Steampunk Ōamaru's Victorian Precinct © Allan Henderson

Ōamaru’s Victorian Precinct: the capital of all things steampunk


Slightly eccentric, Ōamaru is one of those not-as-it-first-seems places. The surprises are all good ones, though, whether it’s penguins or penny-farthing races you’re after. 

Money made in meat meant multiple amazing buildings built in a concentrated period in the late nineteenth century. Yep, that’s a while ago. Yours for the viewing, if not the taking. The best examples are in the historic precinct, the Harbour & Tyne (streets) area as it’s known, and they’re built with local limestone (known as Whitestone, of course).

They are some of the country’s finest examples of, well, any architecture, really, but certainly, they are what was big at the time: they would look perfectly at home in Florence, Rome or by the lapping waters of the Venetian canals... or, in this case, the thundering Pacific Ocean.

It’s a great wander among the bookshops, galleries, slightly alternative healers and herbalists, a gentle, genteel and refreshing stroll that takes you back as you’re moving forward.

Inspirational, too: the area has given rise to some remarkable New Zealand artists and writers, the most famous being Janet Frame. In that tradition, the historic precinct houses a community of artistic and creative folk, many of whom exhibit their wares in the area.

To keep it current, in August 2016 Ōamaru saw the largest collection of steampunk followers to ever gather anywhere in the world. The Victorian feel of the streets and buildings was the perfect host for their Dickensian imaginings. The city has held said annual Steampunk Festival since 2010, another example of the eccentric, unexpected charm of this curious seaside mini-cosmopolis. Where’s my monocle, Algernon?

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