Rich in Victorian history, the town of Oamaru is famous for its local creamy limestone now known worldwide as Oamaru Stone.
Situated on the South Island’s east coast Oamaru is North Otago’s main service centre. Oamaru has New Zealand’s largest number of heritage buildings, much of the town’s original architecture still remains and has been restored so locals and visitors alike can enjoy the attractive historic townscape.
Nourished by the riches from nearby goldfields and the growing rural community Oamaru developed as a thriving port and service town in the late 1800s. With large streets made to accommodate horse-drawn wagons and the widest bridge in the Southern Hemisphere until the Sydney Harbour Bridge was built Oamaru still remains an historic town.
Activities including fishing, jet boating, skiing and golf are all popular in this region. There are three ski fields within 2½ hours drive of Oamaru and five accessible golf courses.
A collection of Oamaru’s finest preserved buildings is known as the Historic Precinct. Crafted from Oamaru Stone and built in 1870-1890, this Precinct remains today as New Zealand’s most intact Victorian Streetscape. The Criterion Hotel has been fully restored to a working style pub of the Victorian era, try an authentic beer or sample their famous pork pie. Wander through the old bookstore, antique shop or vintage auto collection. There are regular Sunday markets held here and a novel way to travel around is on the vintage steam train.
Visit Totara Estate to view the origin of the meat freezing industry in New Zealand. Tour the comprehensive museum, view antique farming equipment and explore the four farm buildings, also built from the local limestone.
Oamaru is home to two species of Penguins. Located at the Oamaru Harbour is the Blue Penguin Colony, a nesting area for the world’s smallest species of penguin. A seated grandstand allows visitors to view these amazing birds every night. Nearby, Bushy Beach is home to the rare yellow-eyed penguin and here visitors can watch these fascinating creatures waddle ashore at dusk each evening. The Oamaru Red Sheds (also located beside the Harbour) is another interesting location, here you will see several craftsmen practicing their traditional trades, including woodwork, blacksmiths and stone carvers.
Popular annual events in Oamaru include the Victorian Heritage Celebration Week (held in November) and the Oamaru Stone Carving and Whitestone Waitaki Food and Wine Festival (held in Oamaru Gardens in February).