The Whitestone City

The town of Oamaru, population 14,000), lies along the South Island’s coast. We went there so that we would have fun things do if it rained (though we’re learning that my weather app is reliably unreliable in New Zealand) and because our guidebook calls the city “architecturally harmonious.” Those features — plus the nickname “Whitestone City,” which sounds like something out of The Wizard of Oz — were enough to sell us on the idea of a visit.

Many of the buildings in Oamaru are built from a special limestone that is quarried nearby. In the late 1800s, Oamaru was flush from a gold rush, so it hired a few fancy architects to make beautiful public buildings. Everything is elegant, from the old post office (now the town hall)…

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… to the atheneum …IMG_6859

… to the opera house (it’s amazing to think that this small town in the middle of not much could build and support its own opera house):

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Churches got in the limestone building act, too:

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And private businesses also appear to have had enough extra cash to get into the fancy building trade. This is an old hotel:

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It’s wonderful to walk around and just look at the detail …

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… or to peer down the streets…

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… or to look up and wonder what the business world must have been like in the 1800s and 1890s.

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We learned that grain grown in New Zealand used to be shipped all the way to London!

Oamaru does a nice job of playing up on its Victorian heritage. They have a big Victorian-themed celebration every year, and you’ll find things as you walk around like this:

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There’s an interactive Victorian-era museum and even a traditional bookbindery:

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Oamaru has also become “the steampunk capital of New Zealand.” It is now home to the Steampunk HQ museum:

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We didn’t visit, but I did put a $2 coin in the slot to make this train (drive by a creepy skull-topped guy who’s not visible here) make lots of noise and steam:

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The town seems to have embraced the steampunk theme. You can find public art in the steampunk genre…

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… and shops with steampunk creations …

IMG_6880.jpg… and the best playground in the world, which has a steampunk theme:

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Why is this the best playground in the world? Because it has amazing equipment, including a huge slide (complete with a climbing challenge), a giant hamster wheel, a zip line (called a flying fox here) and a fireman’s pole inside an elephant!

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It’s wonderful to be in a place with long days. We spent a good deal of time playing at this playground at about 9:00 at night, when there were no kids, and then came back to see it in its full glory in the daylight. The playground looks out over Oamaru’s Friendly Bay:

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We sat and had lunch (rolls with cheese — we’re now out of avocado) with this view:

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Just the night before, we had stood in the same spot and seen blue-eyed penguins! These are the smallest of the penguin family, and they only come to shore at night. They swim in just after the sun has gone down (that’s about 10:00 pm here right now), and we saw three of them waddling around the rocks. No photos, though — these penguins don’t like light, so you have to take what you can get of them in the dwindling evening light.

After lunch, we walked out to the end of the pier, which still has the old train tracks:

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Oamaru also has a few lovely public gardens. People grow spectacular roses and dahlias in this part of the world.

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I really enjoyed Oamaru — I like the look and the whimsy of the place.

In the evening, we went to see the Moeraki Boulders, large spherical rocks along the shore about half an hour south of Oamaru.

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According to Wikipedia — the source of all things true in the world — “the rock comprising the bulk of [these] boulders is riddled with large cracks called septaria that radiate outward from a hollow core lined with scalenohedral calcite crystals.” That geology means that when you find the boulders broken up along the shoreline, they look like this inside:

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I decided to brave the sea and climb one of the boulders:

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My climb was successful, clearly, but a wave caught me — and doused me — on the way up. Prescott found all of this pretty amusing.

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And the way down was even more entertaining:

For dinner, we headed to Fleur’s Place, an amazing restaurant in a corrugated metal in the Moeraki Village harbor. They’re famous for cooking the fish brought in by the Moeraki fishermen on the day it’s caught, so everything is fantastically fresh. We had the tasting platter, which offers you the chance to try five different kinds of fish side by side (orange roughy, which is in the not-so-pleasantly named slimehead family, won our top votes) alongside perfectly-steamed vegetables and potatoes so creamy that they melt in your mouth. And you get to look out over the garden and sea if you sit on the (chilly) balcony:

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Our evening ended with a visit to the hide that overlooks the beach that hosts Oamaru’s yellow penguin colony. We saw a good number of seals and one waddling penguin. I love the wildlife here.

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