Guide12 hours Ōamaru
Ōamaru is more than meets the eye. While Steampunk is this Waitaki town’s usual calling card there’s also a host of local food and drink to try, native wildlife to discover, inventive art to enjoy and friendly locals to meet. You’ll need more than a few hours to check it all out.
Your guide to the best things to see, eat & do
Time in Ōamaru seems to move backwards, forwards and stand still all in the same moment. On the historical front, this town is steeped in fact and folklore from its seafaring and gold mining past. This is best seen in the Victorian Precinct which also happens to be home to innovative restaurants, cafés and other small businesses who make the most of what’s happening in and around Ōamaru at any one time.
As you check out the futuristic artworks at Steampunk HQ, for example, you might just spot a local ride past on a penny farthing. As you meander between the town’s many art galleries you’ll likely meet a proprietor or two dressed in traditional Victorian garb. The best of yesterday, today and tomorrow can be found here in Ōamaru and this wee guide will take you through some of the must-see spots in just twelve short hours.
Breakfast: Tees Street
3 Tees Street
Start the day off with a bang at Tees Street, a café that does things deliciously and a little differently. Here the brunch plates you know and love like eggs and toasts are reborn and made with local ingredients and flavours of South America, Asia and the Mediterranean. The huevos rancheros and breakfast bao buns are the regulars’ favourites and win even big brekkie traditionalists over with their punchy flavours and vibrant colours.
Visitors to Tees Street are also well taken care of on the coffee front with everything from classic flat whites to Vietnamese coffees and tumeric lattes. The bomboloni doughnuts are also not to be missed.
Explore: Victorian Precinct
1 Itchen Street, Oamaru
Once you’re well fueled, walk a few minutes towards the ocean and you’ll quickly find yourself standing between 1800s era limestone facades - Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct.
While these historical streets were once home to grain stores, shipping yards and rowdy seafarers they are now inhabited by a collection of locally owned cafés, shops and galleries. William Bee General Merchants has uber cool clothes for kids and eclectic New Zealand made gifts for adults, too. At Harbour Street Collective you’ll find a home grown café, a larger than life playground for the kids, a few galleries and even two vintage stores under one roof.
At the end of the row be sure to check out Housekeepers for a huge range of New Zealand and Australian made home, kitchen, bathroom and lifestyle wares plus a myriad of cool clothes, shoes and accessories, too.
To get an art fix pop into CRAFTED - Waitaki Artisan Gallery where fifteen odd local artists showcase their works in mediums from photography to basket weaving to ceramics.
Culture: The Terraces Art Gallery
13 Wansbeck Street, South Hill, Oamaru
For even more local art leave the Victorian Precinct and make your way up Wansbeck street. At Terraces Art Gallery you’ll meet Kevin and Al - two locals that are just as friendly as they are creative. The pair both have their studios here and on many days you’ll find them working side by side. Kevin specialises in oil paintings of the Waitaki’s vast landscapes while Al’s etchings and embossments pick up on the region’s minute details and textures. While the art alone is spectacular, the space itself is also something to behold. When Kevin bought this heritage building it was in disrepair - just ask him about falling through the floor. Since then he’s lovingly restored the building and filled it with relics of Oamaru’s past. Each item has a story here so just ask, the two are happy to chat.
Explore and taste: Whitestone Cheese
3 Torridge Street, Oamaru
Midday will be fast approaching by this stage - head to Whitestone Cheese to beat the hangry stage. Begin with a tour of the artisan cheese making process. This hour long ‘homage to fromage’ is a complete cheese education, delivered with pure passion for the stuff that’s been winning this small business local and far flung awards for nearly 35 years. At the end of the tour you’ll get your own wee sampler. Identify your favourite slice, wedge or wheel then head through to the café for a full on platter extravaganza. Take away your favourites and then prepare for a lunch hour to remember at Badger & Mackerel.
Lunch: Badger & Mackerel
175 Thames Street, Oamaru
To keep up the day’s pace pay a visit to Badger & Mackerel for a hearty, homemade lunch. Owner operators Bevan and Sandra have deep roots in Ōamaru and have brought their experiences abroad back with them to create a café that’s classic and innovative all at the same time.
Bevan studied patisserie in London and handcrafts all the delicious treats found in this spot’s huge cabinet. The handmade pies are hard to go past for lunch as Bevan makes all of the pastry and fillings from scratch - it’s a long, laborious process but the end result is a hearty, tasty feed you won’t forget any time soon. Dressed and served with peas, mash, beetroot and salad greens these pies hit every food group to ensure you’re well prepared to enjoy the rest of your day in Ōamaru.
Shop: Design Federation
34 Thames Street, Oamaru
Shopping NZ-made is the way to go and at Design Federation it’s easy. The shop is one part design studio and one part lifestyle concept shop. The team’s design genius can be seen at other Neat Places like Riverstone Kitchen and Ōamaru Blue Penguin colony and at the back of the shop you can see where the design process takes place.
