Admission is free.
Coffee at Steam Cafe
There are a lot of places around Oamaru where you can stop in for a coffee, but I recommend Steam Cafe above the others. It’s right between the Forrester Gallery and the Visitor’s Center, so it’s an easy stop off between attractions.
Oamaru Public Gardens
Oamaru has a lovely little botanic garden. Take a walk through the gardens any time of day. It’s easy to spend a couple hours here but you can also breeze through if you’re short on time. There is an Alice in Wonderland inspired garden that you have to see, plus an aviary home to doves, peacocks, and other birds.
Blue Penguin Colony
A lot of people visit Oamaru to see the penguins. The blue penguins return to shore in the evenings around sunset after a day of feeding. There is an amphitheater set up on the beach for viewing. Tickets for the evening viewing range from $30-45 for an adult. You can also visit during the day to learn more about the penguins and their habitat, but you will only see them at night.
More Info: Blue Penguin Colony
Stay at Oamaru Backpackers
Oamaru Backpackers is somewhere between an upscale hostel and a guesthouse. A small home has been transformed into a comfortable, welcoming place to rest. It’s beautifully-designed, with each room being a little different. There are private rooms for couples, a single room for solo travelers, and even a dorm room for backpackers.
Read Next: Oamaru Backpackers
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