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.
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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.
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.
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!
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).
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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!
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.
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.
Other Things to Do in Oamaru
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. You could also visit the botanic gardens or do some second hand shopping in town.
Where to Stay in Oamaru?
Oamaru is often a place you’ll spend an hour or two in before moving on, but it does make for a good place to stay. The old town atmosphere is great and there are some nice hotels. Check out Quarterdeck, Brydone Hotel and Empire Hotel Backpackers — you’ll find an option for every budget!
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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