Family Activities in Oamaru
Take the tribe to one of the most creative and, admittedly, bizarre towns of the South Island! Oamaru is where Victorian heritage, wildlife and sci-fi fantasy come to together. Not quite the mix you were expecting? That’s the whole charm to this town found on the east coast between Timaru and Dunedin. And with that introduction out of the way, let’s get started with the things to do in Oamaru with kids!
1. Check Out the Moeraki Boulders
This must-see attraction of the South Island sits on the road between Oamaru and Dunedin. Check out these perfectly spherical boulders on the beach at low tide, which have inspired photographers and artists for years. They also make for some fun family photos! Learn about how to get to them in The Ultimate Guide to Visiting the Moeraki Boulders.
Location: Moeraki Boulders Road, Hampden, approximately 37km (23 miles) from Oamaru.
2. Play at a Steampunk Playground at Friendly Bay
Make an obligatory visit to the Friendly Bay Playground so the kids can have a blast on the steampunk-themed playground equipment. Steampunk-inspired sculptures are incorporated into this waterfront playground, such as a giant penny-farthing on the swings, an armoured elephant climbing frame and a dizzying giant hamster wheel!
Location: Esplanade, Friendly Bay, Oamaru.
3. Explore the Oamaru Public Garden
Looking for more ways to wear out the kids? Head to the Oamaru Public Gardens, which are among one of the oldest public gardens in New Zealand established in 1876. The little ones can roam around exploring the wonderland garden, display house, fernery, water fountain and, of course, a children’s playground. Take a picnic and make a day of it! See more free things to do like this in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru.
Location: The main car park is off 17 Chelmer Street, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oamaru’s town centre.
4. Watch Seals and Penguins at Bushy Beach
For a scenic photo opportunity and a chance to see New Zealand’s fur seals and rare yellow-eyed penguins, head to Bushy Beach! Walk the easy 10 to 20-minute walking track to viewing platforms overlooking a seal colony on the rocks below. Head a little further and you’ll come across viewing hides to watch yellow-eyed penguins crossing the beach, usually before 9am and after 3pm.
Location: Bushy Beach Road, approximately 3km (2 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
5. Step Back in Time at Whitestone City
While wandering around Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct and its beautifully preserved historical buildings is an attraction in itself, the experience can be enhanced at Whitestone City. As you walk through the seaside entrance of a restored warehouse, you’ll wander through a mock-up of Oamaru’s early settlement, including the barber and chemist, newspaper and architect offices, until you reach a large playground with Victorian games and penny-farthings to try out. It’s historical fun for the whole family!
Location: 12 Harbour Street, Oamaru.
6. Be Transported to an Alternative Reality at Steampunk HQ
To add a little retro-futuristic sci-fi to your trip, as you do, check out Steampunk HQ! This creative art gallery/wild-and-wacky attraction brings steampunk to life with all kinds of interactive displays and sculptures to try out. Play a futuristic organ piano, find the gorilla in the mini-maze, jump in a fortified bus or ride the steampunk bike. The most memorable of all is standing inside “The Portal”. Even just standing outside the museum, you can watch the steampunk train literally blowing off steam every so often. See more all-weather activities like this in the 10 Things to Do in Oamaru on a Rainy Day.
Location: 1 Humber Street, Oamaru.
7. Go Horse Riding Along the Waianakura River
Families with children aged eight years and above can enjoy a relaxing horse trek along the Waianakura River with Sanctum Grove Equine. The trek is certainly one to inspire the imaginations of kids, with highlights including the Taniwha (Monster) Lair, Hobbit Chairs, a wishing well and perfectly spherical boulders much like the Moeraki Boulders. Horses are matched to your ability, even if members of your family are beginners.
Location: 2254 Herbert-Hampden Road, Herbert, approximately 25km (16 miles) from Oamaru.
8. Watch Little Blue Penguins Waddle to Their Nests
An evening in Oamaru is not complete until you’ve seen some penguins! While just a stroll along the Esplanade and Waterfront Road of Friendly Bay offers viewings of little blue penguins waddling to their nests after dark, you’ll get a guaranteed viewing at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Sit in the stands with enough lighting to see the “rafts” of little blue penguins coming in after a hard day’s fishing. There’s live commentary during the event to help you learn more about these cute creatures.
Location: End of Waterfront Road, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
9. Ride the Oamaru Steam Train
In theme with Oamaru’s obsession for all things Victorian and steam, Oamaru Steam & Rail takes families for an old-worldly train ride every Sunday (weather and volunteer staff-permitted). Travel past the historic buildings of Oamaru and underneath clay cliffs running beside Oamaru’s Victorian Harbour. The end of the line is the historical Red Sheds where you can hop off to check out the restaurants and Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony on the waterfront. Either get a return train or it’s a short walk back to town.
Location: Harbourside Railway Station, Itchen Street, Oamaru.
10. Take a Road Trip Up the Waitaki Valley
Finally, whether you’re planning to head that way next or want to make a day trip out of it, a road trip up the Waitaki Valley is a diverse, scenic and fun trip for families. Along State Highway 83, you’ll find an array of intriguing rock features, fossils and Maori sites of significance. The first attraction you’re likely to come across is the Maererwhenua Rock Art Site, then take a quick detour to the Elephant Rocks that the kids love climbing! See the magnificent fossil of a whale a the Anatini Fossil Whale Site and try to find some “rattling rocks” along the Maerewhenua River. If you don’t, the team will show you some, as well as awesome fossils and skeletons found in the area, at The Vanished World Centre in Duntroon. Find out more about what to see on this road trip in the 7 Bizarre Sights in the Waitaki Valley.
Location: State Highway 83, Duntroon, approximately 44km (27 miles) from Oamaru.