A Local’s Guide to the Very Best Things to Do in Oamaru

A Local’s Guide to the Very Best Things to Do in Oamaru

You might have heard of a hidden gem along the coast called Oamaru, particularly if you’re journeying through New Zealand’s South Island from Christchurch to Dunedin (or vice versa).

If that’s the case, it’s worth considering a stopover in this remarkable town, as it boasts a plethora of attractions and activities to enjoy. 

And if you’re still undecided, we’d be delighted to share our handpicked selection of things to do in Oamaru, hoping to persuade you to create lasting memories during your visit!

1. Walk along Harbour Street

Address: South Hill, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand

You know what’s great about Oamaru? One of the best things to do there is not only super easy but also absolutely free! Just take a stroll along Harbour Street, and you’ll see what we mean.

This street is like stepping into a time machine with its charming old buildings, though there’s so much more to Harbour Street than just its historical charm. 

You’ll find plenty of cozy eateries, delightful shops, and inviting places to grab a drink.

Pro tip:

  • Start your walk at the Victorian Heritage Centre. This small museum offers a great introduction to the history of Oamaru. You can learn about the town’s early days as a whaling port, its boom period as a frozen meat exporter, and its unique architectural heritage.

2. Explore the Victorian Precinct

Website: https://www.victorianoamaru.co.nz/ 
Address: Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: 03 4345385
Operating hours: N/A
Price: Whitestone City: Adults $25, Children $15

Speaking of Harbour Street, one thing you won’t want to miss while strolling down there is the Victorian Precinct.

It’s home to the country’s most comprehensive collection of buildings from the Victorian Era, so if you have an appreciation for that era, this is an absolute must-visit destination for you!

In a nutshell, this precinct is a vibrant hub filled with eccentric shops, galleries, and traditional artisan crafts, so you’ll never run out of things to explore and experience here.

Pro tip:

  • Make sure to visit Whitestone City. This museum takes interactive experiences to a whole new level—gold panning, learning secrets to Victorian-style dresses, and exploring the meticulously recreated Victorian streetscape. 

3. Embrace the surreal world of Steampunk

Website: http://steampunkoamaru.co.nz/ 
Address: 1 Humber Street, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: +64 27 778 6547
Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM

  • Adult – $10.00
  • Child – $2.00 
  • Family – $20.00 (2 adults, 2 children)

While in the Victorian Precinct, we suggest you step into the mesmerizing world of Steampunk at Steampunk HQ. 

This place is all about embracing the fantastical and eccentric, with its unique blend of “steam-powered” wonders inspired by the Victorian era but with a futuristic twist.

We actually find it hard to put into words exactly what Steampunk HQ is – it’s part-gallery, part-museum, and completely surreal and mind-boggling. What we can guarantee is that you’ll be captivated by the extraordinary creations both inside and outside the venue.

Pro tips:

  • Don’t forget to experience their unforgettable “Portal” installation, which will transport you into a realm of time-travelling wonder.
  • Make sure to visit the gift shop! Inside Steampunk HQ, you’ll find a charming little gift shop that’s worth exploring. It’s the perfect place to browse and shop for unique steampunk souvenirs. 

4. See little blue penguins

Website: https://www.penguins.co.nz/ 
Address: 17 Waterfront Road, South Hill, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: +64 3 433 1195
Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 1:00 AM – 7:30 PM

  • Day entry $18
  • Evening viewing (general entry) $38.70
  • Evening viewing (premium entry) $52.50

It’s not just tourists who adore Oamaru; the little blue penguins, the world’s smallest penguin species, have a special affinity for this town too!

For the best opportunity to see these delightful creatures, head to the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Here, seating is arranged around a nesting site where a colony of little blue penguins resides.

From there, you can observe the penguins waddling ashore and returning from their oceanic adventures, all against the backdrop of a breathtaking sunset. Let this be another highlight of your visit to Oamaru!

Pro tips:

  • For a deeper understanding of these amazing little blue penguins, we recommend choosing a guided tour with the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony. Their guides will provide fascinating insights into the penguins’ behaviour, habitat, and conservation efforts.
  • If you prefer a more relaxed approach, head to the Oamaru waterfront at dusk. Chances are, you’ll be treated to the delightful sight of at least one little blue penguin making its way ashore.

