The Steampunk HQ museum in Oamaru
New Zealand New Zealand Stories

The ladies and a surprise road trip to the capital of steampunk – Oamaru

October 19, 2018

Our Christchurch city escape with the reminders of our past comforts was a short one and the next day we were once again back on the road. This time we were headed towards Twizel where we were to meet our fellow craft beer lover Eva from back home and her friend Indre. They’ve been enjoying their holidays traveling a bit through Australia and New Zealand and we just jumped to the opportunity to see some familiar faces and speak our mother-tongue.

Unfortunately, as we got to Twizel (or the whole region to be exact), the weather proved to be not the most welcoming. The region is known for the gorgeous Aoraki National park, its dark night skies perfect for astro-lovers, Mt. Cook and stunning crystal blue lakes surrounded by mountain peaks. However, sadly for all of us, due to the pouring rains all week long, none of it could have been seen or enjoyed. And that’s the reason why all four of us decided to try and make the best of the situation – escape the rain for a day choosing a closest random destination with a promising forecast. That is how we ended up on a road trip to Oamaru.

Elephant Rocks in North Otago, New Zealand

On the way to Oamaru, we shortly stopped at Elephant Rocks, where one of the Narnia movie scenes were shot.


Welcome to Oamaru – New Zealand’s capital of steampunk

As we set our destination to Oamaru, we had no clue what to expect. Quite frankly, we had low expectations – just to get a break from all that rain. And when we finally reached Oamaru, we were pleasantly surprised not only by the lack of rain but also by discovering the town is actually a secret self-pronounced steampunk capital of the world. I mean, how cool is that?Victorian era hotel building in Oamaru, New Zealand

Oamaru is a little lovely town on the East Coast and is the biggest town in North Otago. When visiting nowadays, it is hard to believe that just a decade ago this was an ordinary and economically depressed town. Previously it was still known for its’ blue penguins’ colony and the largest collection of well-preserved Victorian-era buildings, however, Oamaru completely rebranded and revived itself when a local – Ian Clark a.k.a. Agent Darling started the steampunk movement in 2010. Not only this gave a platform for local artists to express themselves but placed Oamaru on the world’s map as a place for largest steampunk gatherings as well as a place to admire and explore beautiful steampunk themed art installations.  It actually even got into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest steampunk gathering in the world held in 2016. If interested, the festival is usually held at the end of May – beginning of June.Gallery at the Harbor street in Oamaru

Inside a local gallery boutique in Oamaru

Inside a local gallery boutique in Oamaru

Oamaru's tiny free library

I guess no wonder why as soon as we got there we had already started planning return for a longer exploration. Just as you stroll through the town towards the seaside, you’ll find yourself getting lost inside the wonderland of steampunk. From beautiful Victorian stone architecture to outlandish metal creatures all around, from cafes with flames coming out of their rooftops to the Steampunk HQ museum based at the historic Victorian precinct – all invite you to immerse yourself and stay just a little bit longer. And how we wished to stay longer but sadly, we had already accommodation booked in Twizel and this was just a postapocalyptic tale to disappear by the end of a day (at least until the next visit).

Anyway, it took us over few hours of driving to reach Oamaru and by the time we got there, we all were pretty hungry and decided to go on a search for beach access in hopes of having ourselves a picnic. Even though the weather wasn’t perfect, we weren’t the only ones with the same idea. After munching on the bread with hummus (which later on became our constant saver from the hunger – thanks Eva and Indre) we’ve decided to take a stroll through the town and enjoy the steampunk atmosphere. Unfortunately, as we got to the town rather late in the afternoon, all the little boutiques, cafes and museums were already closing and we still had a long drive back ahead of us.  So just before leaving, we found ourselves at the loveliest Harbour Street Collective café (lucky for us it was still open), looking for some coffee and cakes. We had spotted it earlier walking around the town and just couldn’t resist ourselves. And oh what a glorious decision that was – damn, I mean those cakes were absolutely mouth-watering delicious (even just thinking of them makes me wish I could get back for another piece). Anyway, those cakes were another reason we had to come back to Oamaru (which we did a few weeks later). I know I should resist having cakes but these just make me sinful. If you ever in Oamaru looking for a sweet treat, that’s the place I recommend.

The interior of the lovely Harbor street collective cafe

Inside the Harbour street collective cafe (by the way, they also hold some occasional concerts and events, so check it out).

Sadly, this time we had to leave Oamaru without having visited the Steampunk HQ museum but it was all the more reason to come back in a few weeks.

Algirdas challenging a metal steampunk sculpture to a duel

Algirdas challenging the metal giant

Lovely Oamaru's architectureSteampunk HQ sign on the wall in Oamaru, new Zealand


Dinner back in Twizel

After returning to Twizel, we joined the ladies for a dinner at their Airb’n’b cabin. The evening was so relaxing as we enjoyed delicious home-made burgers, beers and proper conversations. It is such a good feeling getting out of the small-talking zone, which you are usually stuck in when meeting fellow travelers just for a day. Anyways, the evening got late and since we had one too many beers, we actually never came back to our campsite spending the night parked in their backyard. Oh well, life is unexpected that way (or beer is) but the morning came and we said our goodbyes turning separate ways for more adventures to come.

By the way, if you have never tried Airb’n’b and would like to try it out, you can use our link and get €30 towards your first booking. It really is great, and we often find you can book a private room through Airbnb for the price of a dorm bed in a hostel at the same city, at least when booking for a party of 2 or more people. Should you decide to use it, we would also get a €15 credit from the site, at no extra cost for you.

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Oamaru - the world capital of steampunk

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Ruta & Algirdas

We're Ruta & Algirdas - storytellers, world travelers, photography, and filmmaking enthusiasts. Our best days are spent admiring planet Earth - exploring, tasting, breathing in all it has to offer. Let's spend a year living vanlife in New Zeland, a winter enjoying Saigon's culinary hem gems, or a weekend exploring contrasts between urban jungles and mountain peaks!

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