Oamaru Things to Do

Oamaru is a former port town steeped in history on the east coast of New Zealand’s South Island. There are several reasons making it an attractive option to visit and stay for at least a couple of days with two of the main ones being penguins and Victorian history.

Criterion Hotel, Tyne Street, Oamaru, Otago Region, New Zealand
Oamaru Criterion Hotel, Victorian Precinct, Tyne Street, Harbour Street, Oamaru, Waitaki, New Zealand

Best Time to Visit Oamaru in Waitaki

From November through to January is the best time to visit for bird wildlife as Oamaru penguins will be in their greatest numbers at this time of year.

November is when Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations are held. The Victorian Precinct streets turn into a penny farthings racetrack and local residents dress in Victorian attire to cheer on the races.

Penny Farthing Victorian Bicycle, Harbour St
Oamaru Victorian Penny Farthing Cycle, Harbour St, Waitaki, New Zealand

Weekends are generally more popular times to visit as there can be events happening in and around Oamaru that attract tourism. If you prefer less busy times to have a look around, the days during the week would suit you better.

Oamaru Penguins

The most popular and alluring must-do attraction bringing a lot of visitors to Oamaru are the colonies of both the Little Penguin, sometimes called Little Blue Penguin, and the Yellow-eyed Penguin on the towns outskirts. If one of your best things to do list activities is to see the Oamaru blue penguins, wildlife and nature tourists can see both species here.

Oamaru Little Penguin / Kororā
Oamaru Penguins, Little Penguin, Kororā, Little Blue Penguin, New Zealand

Thames Street Oamaru

Thames Street, Widest Street in New Zealand
Thames Street, Oamaru, Widest Street in New Zealand, Waitaki, NZ

A visit to Thames Street, the widest street in New Zealand, shows the formal buildings of the city. The street was made so wide to enable carts being pulled by several rows of catte to be turned in one go, like a huge u-turn! Currently there is parking in the middle of the street along with trees, and parking at the pavements, along with four lanes for traffic.

Some examples of Oamaru architecture are the Palladian Courthouse, the 1906 Opera House, the Athenaeum building where the North Otago Museum is currently housed, the First Post Office and Former Post Office. On the other side of the road are the National Bank and the Forrester Gallery.

North Otago Museum, Athenaem Building, Oamaru
North Otago Museum, Athenaem Building, Oamaru, Waitaki, New Zealand

Oamaru Historic Commercial Centre

From Thames Street, a walk down Itchen Street will bring you to the original commercial area of Oamaru. These days the following streets have become a place to get a coffee, snack, or other beverage, hang out with friends, or browse the wonderful unique shops, galleries, and museums.

Union Stores
Union Stores, Tyne Street, Oamaru, New Zealand

Victorian Precinct

Oamaru has a well preserved Victorian Precinct built out of local limestone leading to 'The Whitestone City' title being adopted. New Zealand does not have an abundance of buildings built from any kind of stone so if you are interested in the history of New Zealand, these South Island buildings play a big part in that.

Victorian Precinct, Harbour Street
Oamaru Victorian Precinct, Harbour Street, Oamaru, Waitaki, New Zealand

The images on this page give you an insight to the types of Oamaru architecture and historic buildings you can see.

Tyne Street Oamaru

Tyne Street includes the Woolstore Complex, the Criterion Hotel, and the old Union Offices that were built in 1877. The Smiths Grain Store is said to be the most ornamental in the country and was built by James Johnson in 1882.

Criterion Hotel, Tyne Street
Criterion Hotel, Tyne Street, Oamaru, New Zealand

Harbour Street Oamaru

Running parallel to Tyne Street, Harbour Street includes the Harbour Board Office built in 1876 with information panels relating to the history of Oamaru Harbour and how architecture influenced Oamaru. Then there is the Loan & Mercantile wool and grain store, a massive building constructed in 1882 that was once the largest in the country.

Victorian Precinct, Harbour Street
Victorian Precinct, Harbour Street, Oamaru, NZ

Steampunk HQ Oamaru

Steampunk HQ was founded in 2011, is well worth a visit, and can easily be found because it has a huge steam engine parked outside the front! You can find Steampunk HQ at the entrance of the Victorian Precinct in an Oamaru stone building called the Grain Elevator. You will find a treat of recycling and sustainability creations and solutions.

Steampunk HQ Oamaru
Steampunk HQ, Oamaru, New Zealand

Steampunk HQ for current opening times.

Oamaru Auto Collection

Visitors interested in motorsport won’t want to miss seeing the Oamaru Auto Collection, a motoring museum home to a collection of historic, classic, and vintage vehicles. You can find it on Tyne Street in The Woolstore building.

The Woolstore, Tyne Street, Oamaru Auto Collection
The Woolstore, Tyne Street, Oamaru Auto Collection, NZ

More Things to Do in Oamaru

  • Oamaru boasts the widest street in New Zealand.
  • Whitestone Cheese has some wonderful award winning cheeses to try.
  • Oamaru Pubic Gardens for a stroll or picnic.
  • Forrester Art Gallery.
  • Bushy Beach Scenic Reserve.
  • Oamaru Farmers Market on Sunday morning at Tyne Street Harbour to experience a classic NZ market.
  • Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations.
  • Venture out into the Waitaki valley to see the limestone formations, Maori cave art, and the fossils at Duntroon Vanished World Centre.

Short History of Oamaru

Limestone outcrops used by Maori for shelter were later used by European builders to construct the wonderful limestone buildings in Oamaru that remain today.

Oamaru became very prosperous and boomed during the gold rush era through being used as a commercial centre for timber, limestone quarrying, farming, and a base for gold prospectors.

Oamaru port was open to migrants in 1874, even though the coastline was very hostile for ships causing many to founder.

As with many towns and cities, boom periods are often followed by decline. In recent years though, the town has come alive with it’s current attractions for tourism on the East coast.


Oamaru is in the region of Otago which covers a large area of the lower South Island. You can find Oamaru on SH1 between the larger cities of Christchurch and Dunedin.

See Otago Region for more information about other places to visit in Otago.

Moeraki Boulders is just down the coast to the south of Oamaru, on SH1.

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