In the concept shop you’ll find a host of New Zealand and Waitaki made products that go hand in hand with Design Federations commitment to beautiful yet functional living. From candles to room sprays, pillow to pajamas, sunnies to jewellery there’s a whole heap of stunning, locally made goodness to discover.
Design Federation also stocks beloved Kiwi brands like Twentyseven Names, Trelise Cooper and Kate Sylvester so whether you’re in need of a new outfit, a gift or simply believe you deserve a treat - this is the place to shop.
Explore: Steampunk HQ
1 Humber Street, Oamaru
We’d put money on the fact that you’ve probably never played an intergalactic organ pipe. At Steampunk HQ you can do just that as you dive headfirst into the weird, wacky and wonderful world of this niche subculture. Once you’re through the door you’ll be instantly transported to a future that remained powered by steam.
Steampunk HQ isn’t a gallery or a museum but it IS full of art, oddities and exhibitions many of which come to life with the touch of a button. Press the keys of the intergalactic organ, for one, and delight as a range of spooky and funny sounds echo form its bellows.
If you’ve got the time you can even play dress up here and develop your own Steampunk identity. Choose an outfit, a name, a trade and a tool but choose wisely as you never know what you’ll encounter in the world that is Steampunk HQ.
Snack: Deja Moo
4 Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru
After returning from your journey to the past/future at Steampunk HQ you’ll likely be getting hungry. Deja Moo is located just around the corner and has exactly what you need: ice cream. All of their flavours are homemade by owner operator Kirsty and range from the classics like vanilla and boysenberry to ‘Unicorn’. This colourful, glittery scoop tastes like lollies and bubble gum. Deja Moo’s quality classics satisfy the most discerning ice cream eaters and the fun, fanciful numbers delight kids year round.
Finish your treats in house or take them to go and wander through the Victorian Precinct. If the tots still have some energy head to the south end of Harbour street where you’ll find a Steampunk themed playground by the water.
1 Tees Street
It’s been a big day and now it’s time to dine. Cucina is one of the region’s best spots for inspired international flavour created with local, seasonal ingredients. The dimly lit interior is moody yet cosy and filled with vibrant indoor greenery giving this restaurant an atmosphere akin to what you might find in Auckland or Melbourne.
Order a cocktail or a local wine from the bar and you’ll soon see that while this spot brings the wow factor, it’s still committed to genuine Kiwi hospitality. Take a peek at the menu which showcases dry aged local beef, Waitaki lamb and handcrafted pasta dishes. Mediterranean and South American flavours run through Cucina’s offerings as owners Pablo and Yanina, originally from Argentina, love to share the flavours they grew up with. If you can’t decide the Trust The Chef option with wine pairing is absolutely the way to go.
Explore: Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
Waterfront Road, South Hill, Oamaru
In Ōamaru you don’t have to go far to get up close and personal with native wildlife. In fact, you don’t even have to go while the sun is up. After a delicious dinner at Cucina walk just a few minutes down the road to the Ōamaru Blue Penguin Colony.
This unique centre is home to several hundred nesting pairs of Kororā Little Blue Penguins and a team of scientists who study and look after them. Each day these tiny but mighty birds leave the roost to fish in the open ocean. They return every night at dusk and you can watch the penguin ‘rafts’ come in on the waters edge here.
Grab a ticket, walk through the educational area and take a seat in the stands to await these little critters' return. As they come in you’ll be able to see (and even smell!) them as they make their way back to their nests.
3 Tyne St, Oamaru
You’ve just met Ōamaru’s littlest residents now head along to The Criterion Hotel to meet a few more locals and end your day with the nightcap it deserves.
The Criterion Hotel captures a bygone era when this town was home to roaming pastoralists, rowdy seafarers, prospecting gold miners and other interesting characters.
At the bar you’ll find pours from neighbouring micro brewery Craftwork and plenty of local Waitaki wines. If crafties aren’t your thing don’t worry, this classic pub has got Speights and Emersons too. Chat to proprietors, Marise and Herbert, to learn more about this 1870s era hotel that they’ve so carefully restored. They’ve collected all of the relics, artifacts and antiques that fill the space and have plenty of stories to share about this special place.
126 Thames Street, Oamaru
Once the evening is well and truly over you’ll be glad to know that some of the best accomodation around is not too far away (but do book ahead as this place fills up!).
Poshtel is as the name suggests, posh, but also has a quirky, interesting and charming personality all its own. Once you’re inside the warmly lit lobby you’ll understand exactly what we mean - this place is full of curiosities.
Every room is themed and decorated as such. The Antarctic Explorer Suite, for one tells the story of the South Island as “the final stepping stone for early Antarctic expeditions'' and the items found inside “hark back to the to the days when determined men set off on journeys that pushed them to their limits and sometimes, tragically, beyond.”
As you wander through Poshtel you’ll find plenty of vintage sporting gear, historical artifacts, incredible artwork and more to explore. While it could take a lifetime to discover every detail here, little details like fresh milk in your room for coffees, soft linens, plush carpets, incredible shower water pressure and Whittakers on arrival make each stay welcoming, comfortable and a touch luxurious.
Words by: Olivia Sisson
Photos by: Nancy Zhou