The Must-Dos in Oamaru!
Oamaru is one of the South Island’s quirkiest towns. The white limestone townscape is like nowhere else in New Zealand, where locals have got a little creative with the setting to create a steampunk-themed art gallery and a playground. In between it all, the world’s smallest species of penguins nest in Oamaru, where a local penguin attraction has set up stands around their main nesting site so you can see all the waddling action. Gorgeous gardens, bizarre rock features like the famous Moeraki Boulders, and even an artisan cheese factory are all available to add diversity to your itinerary. So plan yours with this list of the best things to do in Oamaru!
For much more must-dos in Omaru, be sure to browse The Complete Travel Guide to Oamaru.
1. Check Out the Victorian Precinct
Oamaru looks a little different from any other town in New Zealand. You’ll definitely feel like you’ve left New Zealand and been transported back in time as you wander the Victorian Precinct. Discover art galleries like the quirky Grainstore Gallery, pick up some unique pieces at Nanna Bangles or enjoy the old-worldly charm of Michael O’Brian Bookbinder. Sit down for a coffee at the Harbour Street Collective Cafe, try a craft beer at Scotts Brewing Co, or sample what many agree are the best pies in New Zealand at the Harbour Street Bakery. You’ll even find what’s on our next point, the old-worldly experience of Whitestone City. If you’re able to time your trip right, see the Victorian Precinct during the Victorian Fete in mid-November where visitors and locals alike dress up in their best Victorian attire!
Location: Victorian Precinct, Oamaru town centre.
2. Go Back in Time at Whitestone City
Within Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct is a museum/heritage park attraction in itself, 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, where you can peer into the barber and chemist, newspaper and architect offices, and more, until you reach a large activities area with Victorian games and penny-farthings to try out. It’s historical fun for all ages!
Location: 12 Harbour Street, Oamaru town centre.
3. See the Little Blue Penguins
Tourists are not the only ones to love Oamaru. The world’s smallest species of penguins, little blue penguins, love Oamaru too! The best viewing of the penguins can be found at the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony with seating set up around a little blue penguin colony nesting site. Watch the penguins return from the sea in groups as the sun goes down. Alternatively, find yourself a place to sit on the Oamaru waterfront at dusk and chances are you will spot at least one little blue penguin. (Remember to give the penguins as much space as possible in order not to disturb their natural behaviour).
Location: End of Waterfront Road, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
4. Step into the World of Steampunk
As you might have guessed, Oamaru has an obsession with all things Victorian including the science fiction genre of steampunk! Steampunk is about all things “steam-powered”, just like in the Victorian age, but with a futuristic twist. This has inspired some amazing art and inventions that you can check out at Steampunk HQ. Take a look at some crazy creations inside and outside, as well as the ever-memorable “Portal” which is the closest you’ll get to feeling like a time-traveller. See more all-weather activities like this in the 10 Things to Do in Oamaru on a Rainy Day.
Location: 1 Humber Street, Oamaru town centre.
5. Sample Some Delicious Cheese
While Victorian heritage and penguins appear to take all the limelight in Oamaru, don’t miss some of its foodie experiences too. For instance, Whitestone Cheese (see on Viator and Tripadvisor) is one of New Zealand’s most popular artisan cheese brands that happen to be based in Oamaru and offer comprehensive tours of their factory. Watch the action from specially-made viewing platforms and windows, while your passionate guide explains the origins and craft of Whitestone Cheese. You’ll get to try some of the good stuff along the way, be treated to a generous platter in the cafe, and go home with a goody bag! There’s also the option to enhance the experience by pairing your cheese platter with local wines in the cheese and wine tasting tour. See more activities like this in the 7 Things to Do in Oamaru for Foodies.
Location: 3 Torridge Street, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
6. Go to the Lookout at Bushy Beach
Bushy Beach is not only a fantastic photo opportunity with its long-stretching sandy beach backed with coastal forest, but it’s also another great place in Oamaru to spot some wildlife. Follow a 10-minute zig-zag track to the top of a cliff with some great viewing of a seal colony on the rocks below. Continue onwards to a viewing hide where you can watch yellow-eyed penguins on the beach (usually between 3pm and 9am). Check out more places to see penguins in New Zealand here.
Location: South Hill. Take Tyne Street all the way up South Hill then turn right onto Bushy Beach Road and follow it all the way to the end. Approximately 3km (2 miles) from Oamaru town centre.
7. Get a Photo of the Moeraki Boulders
A must-see natural attraction on your way to or from Oamaru, the Moeraki Boulders are perfectly spherical boulders lying on the sandy shores of Koekohe Beach. Around 50 boulders scatter the beach, best seen at low tide and accessible via the Moeraki Boulders Scenic Reserve car park or the Moeraki Boulders Cafe. 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.
8. Go for a Stroll in the Oamaru Public Garden
Among some of the oldest public gardens in New Zealand, the Oamaru Public Gardens were established in 1876. To this day, it’s a picturesque area of Oamaru to enjoy a short walk between the Wonderland Garden, marble water fountain, display house with tropical plants, fernery with native species, and a children’s playground. Take a picnic and make a day of it! See more activities like this in the 10 Things to Do in Oamaru with Kids.
Location: The main car park is off 17 Chelmer Street, approximately 1km (0.6 miles) from Oamaru’s town centre.
9. Take a Road Trip Up the Waitaki Valley
Whether you travel through it from Omarama on your way to Oamaru or even if you just take a day trip to Duntroon, a road trip along the Waitaki Valley is highly recommended. Along State Highway 83, you’ll find an array of intriguing rock features, fossils and historical Maori cave art. All of this can be seen on the way to the tiny village of Duntroon, where you’ll find The Vanished World Centre, which houses skeletons and fossils of prehistoric penguins, sharktooth dolphins, whales and much more. 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.
10. Be Inspired by Oamaru’s Art Galleries
It’s no surprise that the creative town of Oamaru has a few art galleries to check out, which make a fun free way to spend some time here. 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, 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. That’s just a few!
Location: Forrester Gallery – 9 Thames Street. Grainstore Gallery – 5 Harbour Street. Art on Tyne – 8 Tyne Street, Oamaru town centre.