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Review: Oamaru

City/Town/Region/Island

Oamaru, New Zealand

Oamaru

  • By SilverTraveller phage

    20 reviews

    Ribbon

  • Mar 2013
  • Wife

9 people found this review helpful

I must admit that before we booked our fly drive holiday in New Zealand I had never heard of the town of Oamaru. We had chosen it purely because there had been a late change in our itinerary and the town was conveniently placed to break up the rather long leg, between Dunedin and Christchurch. To add even more interest to the occasion we had chosen our accommodation from the local tourist information web site, because it looked interesting and we had selected bed and breakfast establishments where possible. Some cursory research showed that there was a Blue Penguin colony close by, which looked to be an interesting visit as we would only be there one night after all. It was a rather damp Sunday morning when we left Dunedin heading north on highway 1, a slight disappointment for us but relief for New Zealand as they had had no rain of any note for six weeks and were starting to talk about droughts. After about 75km we decided to have a break and stopped to have a look at the Moeraki Boulders. These are a cluster of unusually large sized and spherical boulders, some upto 2M across, lying along a stretch of Koekohe Beach, that are prehistoric septarian concretions eroded from the surrounding rocks. Even on a wet and windy day like today, there are still quite a few people on the beach inspecting, photographing and climbing on them. Soon we were back on the road on our way to Oamaru, the rain easing as we travelled north. Arriving at the outskirts of the town, we made our way down a steep hill to the centre and were somewhat surprised how quiet it was. We turned right when we reached what appered to be the main street and made our way to investigate the only thing we knew about the town, the Blue Penguin colony. Crossing over a railway line we passed numerous empty warehouses and open spaces where buildings of the old port had been, clearly this place had been busy once. We drive into the car park and have a look around the visitor centre, taking some leaflets to read later as we would have a number of hours to wait before this evening’s event. Returning to the town we searched for our accommodation. At a cross roads 2/3 the way up a hill we found it, looking just like its photographs on the web site which was a good omen. However, as there was no response when we knocked the door we decided to return to the town to explore a little. Parking up we spotted Annie’s Victorian Tearoom and intrigued we went in and were immediately transported back 100 years. We could have easily have walked into a living museum back home, but no this was a privately owned tea shop that had a vision and followed it. And follow it they did, down to the authentic china service, wall decoration, ornaments and period costumes and form of address of the waitresses. The tea and cakes weren’t half bad either. The shop also followed tradition and had a section that could be described as a general store with representations of what would have been sold as well as some modern representations which were for sale. Refreshed we took a stroll into the town, heading down a broad separated road with handsome Victorian buildings on either side. This turned out to be the Victorian Precinct that the town is renowned. A display of Doric columns and grand 19th century architecture greets our eyes as we walk down the street more than reminding us of the town’s affluent past, and with such a pristine display you can’t help but think that you have stumbled into a living museum. Attending to this thought we pass the Hop Shop and the Bridge Café and a strange sight shakes our reality, a gigantic caricature of a motorcycle sitting in the central reservation, now that was not on the tourist info web site. The words: what; why and how, enter and leave my mind in rapid succession without finding any resolution, pushed out when we realise that if we want a bed tonight we had better find the car and check in our bed and breakfast accommodation. On our way back up the hill there we passed what looked like the old railway buildings and the mystery of the motorbike becomes a little clearer as we see a large stylistic railway engine mounted in front of a building which has the sign saying “Steampunk HQ”. We assume that Steampunk is some kind of art form and continue on to the bed and breakfast resolving to find out more tomorrow. Following the directions we make our way up Tyne Street till we reach our destination, Federation House, a period wooden house overlooking the town and harbour. Entering the front door is like stepping back in time to the 1930s, with the wood panelling covering the walls, wooden staircase, period pictures and art deco fittings. With each of the four bedrooms named after the property’s owners over the years, the house oozes character and mirrors the vision and single minded determination of the welcoming current owner not to conform and it is certainly not your average hotel. Parking the suitcases we venture back out to find somewhere for our evening meal and come across the Last Post Pub on Thames Street at the beginning of the Victorian extravaganza. Inside the place is heaving, and it is only now that we realise that it is St Patrick’s Day. We find a table and buy a beer, then start to inspect the menu which looks impressive. I decide to be traditional and order a Lamb Pie, well you just have to in New Zealand right? It arrives after a short delay, understandable in the circumstances, and is a revelation when the first bite is taken, like mother makes does not do it justice. Full of lean Lamb chunks with mint and seasoning, it is gorgeous, and confirms an opinion I gained earlier in our trip. New Zealand takes its food seriously, not in a pompous self aggrandising way, as unfortunately some establishments back home, but with a belief in retaining ‘old fashioned’ standards of what wholesome food should be. Following a couple of rather pleasing beverages to wash down the fare, we make our way back up the hill to the Federation House for a well earned night’s rest. Entering the door after dark is strangely different experience to that of in daylight, somehow your senses are heightened and you are aware of every creak and groan inherent in an old wooden house. A legacy of watching too many Hammer horror films perhaps? In the bedroom we set about unpacking what we need and take the opportunity to have a close look at the room, and I, for one, am glad of the owner’s commitment to period detail. With Art Deco leaded glass doors, period wooden wall panelling and matching furniture, historic pictures, old mirrors and even a 60’s “all in one” record player/radio with associated selection of vinyl LPs in the corner for your entertainment. Opening the French doors onto the fully glazed veranda where, as well as a fine vista over the town and the harbour, we find the toilet and bath with integral shower with a wrap-around curtain to hide our modesty. Next morning we wake to a grey sky and rain steadily falling, almost completely masking out the town. Dressing we made our way down to the Guest Lounge, with a bar and pool table, where the owner proudly shows us the restoration he’s carried out so far, and are shown to the veranda where a table was laid for breakfast. Substantial “English” is brought, complete with items from the organic kitchen garden, which causes us to loosen a button or two and requires an extended period of rest to enjoy the view. However, the rain showed no sign of abating, so a visit to the Steampunk HQ was written off and we decided to head up to Christchurch, our final destination. On reflection, I am glad we decided to stop over at Oamaru, a town that equally relishes its past and is not afraid to embrace today. I am also glad we decided to choose our own accommodation, for although it was not overflowing with what are considered to be accepted embellishments for modern establishments, we had found a place that oozed character and was single mindedly determined not to relinquish its individuality or be swayed from its mission to stay in touch with its history.

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Other Members' Thoughts - 1 Comment(s)

  • ESW
    over 5 years ago
    I have enjoyed reading your review. The Moeraki Boulders are incredible aren't they. I'd seen pictures before we went, but they just don't do justice to them

    We also like Oamaru - New Zealand at its best. Unfortuntely I hadn't discovered it when I did the intitial research and bookings so we didn't spend an overnight there. I wish we had as we'd have liked to have spent longer there.