Oamaru is a town in North Otago, New Zealand, with beautiful Victorian buildings crafted from the fine, white local limestone, and colonies of penguins.


Oamaru does two things better than anywhere else in New Zealand – beautiful Victorian architecture and little blue penguin viewing. A strange mix in a strange, interesting town.

Oamaru started its existence in the mid-1800s as one of a few large sheep farms in North Otago. The natural harbour was recognised and a breakwater built to facilitate trade. Buildings sprung up – banks, grain stores, post offices and a court house – built with a type of limestone called Oamaru stone because it is sourced locally and used all over the country. Oamaru fell on hard times and lacked resources to pull down the older buildings while other towns were replacing older buildings with new ones. As a result Oamaru has a fantastic collection of older buildings in an unspoilt precinct by the harbour. Better times have returned recently with the district becoming wealthy through the meat, dairy and education industries and this has allowed the locals to restore and strengthen the old buildings.

Today Oamaru is a little known tourism spot where prices tend to be reasonable for accommodation (of which there is a glut) and there are some exceptional restaurants, which you would not generally expect in a town this size.

Visitors come to view the nightly return to shore of little blue penguins. The town has several colonies of these birds, the smallest and only blue variety of penguin in the world. The largest colony is now run as a commercial activity by the town council, offering an opportunity to view the penguins in their natural habitat. There is also a small colony of yellow-eyed penguins (hoiho), one of the world's rarest penguins, just outside the town.

Oamaru is the gateway to the Waitaki Valley, a stunning natural area bisected by the braided Waitaki River, whose hydroelectic dams have created numerous lakes for water sports and recreation. The Waitaki Valley is home to New Zealand's newest wine appellation, where a number of vineyards are producing Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Riesling and other varietals that are winning international awards.

Partly because of its impressive architecture, and partly because of its artsy nature, Oamaru has become New Zealand's self-proclaimed capital of Steampunk. A festival of steampunk is held annually in Oamaru, usually during June. The town's Victorian heritage is also celebrated in a festival, held annually in November.

Get in

By car

Oamaru is located on State Highway 1, 250 km south of Christchurch (approx 3hr 15min) and 115 km north of Dunedin (approx 1hr 30min). State Highway 83 meets SH 1 at Pukeuri, 9 km north of the town centre, providing access from Omarama and the Mackenzie Country via the Waitaki Valley.

By bus

Daily bus services operate between Christchurch and Dunedin and between Christchurch and Te Anau via Oamaru. The main bus stop is in Eden Street, just east of the Thames Street (SH 1) intersection.

Get around

Oamaru town is small enough to cycle around. Taxis are available.


Moulting yellow-eyed penguin at Oamaru

In town

Out of town


Steampunk headquarters





Oamaru i-SITE

Go next

Routes through Oamaru

Christchurch Timaru  N  S  Blueskin Bay Dunedin

This article is issued from Wikivoyage - version of the Monday, February 08, 2016. The text is available under the Creative Commons Attribution/Share Alike but additional terms may apply for the media files.