A guide to getting around and about Oamaru and Waitaki Valley
Who needs a theme park when visitors have Oamaru to pop onto their bucket list of New Zealand destinations. Uncover an authentic Victorian precinct while exploring the imaginative fantasy steampunk world of vintage parts, glorious costumes, and amusing commentary.
Nature is on a show with blue penguins waddling home past visitors. Unearth extraordinary geological marvels from Clay Cliffs to Waitaki Valley Elephant Rocks with time spent in the visitor centre Duntroon Vanished World. Eat and drink the best of north Otago’s bounty in boutique family-owned wineries or sample farm-to-plate produce in award winning restaurants.
Here are 31 Things to Do in Oamaru: A Guide to the Town’s Best Attractions and Activities. Follow your handy guide to Oamaru, getting around and about and what to do nearby.
WHERE IS OAMARU, SOUTH ISLAND LOCATED?
Oamaru is Oamaru is located in the Waitaki District.
Oamaru is the largest town in North Otago, in the South Island of New Zealand. Oamaru is 80 km south of Timaru and 120 kilometres north of Dunedin on the Pacific coast. Waitaki District towns are Moeraki, Palmerston, Kurow, Otematata, Omarama and Lake Ohau.
OAMARU CONNECTIONS, HOW TO GET TO OAMARU
Oamaru is located on State Highway 1. It is recommended you drive to Oamaru as many attractions are on rural side roads.
|Oamaru||Christchurch||247 km (SH!)|
|Oamaru||Queenstown||287 km (SH83, SH8)
TIP passes thru Lindis Pass & Omarama
|Oamaru||Dunedin||113 km (SH1)|
|Oamaru||Timaru||85.6 km (SH1)|
|Oamaru||Mt Cook (MacKenzie country)||207 km (SH83, SH8, SH80) via Omarama, Lake Ohau & Twizel|
SH = State Highway
Oamaru is nearby several regional airports
Timaru Airport is a 1 hour drive on SH1. Dunedin airport is 2 hours drive South and Christchurch International Airport is 3 ½ hours drive south of Oamaru.
Does Oamaru have a railway station?
Oamaru’s long wooden station, designed by Railways Department architect George Troup and completed in 1900, was typical of the new stations built in this era.
Catch the local train. The Oamaru Steam & Rail volunteers enthusiastically maintain and manage heritage train trips from Harbourside Railway Station in Itchen Street in Oamaru. After leaving the Station, you travel through the Victorian Precinct, past some of Oamaru’s oldest buildings and then through the old railway yard and past the site of Oamaru’s first Railway Station. The train then runs along the bottom of clay cliffs, beside Oamaru’s Victorian Harbour. Check Running Days: Oamaru Steam & Rail for timetable.
Can you get to Oamaru by train?
There is no regular train service to Oamaru. However Dunedin Railways offer a summer excursion day trip to Oamaru. The journey allows you one hour to hit the shops, hang out at the docks, and experience the Victorian precinct. The heritage railway station is nestled in the heart of Oamaru being only five minutes walk from Steampunk HQ and the historic wharf district. For more information check out The Victorian – Dunedin Railways.
Does the South Island Coastal Pacific train go to Oamaru?
The Coastal Pacific is a long-distance passenger train that runs between Picton and Christchurch in the South Island. Oamaru is further south than the final stop, Christchurch. Currently Coastal Pacific stops include Blenheim, Kaikoura, and Rangiora. Check out The Coastal Pacific Train Service for more information.
Does Oamaru have any annual festivals?
Oamaru, South Island has several popular annual festivals.
- Jazz weekend Otago Anniversary Weekend (regional public holiday)
- Fire and Steam Friday, King’s Birthday Weekend (national public holiday)
- Steampunk, King’s Birthday Weekend (national public holiday)
- Victorian Heritage Celebrations – several days scheduled around third Sunday of November with a Fete Day on the Sunday
Book accommodation several months in advance especially for the popular Steampunk and Victorian Heritage Celebrations.
What is Oamaru famous for?
