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Oamaru. Photo (cropped): Jamie Wang, on Flickr Creative Commons

Oamaru - the heart of the Waitaki District - will transport you to a time gone by.

Stroll around Oamaru’s famous historic precinct, which contains a magnificent collection of Oamaru’s majestic whitestone buildings, built in the 1870s. The precinct was once the business hub, with banks, hotels, grain and wool stores adjacent to the Oamaru harbour. Today it has been revitalised with shops and galleries.

The Oamaru Farmers’ Market is held here every Sunday from 9.30am to 1pm, at the corner of Wansbeck Street and Tyne Street. Stock up for the bach with the freshest local produce, and delicious Whitestone cheeses, then wander through the lovely historic precinct, where you’ll find festive bunting, people in Victorian costume, and quite possibly someone riding a penny farthing…Oamaru’s Victorian precinct hosts a costumed Victorian fete in November.

Oamaru: Steampunk HQ

Steampunk HQ Oamaru
Steampunk HQ Oamaru, photo: Steampunk HQ

Oamaru is NZ’s steampunk capital! For the uninitiated, steampunk is an eccentric mash-up of art, costume and fanciful alternate futures, with steam-powered contraptions and devices -  the sort of sci-fi future Victorians might have imagined. Steampunk HQ is housed in an old grain elevator, and features sculptures, quirky exhibits, some dark humour and a train engine that spits fire -  well worth a visit. In June the Steampunk Festival sees steampunk enthusiasts descend on Oamaru for costumed merriment, airship racing, a gala ball and more.

Oamaru’s Blue Penguin Colony

From the loud and eccentric to the quiet and shy: Blue Penguins are the smallest penguins in the world and naturally nest along the coastline at Oamaru.

Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
Photo: Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is primarily a conservation area for the blue penguins but is also the easiest place in New Zealand to view good numbers of blue penguins as they return ashore each evening on dusk. The Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is located just a 5-minute drive from town on the edge of the Oamaru Harbour under the dramatic cliffs of Cape Wanbrow. The colony features a large visitor centre and gift shop, research centre and a uniquely designed 350-seat viewing stand.

Bushy Beach, about 30 minutes’ walk away, is home to a colony of yellow-eyed penguins. Visitors can walk to a viewing hide to watch the penguins cross the beach.

Moeraki Boulders

Moeraki Boulders
Moeraki Boulders, photo: Tourism Waitaki

About 40 kms south of Oamaru you’ll find the Moeraki Boulders. Each year they’re visited by thousands of people who want to see these giant, perfectly rounded boulders scattered along the sandy beach. The soft mudstone boulders were raised from the seabed around 15 million years ago and emerge from the cliff behind the beach where they are eroded by the sea. These geological curiosities each weigh several tonnes and early whalers referred to them as the Ninepins. According to Maori legend the boulders are petrified calabashes from the wreck of the Arai-te-Uru canoe.

Moeraki is also home to Fleur’s Place, a famous restaurant and bar on the old jetty. With lovely views of the water, and the freshest of seafood, it’s a real gourmet treat.

What to do

  • Visit the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony
  • Marvel at the Moeraki Boulders
  • Browse around the Historic Precinct
  • Walk to Bushy Beach to see yellow-eyed penguins

More info - Waitaki Tourism site

Find a property in Waitaki District


Getting there

  • From Invercargill by road: 332km
  • From Christchurch by road: 247km
  • From Dunedin by road: 115km

Hero photo of Oamaru taken by Jamie Wang, from Flickr Creative Commons, cropped for this guide.

Piwa perched