|Oamaru is a lovely Victorian town that has been preserved by accident. The first inhabitants settled here in 1853. The town served as a port and service hub for the surrounding farmers. It was from Oamaru that the first overseas shipment of lamb was made. The town boomed and soon huge, fancy buildings were being constructed.
But in the depression years of the early 1900's the boom ended. The prices for commodities collapsed. The town was deeply in debt for its building spree. When the economy started to pick up again it was too late for Oamaru. Newer and bigger ships needed deeper harbours and went to other cities. It was a bad time for the town but in the long run it was a good thing. If the boom had continued, most of the old buildings would have been torn down to make way for more modern structures. Today Oamaru looks like a town from Victorian England with a few buildings with huge pillars from ancient Greece mixed in. The town had stood still in time while others prospered. The downturn in the economy had saved the wonderful old buildings and now the town is very proud of them. Today we walked around Oamaru to view and photograph the town.
The first building we came to was St. Luke’s Anglican church which is located on the intersection of Thames and Itchen, the two main streets of the town. The church was built in stages. Work first began in 1866 but was not completed until 1922.
Across the street from St. Luke’s is the AMP building which stands for the Australian Mutual Protection Society (an insurance company). The building was originally built in 1871 for the Hood and Shennan Drappery but was remodelled for the AMP society in 1886. Today the upstairs belongs to the North Otago Club and downstairs is Annie’s Victorian Tea Room which looks like a tearoom from Victorian England including the costumes of the people inside. Some people walk around the town in Victorian costumes or ride penny-farthing bicycles.
On the opposite corner from St. Lukes is the building that once belonged to the Bank of New Zealand. It is now the visitor’s centre.
The fourth corner of the intersection is a lovely garden.
Walking down Thames street, one may wonder about the width of the street. It is more than double the width of the main street in most old towns. It was made this wide so that teams of ox carts where able to make a U-turn. Today there is a row of trees planted down the middle.
A short walk from the intersection and you will come to the magnificent post office building. It was built in 1883. The 28 metre clock tower was added in 1903. Today the post office has moved elsewhere and the building is now the home of the district council. Just to the left of the post office is the original post office built in 1864. It is now a pub called the Last Post. It is Oamaru’s oldest surviving building.
Across the street from the Post Office are two more banks. You can tell how prosperous the town was by the number of huge bank buildings. The Bank of New South Wales was built in 1883 and is now an art gallery. The Bank of Otago was right next door and was built in 1871. The Bank of Otago was merged with the National Bank in 1875 and remains the National Bank today.
Further down Thames street on the left is the wonderful old opera house, opened in 1907. The big circle in the upper centre was a space for a clock that was never installed.
At the next intersection is the Boar War Memorial. There is a separate memorial for subsequent wars.
Going back to Itchen street and then turning toward the water you will find the Criterion Hotel. It was built in 1877. It closed in 1906 during the prohibition era and reopened in 1998. On the ground floor are many interesting shops selling antique clothing and books, etc.
Not far from the Criterion is the train station where an old steam train still runs once a week, on Sundays, to take tourists for a ride.
Beyond the Criterion and the train station was the industrial part of town. In this area the building are not as fancy but are still wonderful old buildings. There were wool warehouses, livery stables, bicycle repair shops, etc. The bicycle shop is still producing penny-farthing bicycles. Most of the buildings are now tourist-related stores but are not the ordinary stores that you find in other towns. One shop was selling books and other articles about Antarctica, which is not that far from New Zealand.
The livery stable no longer rents spaces for horses for the night but they still sell saddles and other horse-related material. The sign outside says “Oamaru Livery Stable and Forge, Cabs and Royal Mail coaches.”
I really like Oamaru. I enjoy these kind of places. I very much like Tombstone in Arizona which is an original western town. The buildings there are the same ones that were there in the 1800s. No cars are allowed in the town centre. Only horses, stage coaches, are carts. There are some really great medieval towns in Europe that are still like they were in their original condition.
I have probably described less than half of the old buildings in Oamaru. I could easily spend a week here exploring all of them and going for a ride on the steam train but I allowed myself only one day. There is so much to see and do and time marches on. Oamaru is a great place and a tour of New Zealand would not be complete without a visit here.