Free (and Cheap) Activities in Oamaru
Even on a budget, you’ll have an inspiring, interesting and, admittedly, quite bizarre, experience of Oamaru. Just wandering the Victorian Precinct of this coastal town with its grand limestone architecture transports you to a different place in time, but with breweries, art galleries and historical-themed attractions, there’s more than meets the eye! Nature is also part of the fun with little blue penguins commonly sighted waddling in from shore after dark. Check out more free and cheap things to do in Oamaru in the list below!
For more budget tips for this South Island town, check out The Guide to Oamaru on a Budget. Plus, find a place to stay in the 10 Best Budget Accommodation in Oamaru.
1. See Some Penguins – FREE
It’s highly likely that you’ll come across little blue penguins while having an after-dark stroll along Friendly Bay. Just remember to keep your distance to let these little guys get to their nests safely. Alternatively, the Bushy Beach Walk (10 to 20-minute return) takes you to lookouts over a seal colony and to viewing hides to watch yellow-eyed penguins crossing the beach. The best time to go is before 9am and after 3pm to see the penguins.
Location: Friendly Bay, Oamaru town. Bushy Beach – Bushy Beach Road, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
2. Check Out the Moeraki Boulders – FREE
Speaking of beaches, don’t miss the Moeraki Boulders on your way to or from Oamaru. These perfectly spherical boulders on the beach have been providing an iconic photo opportunity for decades! The best time to see them is at low tide. Check out The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Moeraki Boulders to learn about their location and other things to do in the area.
Location: Moeraki Boulders Road, Hampden, approximately 37km (23 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
3. Explore the Oldest Public Gardens in New Zealand – FREE
Opened in 1876, the Oamaru Public Gardens are among some of the oldest public gardens in New Zealand! What’s more, it’s a free attraction well worth exploring. Find the “Wonderland Garden” with its striking statue and gracious Swan Fountain, admire the Italian marble Craig Fountain and let the kids loose at the playground. There’s also a display house showcasing exotic plants, while The Fernery features an impressive array on native species. We also feature this activity in the 10 Things to Do in Oamaru with Kids.
Location: The main car park is off 17 Chelmer Street, Oamaru town.
4. Step Back in Time at Whitestone City – CHEAP
A museum attraction in the Victorian Precinct, Whitestone City provides an intriguing mock-up of Oamaru town during its 19th and 20th Century heyday! Peer into the barbers, chemist, newspaper and architects office, taking a look at relics along the way. At the end of the street, you’ll find a play area where you can try your hand at playing Victorian-era games and riding a penny-farthing! Entry is around NZ$20 per adult and NZ$10 for children.
Location: 12 Harbour Street, Oamaru town centre.
5. Enter an Alternative Reality at Steampunk HQ – CHEAP
Mix the Victorian vibe of Oamaru with sci-fi and you have a healthy steampunk obsession, where there’s nowhere better to experience it than Steampunk HQ. You get the idea of what’s inside this creative art gallery and sculpture park when you see the fortified steam train puffing smoke outside of the Victorian-style building. Inside, play a futuristic organ, step inside a steampunk bus and enter another world through “The Portal”. Check it all about for about NZ$10 per adult and NZ$2 per child.
Location: 1 Humber Street, Oamaru town centre.
6. Do a Waitaki Valley Road Trip – FREE/CHEAP
If you have your own vehicle, we recommend a road trip on State Highway 83 up the Waitaki Valley for an array of free attractions! Some of the highlights include Maori rock paintings, the scattered rocky outcrops of Elephant Rocks, a giant whale fossil, and a whole bunch of fossils and skeletons of prehistoric dolphins and penguins at The Vanished World Centre in Duntroon (NZ$10 admission). Find out more about the sights of what they call “The Vanished World Trail” in the 7 Bizarre Sights in the Waitaki Valley.
Location: State Highway 83, Duntroon, approximately 44km (27 miles) from Oamaru.
7. Do a Cheese Factory Tour – CHEAP
Have a foodie experience in Oamaru at Whitestone Cheese (see on Viator and Tripadvisor). The famous-in-New-Zealand cheese brand offers behind-the-scenes tours of their factory with cheese tastings throughout the process. You’ll learn all about the journey of their award-winning cheeses through their factory-viewing galleries. You’ll also walk away with a goody bag! Tours cost approximately NZ$30 and kids go free. Upgrade to cheese and wine-pairing for around an extra NZ$15 (more details on Viator or Tripadvisor).
Location: 3 Torridge Street , Oamaru town.
8. Inspire Yourself at Oamaru’s Art Galleries – FREE
It’s no surprise that the creative town of Oamaru has a few art galleries to check out. What’s more, they’re free! An iconic gallery within a spectacular neo-classical 1884 building, the Forrester Gallery should certainly be on your list. Their ever-changing exhibitions showcase local and Maori art, contemporary prints to paintings and sculptures. In the ambient Victorian Precinct, find the Grainstore Gallery featuring a busy array of local art. Finally, pick up something unique and locally-made at the cute art and gift store of Art on Tyne.
Location: Forrester Gallery – 9 Thames Street. Grainstore Gallery – 5 Harbour Street. Art on Tyne – 8 Tyne Street, Oamaru town centre.
9. Do Tastings at the Local Breweries – CHEAP
Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is also home to a couple of breweries. Check out Scotts Brewing Co. to sample naturally brewed craft beer at their brewbar and pizza kitchen. They’re open all week. Alternatively, try Belgian-inspired ales at the Craftwork Brewery, serving tasting trays accompanied by New Zealand-made cheese boards. Find them open Friday to Sunday. [Update: The Craftwork Brewery tasting room is closed until further notice].
Location: Scotts Brewing Co. – 1 Wansbeck Street. Craftwork Brewery – 17 Harbour Street, Oamaru town centre.
10. Check out the Oamaru Farmers’ Market – FREE
If you’re in Oamaru on Sunday morning between 9.30am and 1pm, don’t miss the Oamaru Farmers’ Market! The Victorian Precinct comes alive with stalls selling an array of goodies from the local Waitaki district, including fresh fruit and vegetables, meat, fish, plants, baked goods, preserves, eggs, cheese and much more. As you wander around, treat yourself to something from the food trucks, like freshly made breakfast and hot coffee. See more activities like this in the 7 Things to Do in Oamaru for Foodies.
Location: Corner of Wansbeck and Tyne Streets, Oamaru town centre.
More Free and Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru
That’s it for our list of cheap and free things to do in Oamaru. For more free stuff, check out the 50 Best Free Things to Do in New Zealand.