The Whitestone City
Oamaru, was a boom town in the 1870s with wheat and wool production in the hinterland combined with a good port where sailing ships anchored and took on board produce for Australia, the United States and Britain. Oamaru was the first port in New Zealand from which frozen lamb was exported. While Oamaru might not be as it was in the heady days of the 1870s, for the visitor there is a feeling of serenity and confidence in a town proud of its past and full of expectation for its future.
A town of contrasts, the styles and architecture of the Victorian era in Oamaru coalesce with the modern through the art images of steam punk. Facades of buildings in Thames Street reminisce Roman temples and cafes in contemporary architecture offer delicious foods and fine wines. This is a town you should not pass by. The sunsets and sunrises looking out from your accommodation at the Wansbeck over the town and Oamaru Harbour can be breath-taking.
The names of the streets in Oamaru were chosen by the Provincial Chief Surveyor John Turnbull Thomson in 1859 when the plan of the town was first laid out. Thomson, sometimes referred to as a “nostalgic Northumbrian” named many streets after English rivers; Wansbeck, Wharfe, Tyne, Tees, Eden, Arun and Thames providing what is now a blueprint in English geography. Eden Street boasts the home of Janet Frame the famous New Zealand author.
Wansbeck Street honours the River Wansbeck which flows in Northumberland from its source in the “Wilds of Wanney” to its mouth in the North Sea. Wharfe Street which adjoins Wansbeck Street honours the River Wharfe which runs through the Yorkshire Dales and is notorious for a dangerous stretch of the river called the Strid, the Strid walk being very popular from Bolton Abbey.
From The Wansbeck you can walk or take a short drive, parking is never a problem, to the many activities and attractions Oamaru has to offer.
Enjoy the Victorian Architecture of Oamaru much of it designed by Thomas Forrester 1838-1907 who it is claimed to have contributed more than any other person to the architecture of Oamaru. Explore “Culture Waitaki” the collaborative home of the Forrester Gallery, North Otago Museum which is housed in the Athenaeum also designed by Forrester which reads above its pillars “Where there are riches there are people, and where there are people, stories flow”. Culture Waitaki includes the Waitaki District Libraries, Waitaki District Archive and Oamaru Opera House which offers international class entertainment in dance, song, music and story. Culture Waitaki welcomes everyone to discover what they have to offer.
Friendly Bay at the base of Oamaru Harbour is sheltered by Cape Wanbrow where sea lions lounge in the sun and obstruct the path of early morning joggers. The finish of the now famous international “A2O” Alps 2 Ocean Ultra, a 316km staged Ultra Adventure Race held in February-March each year which extends from Aoraki/Mt Cook to end at Friendly Bay in Oamaru. For more information about the course go to www.alps2oceancycleway.co.nz. Oamaru offers great scope as a base for those who would seek opportunities for cycling and tramping trails in the hinterland www.mapride.com .
In the evenings Little Blue Penguins come in rafts to Friendly Bay to find their night shelters. This is a natural wonderland which you can experience from the comfort of covered stands and learn from experts about these wonderful sea creatures.
Historic Oamaru as displayed in the Victorian Precinct is at the bottom of Wansbeck Street on the shore of Oamaru Harbour. Whitestone City in the Precinct is a street in Oamaru as it was in the late 1800’s in which you can experience life as it was in Victorian times. Visit the Steampunk headquarters presenting the brilliant metal art of Chris Meder. Not to be missed is the Steam Punk Festival in Early June for Queens Birthday Weekend which brings crowds dressed in Victoriana costumes often emblazoned with punk art. Penny farthing bicycles once again find their place in the celebration of Victorian times together with vintage cars and horse drawn coaches.
Farmers Market, open every Sunday on the corner of Wansbeck and Tyne Streets provides the freshest of vegetables with coffee and good food to enjoy while you wander the stalls, listen to live music and song and chat to farmers and growers in a most convivial atmosphere.
Steampunk (playground and HQ) is where you can enjoy steampunk art and the brilliant metal sculpture of Chris Meder.
Food & Drink
Scott’s Brewing Co relocated from Auckland to set up a bigger operation in Oamaru in the old railway goods shed in the town’s Victorian Precinct and a thriving tourist centre of the town. Stopping in for an afternoon glass of Scotts’ ale and a slice of pizza can make for a very convivial social occasion. The relocation of the company from Auckland is indicative of the go ahead commercial policies being adopted in Oamaru with emphasis on providing enjoyment and interests for tourists. The New Zealand Whisky Company, another example of a company building its future in Oamaru is located in Harbour Street in the Precinct. The company is earning accolades for the Southern Hemisphere’s Best Whisky.
The Waitaki region has an overabundance of high quality dining experiences. There are a large number of excellent cafes and restaurants in Oamaru, some you might like to try (in no particular order):
- Riverstone Kitchen which is given a top choice rating by Lonely Planet.
- Cucina, an Italian restaurant considered by some to be the best place in Oamaru to dine.
- Tees St café is highly recommended for awesome coffee and friendly service.
- Fat Sally’s enjoy a totally ambient atmosphere with excellent food.
- Fleurs in Moeraki enjoying a particularly high class and by now historic reputation
- Portside which you might combine with a visit to see the Penguins
- The Brydone and Criterion both of historic vintage serving excellent food.
- Northstar has a great playroom for kids and is very favourably recommended.
- The Galley. If you like to order blue cod this is the place for you.
The Oamaru public gardens are one of the finest in New Zealand and established over 100 years ago provide a wonderful way to spend a moment wandering under magnificent trees and bridges over the Oamaru Creek and exploring the aviary and peacock house. This is a place where families can enjoy a quiet moment to view the handsome Italian marble fountain and Chinese garden while their children explore the children’s play area.
The Waitaki Aquatic Centre in Steward Street only a few moments’ drive from The Wansbeck has something for all ages, swim school, fitness and fun, survival skills programme, parent and child programme and Aquatic Centre Facilities. Spending a few days in Oamaru and enjoying the Aquatic Centre in Oamaru will surely enhance your fitness, good health and water safety skills.
Visiting Oamaru is a must see if you are travelling in the South Island of New Zealand.
Within an easy 80-minute drive from Oamaru, travelling north on State Highway 1 and then turning west on State Highway 83 are the vineyards and wineries of the Waitaki Valley. Yours to enjoy.
The Valley presents to the explorer Otago’s beautiful country side and natural history. The Aviemore and Benmore Dams provide opportunities for boating and in the summer the lakes and rivers are famous for fishing for trout and salmon. Further afield visiting old gold diggings are all part of the coastal romance of your stay at The Wansbeck.
Visit the world of prehistoric fossils in The Vanished World at Duntroon a must for children with a growing interest in dinosaurs and the origin of species of different life forms. The hot pools at Omarama offer the traveller a chance to enjoy the magnificent McKenzie country while luxuriating in your private spa.
Still further afield you might take the magnificent drive of two and a half hours up the southern side of Lake Pukaki on the way to our highest mountain, Mt Cook (Aorangi, meaning the cloud piercer).
The opportunities for exploring the hinterland from Oamaru provide a wonderful backdrop to your stay at The Wansbeck.