12 awesome things to do in Oamaru – A hidden gem in NZ

Explore the best things to do in Oamaru. We’ve included something for everyone in this list.

Oamaru is located on the east coast of the South Island. It is the largest town within the Waitaki District, but it’s still relatively small compared to many towns in New Zealand.

This wonderful spot is home to cute penguins, historic architecture, and fantastic art galleries. Not only that, but Oamaru offers stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and the chance to spot wonderful wildlife including fur seals! You won’t find a shortage of things to do in Oamaru.

There are a surprising number of attractions within the town, which makes it ideal for a family-friendly trip, an unexpected getaway or an interesting stop on your road trip .

The Steampunk Engine displayed in front of Steampunk HQ.
Pay a visit to Steampunk HQ while you’re in Oamaru.

The Best Things to do in Oamaru

Whether you’re looking to see the town’s cute penguin population or you’re looking to visit one of the local breweries, yhid place has something for everyone.

So, let’s take a look at the best things to do in Oamaru.

1. Visit the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony

During your stay, you just have to visit the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony – it’s one of our favourite things to do in Oamaru!

This type of penguin is the smallest of its species and can be spotted just 5-minutes outside of the town centre. Omaru is one of the best spots to see them in New Zealand, and you’ll even have a seat in the grandstand for this experience.

After the penguins have returned home from a day of fishing, you can head to an evening viewing where you’ll get to see these wonderful birds from just 5-10 metres away.

The viewing times change throughout the year and can vary between 5:15 pm-9:00 pm, so check the times for your upcoming visit.

17 Waterfront Road, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

A group of young blue penguins walking along the rocky terrain.
Photo credit: Tourism Waitaki.

2. Head to Steampunk HQ

Visting Steampunk HQ is one of the more unique things to do in Oamaru – it’s a real local icon!

This interactive museum focuses on lighting installations, sci-fi art, movies, and unique sculptures, and it’s a hit with people of all ages.

The exhibits are set within a historic building from the 1880s. However, Steampunk HQ leans towards a more futuristic version of Victorian England, so as you can imagine, it’s quite the experience.

Although the museum has only been around since 2011, it’s easily one of the town’s most popular attractions today.

For the full experience, you’ll want to allow between 45-60 minutes for your visit. You can grab your tickets at the counter or in person.

1 Humber Street, Oamaru 9400

A lady mesmerized at the various lighting displays of Steampunk HQ.
Photo credit: Tourism Waitaki.

3. Wander Around the Oamaru Public Gardens

Omaru is home to one of the oldest public gardens in New Zealand. Established in 1876, these beautiful gardens have been around since the Victorian era so have plenty of history.

It’s one of the best places in town to relax and there is plenty to see here aside from lush greenery and beautiful flowers.

As you enter the gardens, you’ll come across the Craig Fountain which is one of the most beautiful spots in the area. Other popular places to see include the Wonderland Statue, the Oriental Garden, the Summerhouse, and the Japanese Red Bridge.

As you can see there is a lot to explore, so make sure you allow some time to visit Oamaru Public Gardens when you’re next in town.

17 Chelmer Street, Oamaru 9400

Blooming flowers and a red bridge on the background in Oamaru Public Gardens.
Photo credit: Waitaki Development Board.

4. Explore the Victorian Precinct

If you’ve only got a short amount of time in Oamaru, then make sure you wander through the Victorian Precinct.

Not only will you find a number of shops, art galleries, and restaurants here, but you’ll get to appreciate the town’s historic architecture.

This area is actually home to the best-preserved Victorian streets in the country, so it is a popular destination. It’s also where the town’s most iconic attractions are located including Forrestor Gallery, Steampunk HQ, and Whitestone City – all of which are included in this list.

Not only that but there’s a vintage train that runs along the precinct every Sunday, so make sure that’s on your list!

Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

A couple walking along the road of Oamaru Victorian Precinct.
Explore the Victorican Precinct in Oamaru. Photo: Tourism Waitaki.

5. Learn Some History at Whitestone City

No trip to Oamaru is complete without heading to Whitestone City. It’s a must-visit for any culture buffs as it is set in one of the town’s original grain stores (built in 1882).

You’ll get to learn about what life was like back in the Victorian Era, by visiting replica general stores, barbers, and a dispensary.

Whitestone City is also home to the only penny-farthing carousel in New Zealand, and there are plenty of traditional games to keep you occupied too.

As you can see, this place has a lot to offer and you’ll get to learn about Oamaru’s history through interactive tours.

What’s more, you’ll pay what you feel your visit is worth as you leave, ensuring you pay a price that you feel is fair.

12 Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

A couple dressed in the Victorian Era in Whitestone City.

6. Marvel at the Grainstore Gallery

The Grainstore Gallery is one of the quirkiest stores in Oamaru; you’ll find it within the Victorian Precinct.

It’s set within the old grain store and is full of unique antiques, art pieces, sculptures, and paintings. You’ll also find plenty of books and small furniture pieces there.

Once you walk into the Grainstore Gallery you’ll understand why spending some time here is one of the top things to do in Oamaru – it is attention-grabbing and totally unexpected.