Oamaru is famous for its intact Victorian heritage precinct fashioned out of local limestone known as whitestone. Oamaru has wildlife attractions with cute penguins as its mascot. Check out 31 Things to Do in Oamaru: A Guide to the Town’s Best Attractions and Activities.
Where are the best places to view penguins in Oamaru?
Blue penguins are regular stars at the Blue Penguin Colony. Admission fees apply. Oamaru, South Island is also a great place to view yellow-eyed penguins (Hoihoi) at sunrise and two hours before sunset. Bushy beach reserve has a hide although the large beach can make sighting penguins a hit and miss affair. Moeraki Lighthouse Katiki Point is another favourite spot.
Penguins are on your bucket list?
Check out Where to find a penguin with tips on locations and what to do close by in Best Bits.
Oamaru to Katiki Point
Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony is a great family option for viewing the little blue penguins. Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony evening viewing before sunset from dedicated viewing grandstands. Check opening hours. Ticket sales support conservation effects. No photography allowed.
What attractions are close by Oamaru?
Nearby Oamaru attractions are geological, Elephant Rocks, Duntroon Vanished World, Omarama Clay Cliffs, Waitaki Valley scenery and Moeraki Boulders. In winter Lake Ohau ski field and Mt Cook national park. Year Round Lake Tekapo and Twizel hiking trails.
Twizel and Lake Tekapo is a must-go destination for star gazing buffs.
Can I go mountain biking in Oamaru?
There are plenty of places to go mountain biking in Oamaru. Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail ends or starts in Oamaru. There are mountain Bike tracks on Cape Wanbrow and the Reservoir in Oamaru. Herbert Forest offers mountain biking trails.
Herbert Forest mountain bike tracks
A 10km intermediate grade loop in a pine plantation forest offers a mix of gravel forest roads and a hand built single-track. A 5 km single track descent. Forest owners Port Blakely. Tracks are built and maintained by Mountain Biking North Otago.
Oamaru where can you go nearby in a day?
Oamaru is an ideal hub to visit extraordinary geological landscapes. Your slow lane journey will travel through rural farmland, past small towns and boutique wineries. Forget your checklist and go with the flow in the Waitiki district.
- Duntroon Vanished World Visitor Centre geological marvels and oddities to explore
- Local wineries in the Waitaki Valley leisurely brunch in vineyard courtyards
- Timaru and Caroline Bay in the summer
- Explore gastronomic destinations from Whitestone Cheese to craft breweries
- Heritage trail Totara Estate, Historic Flour Mill, Macraes Goldmine
- Skiing in winter at Lake Ohau at a family run boutique ski resort
Can you tour through riverstone castle, Oamaru?
The castle is generally closed to the public however tours are held occasionally. For future dates, you can follow Riverstone Castle on Facebook.
What is the best time to visit Oamaru?
The best time to visit Oamaru is during the festive season with the infectious fun of Steampunk, glorious Victorian costumes and penny farthing bike ride competitions.
Year round there is something to do from winter excursions getting rugged up to watch penguins waddling home to sipping craft brews by a cosy fire. In summer explore the geological marvels and leisurely stroll around the Victorian precinct of Oamaru.
What is the weather in Oamaru?
In Oamaru, Waitaki District, the summers are comfortable, the winters are cold and windy, and it is partly cloudy year round. Over the course of the year, the temperature typically varies from 5°C to 20°C and is rarely below 3°C or above 24°C.
The best time of year to visit Oamaru, Waitaki District for warm-weather activities is from early January to late February. Source Oamaru, Waitaki District Climate.
OAMARU HISTORICAL NOTES
- The town of Oamaru was declared in 1859
- Oamaru stone, sometimes called whitestone, is a hard, compact limestone, continued to be quarried at Weston, near Oamaru
- The town grew as an agricultural service centre. The boom period was supported with a flourishing freight trade from the local port (since closed) in the 1870s and 1880s. This era witnessed the Victorian era building boom.
- Oamaru has over 70 buildings on the NZ heritage list
- Oamaru was part of pre-European foraging trails, hunting grounds and had several significant pa (village) sites as well as surviving rare rock art cave collections
BEST BITS TRAVEL GUIDE