Oamaru / North Otago

13 Fun Things to Do in Oamaru, New Zealand’s Coolest Old Town

Oamaru, with its beautiful coastline and impressive collection of Victorian architecture, is a great place to stop when road tripping around New Zealand. There are heaps of fun things to do in Oamaru, but it’s also a cool place to just sit down, grab an ice-cream and breathe in the old-world atmosphere.

Stroll down Harbour Street

One of the best things to do in Oamaru is also the easiest (and it’s free). Harbour Street is perhaps New Zealand’s most consistently “old” street, with seemingly every building dating back to the late 1800s. There are plenty of old buildings in New Zealand, but they are generally mixed in with newer (and far uglier) buildings. There are lots of places to eat, drink and shop along Harbour Street as well as some little touches of history scattered both inside and outside the buildings.

Harbour Street, Oamaru, New ZealandSunset in the old town, Oamaru, New Zealand

Visit the Galleries

A walk down Harbour Street isn’t just about the architecture. Lurking inside some of the old shop fronts and warehouses are several galleries. My favourite is the “Lost Souls Gallery”, which features some surreal (and slightly disturbing) artwork.

Lost Souls Gallery, Oamaru, New Zealand

Ride the Train

There’s an old train which (sometimes) travels through the old part of Oamaru. I’ve never ridden it, but I have been to the little train station it stops at — it’s surely one of the cutest little train stations in New Zealand.

READ MORE: Check out this awesome train journey in Dunedin!

The old train station in Oamaru, New Zealand

Steampunk HQ

I don’t quite know how to describe Steampunk HQ. It’s kind of a gallery, kind of a museum and 100% surreal and trippy. There are some bizarre contraptions and some cool vehicles in the yard outside. It’s very interactive — you can touch / climb on pretty much everything there. It’s a great place to visit on a rainy day and kids will love it (although it might be a bit scary for the young ones).

Steampunk HQ, Oamaru, New ZealandStreampunk HQ, Oamaru, New Zealand

See Little Blue Penguins

I remember doing this as a kid and it was a lot of fun. You sit in this big grandstand thing close to sunset and wait for the little blue penguins to return home after a day at sea. It’s an impressive sight (no photos are allowed though unfortunately). You can also visit this place during the day but your chances of spotting penguins are severely reduced. It’s worth visiting this side of town though, as there’s a pier full of birds (hopefully they’re there when you visit) and a photogenic red shed.

A pier full of birds, Oamaru, New ZealandRed shed, Oamaru, New Zealand

See some Sea Lions

Just south of the old town (close to the penguin place) is a little breakwater thing where sea lions love to laze around. There’s also a restaurant there with some nice harbour views.

Seeing sea lions in Oamaru, New Zealand

Riverstone

I remember reading about Riverstone, a newly built castle / mansion 15 km north of Oamaru. We visited it recently, but I was disappointed to find out you can’t actually go into (or close) to the castle. You can only see it from the little garden area close to the car park. There is a restaurant and some shops there too though, but I was expecting a bit more from our visit to Riverstone.

Riverstone shops, Oamaru, New ZealandRiverstone Castle, Oamaru, New Zealand

Bushy Beach

This beach just outside of Oamaru is apparently a good place to see yellow-eyed penguins. Again, your best bet of seeing a penguin is to visit a short time before sunset (which we obviously didn’t do). The beach itself is nice and is worth a visit even if you don’t see a penguin.

Bushy Bay, Oamaru, New ZEaland

Lookout Point

This viewpoint looks out over Oamaru and the coastline heading north. It’s a beautiful view and there are some hiking / mountain bike trails up there too.

Lookout Point, one of the best things to do in Oamaru, New Zealand

Other old buildings

While Harbour Street is the star of the show, there are heaps of other cool old buildings scattered around downtown Oamaru. Go for a walk and see what you find!

Old buildings in Oamaru, New Zealand

The Scenic Drive to Dunedin

A lot of people who are passing through Oamaru are headed for Dunedin. It takes around 90 minutes but take the scenic detours and you could make a whole day out of this drive. Highlights include the big stretch of beach just south of Oamaru, Kakanui, Moeraki Boulders, the Matanaka Farm Buildings and Karitane.

Stunning beach near Oamaru, New Zealand

Waitaki Valley

Another common route to or from Oamaru takes you through the Waitaki Valley (it’ll take you to Mount Cook / Tekapo etc). Stop off at the Elephant Rocks (around 40 minutes from Oamaru) and the Benmore Peninsula Track if you have the time.

Elephant Rocks, Waitaki Valley, New ZealandBenmore Peninsula Walkway

Visit a factory

There are a couple of breweries, a whisky distillery and a cheese factory in Oamaru. If you’re into factory tours / tastings you should check them out.

Are you excited to try some of these things to do in Oamaru? What is your favourite town in New Zealand? Let us know in the comments below!

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Jon Algie

A travel blogger from New Zealand who has just returned home after 6 years abroad. Join me as I see as much of the South Island as I can.
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