5. Check out Oamaru’s art galleries



  • Forrester Gallery: 9 Thames Street
  • Grainstore Gallery: 5 Harbour Street
  • Art on Tyne: 8 Tyne Street, Oamaru town centre

Operating hours:

  • Forrester Gallery: Tuesday – Sunday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Grainstore Gallery: Monday – Sunday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM
  • Art on Tyne: N/A

When it comes to creativity, Oamaru doesn’t disappoint, and you’ll find a variety of art galleries to discover, providing a delightful way to spend your time – and it’s free!

One gallery that should definitely be on your list is the Forrester Gallery, housed in a stunning neo-classical building. It’s a true feast for the eyes and a testament to Oamaru’s artistic spirit.

Now, when you explore the ambient Victorian Precinct, make sure to stop by the Grainstore Gallery, which features a bustling display of local art.

And for something truly special, don’t miss the charming Art on Tyne, an art and gift store where you can find unique and locally made treasures.

Pro tip:

  • If you’re eager to explore Oamaru’s art galleries and make the most of your time, consider joining a walking tour specifically tailored to showcase these creative spaces. 

These guided tours provide an excellent opportunity to visit multiple galleries in a short amount of time.

6. Take a leisurely walk through the Oamaru Public Gardens

Website: https://www.waitaki.govt.nz/Facilities/Parks-and-Recreation/Parks-playgrounds-and-reserves/Oamaru-Public-Gardens 
Address: 17 Chelmer Street, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: 03 433 0300
Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Thinking about how to start your day in Oamaru? We recommend starting with a relaxing stroll through the Oamaru Public Gardens. You’ll find a therapeutic experience surrounded by a beautiful combination of natural and man-made features.

Don’t miss the highlights, such as the Fernery, a cool and shady spot perfect for taking a break. 

You can also admire the charming band rotunda, the captivating aviary, and the peacock house (which happens to be our favourite – we can imagine those feathers complementing ornate Victorian hats). 

Lastly, keep an eye out for the Wonderland Statue, which adds a touch of enchantment to the surroundings.

Pro tips:

  • Take advantage of the well-maintained walking track that meanders through the gardens. This designated path offers a delightful way to fully experience everything the gardens have to offer.
  • Make the most of the garden’s inviting ambience by having a picnic. You’ll find several picnic tables scattered throughout the gardens, providing the perfect spot to relax and savour a leisurely lunch or dinner amidst the serene surroundings.

7. Visit the childhood home of Janet Frame

Website: https://jfestrust.org.nz/ 
Address: 56 Eden Street, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: +64 3 434 2300
Operating hours: Monday – Sunday: 2:00 PM – 4:00 PM (November – April)
Price: Entry fee $5

Calling all book buffs! A must-visit destination in Oamaru is the Janet Frame House, a museum dedicated to the life and literary works of Janet Frame, one of New Zealand’s most revered and prolific authors.

Avid readers of her work will be delighted to see the real-life inspirations behind her stories. 

From the picturesque hillside to the cozy seat by the kitchen range, you’ll be able to connect the dots between Frame’s vivid imagination and the tangible elements that influenced her writing.

Pro tips:

  • The Janet Frame House is open from 2:00 PM to 4:00 PM. daily between November 1 and April 30. If you plan to visit outside of these dates, it’s recommended that you make prior arrangements to ensure access to the museum.
  • In addition to exploring the exhibits, consider purchasing books and cards to take home as souvenirs.

8. Sample some delicious cheese

Website: http://www.whitestonecheese.com/ 
Address: 3 Torridge Street, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: +64 3 434 8098
Operating hours:

  • Monday – Friday: 9:00 AM – 5:00 PM
  • Saturday: 10:00 AM – 4:00 PM


  • Factory tour: Adults: $35 each or $48 each if upgrading to include wine pairing.

         Children under 16: Free if accompanied by an adult

  • Cheese tin (Whitehouse classic selection): $40

While Victorian heritage and penguins take the limelight in Oamaru, don’t miss the chance to experience its delightful foodie offerings – particularly the opportunity to sample some delicious cheese at Whitestone Cheese.

Here, you can take guided tours to see the cheese-making process and sample their delicious cheese varieties. Oh, and be sure to take home a goody bag filled with cheese to extend the enjoyment.

