How to Plan a Trip to Oamaru on a Budget
Don’t worry about your budget; just seeing Oamaru is an experience. This large town on the coast of the South Island takes you back to the Victorian era with its grand architecture made of white limestone. Thanks to the locals’ quirky antics, this is combined with steampunk-themed attractions, playgrounds and events that add an unusual sci-fi element to the town – seriously, you have to see to believe it! If things couldn’t get weirder, the penguins join in too! See them waddling across the waterfront streets at night as they head back to their nests.
So whether you come to Oamaru for the history or the wildlife, here’s how to enjoy it all on the cheap with this complete travel guide to Oamaru on a budget.
Budget Tips for Oamaru
- Visit in the low season (May to September) to find the cheapest accommodation and tour rates
- Stay in budget accommodation, or even hostel rooms, to save money on accommodation
- Stay somewhere with self-catering facilities to save money on food. There are New World and Countdown supermarkets in town
- Fill up your itinerary with some of the free and cheap things to do in Oamaru.
For more general budget tips, see the 11 Ways to Save Money When Backpacking in New Zealand.
Free Activities in Oamaru
The Victorian heritage, wildlife and more… You don’t have to spend a dime to enjoy Oamaru’s main drawcards. For instance, just head down to Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct, particularly along Harbour Street, to admire the white limestone buildings of another era. Along this street, you’ll find art galleries, museums, cosy cafes to breweries. Many of these we list in the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru.
For wildlife viewings, 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 takes you to lookouts over seal colonies and to viewing hides to watch yellow-eyed penguins crossing the beach. The best time to go is before 9am and after 3pm.
Speaking of beaches, don’t miss the Moeraki Boulders on your way to or from Oamaru. These perfectly spherical boulders make a great photo opportunity, best seen 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.
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.
For more activities, like the Oamaru Public Gardens, Oamaru Farmers’ Market and art galleries, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru.
Cheap Activities in Oamaru
There are some additional attractions in Oamaru that won’t put too much of a dent in your budget. Furthermore, they make excellent rainy day activities.
A museum attraction in the Victorian Precinct, Whitestone City provides an intriguing mock-up of Oamaru town during its 19th and 20th Century heyday! Wander past 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.
Mix the Victorian vibe 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.
Finally, 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 also walk away with a goodie bag! Tours cost approximately NZ$30 and kids go free.
For more cheap stuff, see the 10 Free & Cheap Things to Do in Oamaru.
Cheap Eats in Oamaru
With all the money you saved doing the free and cheap things to do in Oamaru, you can treat yourself to the local cuisine. Luckily, we can recommend some of the cheaper eateries too!
For what many would say are the best savoury pies in New Zealand (and we wouldn’t disagree), head to Harbour Street Bakery (4 Harbour Street). In one of the beautiful buildings of the Victorian Precinct, the bakery sells quality pies, all kinds of fresh rustic loaves, and sweet treats.
More cheap eats include the German bakery, Vinbrux Bakery & Kaffeehous (36B Arun Street), the ice cream and milkshake delights of Deja Moo (Harbour Street), and the classic Kiwi tea room of Lagonda (191 Thames Street).
For more restaurant recommendations, check out The Foodie Guide to Oamaru.