Although it may not be to everyone’s taste, it’s the perfect rainy-day activity and is a great spot to grab a souvenir (or just have a good gawk).

9 Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

Relics, paintings, artefacts, postcards, and statues displayed in Grainstone Gallery.

7. Walk to Bushy Beach (and Get to See Yellow-Eyed Penguins & Fur Seals)

Bushy Beach is just a 45-minute walk (or a 5 minute drive, paired with a 15 minute walk) from the town centre of Oamaru and is a must-visit.

This area is incredibly scenic with lush vegetation, turquoise waters, and pristine sands. However, the highlight of visiting Bushy Beach is its cheeky residents.

It’s one of the best spots in New Zealand for spotting the rarest penguin species in the world; the yellow-eyed penguin (or hoiho). There’s even a hide here where you can relax and observe these incredible birds from a distance.

Not only that, but you might get to spot New Zealand fur seals here too!

89 Bushy Beach Road, South Hill, Awamoa 9400

Penguins on the shore walking towards the waves.
Photo credit: Enrique Fernández.

8. Visit the Forrester Gallery

The Forrester Gallery is set in one of Oamaru’s most historical buildings. Dating back to the early 1880s, this building was originally home to the Bank of New South Wales.

However, today it’s used to showcase local artists within the Waitaki Region and is a must-see for art and culture buffs.

There’s a variety of exhibitions held throughout the year and you can easily see what’s on during your visit by looking at the website.

Even better? Entry to the gallery is free although donations are welcome.

9 Thames Street, Oamaru 9400

A native cloak and equipment of ancient settlers that are displayed in the Forrester Gallery.

9. Take a Guided Factory Tour of Whitestone Cheese Co.

If you’re a big foodie then this is one of the best things to do in Oamaru.

There’s no denying that the majority of the population loves cheese as it goes with literally anything. So, if you’re one of these people then make sure you visit the Whitestone Cheese Co.

Not only can you taste some of New Zealand’s most delicious cheeses, but you can also take a guided tour of the factory.

You’ll get a behind-the-scenes look at how these cheeses are made, listen to an informative talk, and of course sample a couple of delights. You can even pair this with wine tasting which we highly recommend.

3 Torridge Street, Oamaru 9400

Different types of cheese made by Whitestone Cheese Co.

10. Head to One of the Local Breweries

During your time in Oamaru, we recommend heading to one of the local breweries. You’ve got two main choices in town – Craftwork Brewery and Scotts Brewing Co.

Both companies offer the chance to taste some local craft beers so it’s up to you which one you visit. If you’ve got time, you might even swing by both.

However, if you’re short on time, the Craftwork Brewery is often a favourite choice as you’ll get to learn all about their traditional brewing techniques in a cosy, old-fashioned setting. The tasting room experience is pretty special here too as your beers will be paired with artisan cheese and bread. Yum!

So, if you’ve got some spare time during your stay then make sure you tick this experience off the list.

Craftwork Brewery: Harbour Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

Scotts Brewing Co.: 1 Wansbeck Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

Bottles of Scotts Beer with different flavours displayed outdoor beside a distant river.

11. Admire the Views from the Oamaru Lookout Point

If you’re looking for some fresh air, then make sure you walk up to Oamaru Lookout Point. It’s just a 30-minute walk from the town centre or you can cycle up there instead.

Once you get to the top you’ll enjoy epic views of the town, Friendly Bay, and the harbour. If it’s a clear day, you’ll even get to see the mountains in the background.

This spot is beautiful during any time of day, but we recommend heading up there for golden hour. This way you can see golden light basking the town before the sun sets.

Take some snacks and a couple of drinks up to this point – trust us you won’t regret it!

1 Tamar Street, South Hill, Oamaru 9400

Sunrise view of Oamaru showing the long coastline, calm waters and the town.
Photo credit: Tourism Waitaki.

12. Take a Trip Out to the Moeraki Boulders

You can’t miss out on a trip to the Moeraki Boulders during your time in Oamaru.

They are one of the most popular attractions on the South Island and they’re just a 30-minute drive to get there from the town centre. Although they’re not in Oamaru, they really are a must-see.

The boulders are spherical in shape and are found along Koekohe Beach. They’re best seen during low tide, but if you can time your visit with sunrise or sunset you’re in for a real treat.

There are about 50 boulders in total, and the best way to reach them is by parking up at the Moeraki Boulders Scenic Reserve car park.

Whilst there, we recommend picking up some fresh fish and chips – they’re among the best in the country.

Moeraki Boulders Road, Hampden 9482

A woman jumps on huge boulders at the beach while his boyfriend awaits her.
Check out the Moeraki Boulders when you’re down south. Photo: Miles Holden.

As you can see there are so many fantastic things to do in Oamaru!

To make sure you aren’t rushing your visit to this beautiful town, we recommend staying for at least one night.

Pro Tip: If you’re heading down south in your campervan, be sure to read about camping in and around Dunedin – Oamaru is on the list, along with so many other top spots.

Have you ever been to Oamaru?

If you have, we’d love to hear about your favourite experiences so drop them in the comments below!

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