It’s a fun activity for the whole family!

Pro tip:

  • Indulge your inner foodie by upgrading your tour at Whitestone Cheese to include a cheese and wine pairing experience. Treat your taste buds to the perfect pairing of delicious cheeses and exquisite wines, creating a truly delightful culinary adventure.

9. Learn about farming at Totara Estate

Website: https://visitheritage.co.nz/visit/otago/totara-estate/ 
Address: 565 Alma-Maheno Rd, 8 km south of Oamaru State Highway 1, Oamaru 9492, New Zealand
Contact details: +64 3 433 1269
Operating hours: Thursday – Monday: 10.00: AM – 4.00 PM (May – September)

  • Member: Free
  • Adult: $12.00
  • Student (tertiary):  $6.00
  • Under 18 years: Free

From the stables to the granary, cookhouse, and slaughterhouse, there are plenty of fascinating things to see and farm activities to participate in when you visit Totara Estate. 

Make sure to include a stop at this historic farm during your trip to Oamaru, as it offers a fun and educational experience to learn about farming and the rich history of the town.

We’re telling you, this is a historic farm, the birthplace of New Zealand’s billion-dollar frozen meat industry, so having a chance to visit here (at least once) is a big deal. You’ll have the opportunity to explore a significant piece of history.

Pro tip:

  • Plan your visit accordingly, as Totara Estate is only open for public access from May to September. Make sure to check the opening dates and plan your trip within this period to experience exploring the place.

10. Soak in the stunning beauty of Bushy Beach

Website: https://www.doc.govt.nz/parks-and-recreation/places-to-go/otago/places/bushy-beach-scenic-reserve/things-to-do/bushy-beach-track/ 
Address: 89 Bushy Beach Road, South Hill, Awamoa 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: +64 3 474 3300
Operating hours: Open 24 hours

Bushy Beach is a must-visit spot in Oamaru, offering breathtaking scenery with its expansive sandy beach and coastal forest backdrop. 

Not only is it a perfect location for capturing stunning photographs, but it’s also a haven for wildlife enthusiasts.

If you’re lucky, you may catch a glimpse of the elusive yellow-eyed penguins in their natural habitat. The best time to increase your chances of spotting these adorable creatures is to visit shortly before sunset.

Pro tips:

  • To ensure the well-being of the yellow-eyed penguins/Hoiho and other marine wildlife, it’s important to avoid accessing the beach between 3:00 pm and 9:00 am. Also, remember to maintain a safe distance of at least 20 meters from the marine animals.
  • Follow the 10-minute zig-zag track that leads to the top of a cliff. From there, you’ll be treated to breathtaking views of a seal colony resting on the rocks below. It’s a great opportunity to observe these fascinating creatures in their natural habitat.

11. Ride vintage trains with Oamaru Steam & Rail

Website: http://www.oamaru-steam.org.nz/ 
Address: Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400, New Zealand
Contact details: [email protected] 
Operating hours: Every Sunday (except Christmas Day): 11:00 AM  4:00 PM

  • Adult $12.00
  • Child $5.00
  • Family $28.00

Make sure you don’t finish your Oamura trip without experiencing an old-fashioned train journey with Oamaru Steam & Rail. Hop aboard their vintage trains and enjoy a scenic ride along the clay cliffs of the Victorian Harbour, as if you’re taking a journey back in time.

The train’s final stop is the Red Sheds, which are historic structures dating back to the 1800s that now house a variety of skilled craftspeople. It’s a delightful opportunity to get into the town’s vibrant creativity.

Savouring the nostalgia of train travel is something you won’t want to miss while in Oamaru.

Pro tips:

  • The train ride with Oamaru Steam & Rail is approximately half an hour, which includes a 15-minute stop at the Red Sheds. If you wish to explore the Red Sheds for a longer time, consider extending your visit by grabbing a coffee or enjoying a meal with stunning views of the Pacific Ocean at Del Mar Restaurant.
  • While the train operates every Sunday, it’s worth timing your trip to coincide with special events such as the Victorian Heritage weekend in mid-November or the Christmas and New Year holiday break. These occasions offer a unique atmosphere and additional activities that can enhance your vintage train experience