On the cobbled junction of Harbour and Tyne Streets, you are cast back to a time where horse and cart and penny farthings ruled the roads. Oamaru’s harbour precinct is packed with a wealth of late-1800s Victorian neo-classical buildings ornately carved from creamy Oamaru limestone. Streets full of elegant symmetric public buildings line the streets complete with Greek columns, fancy porticoes and stylish windows give an overwhelming sense of yesteryear.
An old rail line runs down the side of the street. The disused rail station looks ready for the midday steam service from Dunedin while a little imagination can hear and smell the thriving harbourside activities as sweat-stained men load sacks of grain and wool onto the waiting ships.
The area is New Zealand’s (and probably the southern hemisphere’s) finest preserved Victorian precinct. While undoubtedly a little seedy and dangerous in its time, to keep these buildings alive, most are given modern purposes and the area is welcoming of all visitors. Some buildings are used by banks, church, the local council and tourist office, while others are handed over to galleries, craft folks, museum, artisans, a hotel, tea shop, foodie delights, bakery and even a bookbinder.
Apart from preserving the buildings, the folks of Oamaru play to its wonderfully preserved Victorian precinct. Quirky folks like a wily bookbinder and Dave Wilson who collects and builds Penny Farthings and offers rides bring to life and add character to this lively area of Oamaru. Some folks appear in period costume, penny farthings are ridden near the harbor, the Criterion Hotel adds an elegance and delightful high teas are served in Annie’s Victorian Tea Rooms(once a drapery) by formally attired ladies and gentlemen in fine porcelain.
A scrap-metal train that looks like an escapee from the Steampunk HQ Museumbelches fire from its chimney. Steampunk is a fantasy museum full of steam-powered creations somehow suiting the Victorian feel to the harbour area.
And just outside town, no Oamaru experience would be complete without tasting the exotic and tasty craft produce (including a sumptuous gooey Camembert) from Whitestone Cheese.
Along with Nelson, Oamaru is an undiscovered travel wonder of New Zealand’s South Island and a relaxed place to visit for a couple of days.