It’s a unique place: the buildings are a mix of modern and Victorian style, it’s the steam punk capital of New Zealand and it has a rare blue penguin colony at the edge of the harbour. People always say that Oamaru has nothing but the blue penguins, steam punk and old books in Oamaru make this city a very underrated one.
The penguins came before anything else for us. The moment we parked at our camp site we walked over to the colony only to find out that they had commercialized it all and charged people to see the penguins unlike the seal colony in Kaikoura which was completely open and free. We also discovered that blue penguins are typically only seen at night. What a bust.
So instead we went to ‘Steam punk Headquarters.’ A museum of sorts filled with everything steampunk. Strange place. Don’t get us wrong it’s totally worth seeing but if you aren’t really that in to steampunk its a whole different type of experience. Everything there is recycled from something extremely old and brings the steam era technology to the future. The whole thing can’t really be explained or described because everything in it is so weird it’s really more of something you have to see for yourself.
Just a short walk down the street from headquarters is an old second hand book store, Slightly Foxed Books. It’s everything a book lover could want in an old bookstore. Books there are so old and there are so many of them adorning the old wooden shelves it was like an egg hunt trying to find proper sections.
Some of the books are worth thousands of dollars and some are worth nothing, but all are gems hidden within a perfect book store. The old wooden floors creek with every step, the old women who owns the store sits quietly in the corner reading and there is a little nook with old couches and a grand Persian rug.
When we finally decided on a book to buy we walked it up to the front the adorable old lady starts packaging it up for you. She puts a bookmark in the book, wraps it up in brown paper, folds in the corners, cuts a piece of twine (with the oldest scissors imaginable) ties it around to hold it all together and plants a black stamp of the stores logo on the front. Her sales are recorded by hand with a calligraphy pen in an ancient book with old pages that have turned brown.
I have yet to unwrap the book because of how wonderfully perfect it looks wrapped up in paper and twine waiting to reveal it’s adventure.
At sunset we walked to the old wharf that was near our campsite and waited for the sun to set so we could snap a few photos like classic tourists. While we waited for the sun to disappear over the hills an entire bus full of Asian tourists stopped down the road, piled out of the bus with their huge SLR cameras around their necks and started running towards us.
When we say running, we mean RUNNING. Tripods were getting unfolded with each step they took all trying to catch the fleeting colors. As quickly as they came, they were gone, we were left along one again. Honestly it was pretty funny to see.
When night finally came it was back to mission number one, Penguins. We heard our first one from right inside our camp ground. Apparently the owners of the site had built houses for the penguins which we hadn’t taken notice of earlier. Near the penguin center we found tons more hiding in the bushes. Luckily we hadn’t paid earlier to see them but who knows maybe we missed out on the penguins doing tricks or something?
One ended up walking right up to us and as he did I jumped back thinking that for some reason this one foot tall penguin was going to attack. Andy laughed at my stupidity and reassured me I wasn’t going to get attacked I stopped moving and he waddled a foot away from us, said hello, noticed we didn’t have food and kept on going past. His friend in the bushes kept poking his head out waiting for us to move and ran away each time we did move.
If you like blue penguins, steam punk and old books than Oamaru is the place for you. But don’t forget to grab a burger at The Galley before leaving Oamaru. This place made me like beets. Their food is drool worthy.