Explore Waitaki App Released!

IMG_7541Oamaru is located in the Waitaki District, an enormous region that stretches from the southern boundary of Canterbury (home to Christchurch and Kaikoura) to the northern boundary of Dunedin, and from the Pacific Coast deep into the Southern Alps. With such a large territory, the district of course has a wealth of attractions, but it can be difficult for visitors to make sense of what is located where, and how to get to them.

The Waitaki Tourism Association, a membership group comprising tourism businesses throughout this large region, has just released the first of its smartphone apps to help visitors get the most out of our district, free to download for Android devices from the Google Play store.

The app, which can be downloaded from this link for free, provides information not just about the numerous attractions, but also gives you driving directions and will tell you what services are near your location from wherever you are located. Looking for a bite to eat near Elephant Rocks? The app has you covered! Need a place to stay near Palmerston? No problem!

The app will be continuously updated with new information, and as new businesses open in the area, they will be added, too. And if you are visiting the area and find a sight or a point of interest that they’ve somehow overlooked, you can submit the location and a description and they’ll add it to the app.

An iPhone version is awaiting release through the iTunes Store, and will be available from this link very soon.

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Pen-y-bryn Lodge’s 2014 Gingerbread House Revealed

 

Belfort of Bruges in Gingerbread

Every year since 1997, James Boussy and James Glucksman of Oamaru’s luxury Pen-y-bryn Lodge have created a gingerbread house as part of their Christmas decorations. From a simple house-shaped version in that first year, the pair quickly progressed to more elaborate creations, each one based on a building that they visited during the previous year. The first of these was Moscow’s Cathedral of Christ the Saviour, followed by such monuments as Paris’ Notre Dame Cathedral, Beijing’s Lama Temple, and Christchurch’s Christ Church Cathedral.

This year, the Jameses’ travels took them to a number of places with beautiful “gingerbread-worthy” buildings, but when they got to Bruges in Belgium’s West Flanders region, and caught sight for the first time of the town’s Belfort, they knew they had found this year’s gingerbread house.

The Belfort of Bruges (also known as the Bruges Belfry) is 83 metres tall, 44 metres wide and 84 metres deep, and was first built in 1240, though the tower was rebuilt in 1280 after a fire. The gingerbread version was constructed out of 4.5 kg of flour, 1.5 kg of molasses and 1.2 kg of butter. As is traditional, the gingerbread house is completely edible, though the Jameses do not actually eat their creations at the end of the holiday season. Instead, it goes on display at a local Oamaru gourmet shop for a few weeks before being discarded.

You can view more photos of the gingerbread Belfort, and the Jameses’ earlier gingerbread creations, at their online gallery by clicking here.

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A Hip New Eatery Opens in Oamaru

For a small town with a population of just 13,000 or so people, Oamaru has a large number of cafés, each offering a range of tasty treats to satisfy the appetites of their customers, and each serving the excellent coffee that has become a hallmark of cafés across New Zealand. Each café has its unique charms, whether it’s the delicious baked goods and house-roasted coffee at Steam, or the opportunity to peruse the merchandise while quaffing a flat white at Housekeepers Design.  Oamaru is truly fortunate to have so many excellent places to choose from.

In recent days another café has opened in Oamaru, one that is a bit different and that aspires to be more than just another café. Tees Street Café is owned by Dan and Abby, a young couple with a real passion not just for fine coffee but also for fine food. They have hired chef Ashley Baty, who also works in the kitchen at Oamaru’s luxury Pen-y-bryn Lodge, to help them develop and produce a menu that is quite different from what you might expect to find in a small town in New Zealand. Indeed, the dishes are what you might encounter in a cosmopolitan city, including such treats as Turkish Eggs; Shanghai-style Steamed Pork Dumplings; Baked Halloumi Cheese with Asparagus and Shiitake Mushrooms; Thai-style Fried Squid with Nahm Jim Sauce; or freshly assembled sandwiches on home-baked sourdough. The menu will change regularly, and will reflect the season and what is locally available.

Of course Tees Street also offers impeccable coffee, made with due attention by Dan himself, who has had a career managing cafés in Auckland. And for non-coffee drinkers, they can also whip up artisanal soft drinks using New Zealand-made syrups, ice cream sodas, and milk shakes. There’s even Oamaru’s own Craftwork beers available for those looking for a little more than the kick of caffeine.

In the short time that Tees Street has been open, Dan, Abby and Ashley have already earned a loyal following, with customers eager to sample the full range of their extensive and innovative menu.

Tees Street is housed in an historic building just opposite St Luke’s church on the corner of Tees Street and Itchen Street in Oamaru’s historic centre, right behind Cucina 1871. They’re opened seven days a week from early in the morning until late in the afternoon.

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Oamaru as Seen by NZ Experts

I was recently looking at my Facebook page and saw a post from Ahipara Luxury Travel‘s Russian site about “An Incredible Journey into the Past” with an image of the famous Oamaru District Council building as the main image. Intrigued, I clicked on it and was thrilled to read a great summary of what it’s like for someone to “rediscover” our town and surrounding district after a long absence. If you are a Russian speaker, you can read it yourself by clicking here, but if not, I am happy to post my translation:

Oamaru has always been something of a transit stop, a short waystation on the way somewhere, south or north, but almost never the final destination. It was always fun to take a break on the way to have lunch at “Riverstone Kitchen”, although it was often too crowded there.

This time my Oamaru journey into the past begins before leaving Queenstown. In a conversation with the therapist, I casually mentioned where I was going for the weekend. It turned out that he grew up there, and remembers this place very fondly. His father was mayor of Oamaru for many years.

Another striking coincidence was that at the same time that my husband and I were going to the south, my cousin (who lived in Oamaru) sent me via Facebook message with a link to the election poster of 1969, which shows our grandfather Norman, who ran for mayor of Oamaru at the time. This personal historical connection of the port city of North Otago became a surprise to me, in a word, just like the historical significance of Oamaru.

We drive into town on a wintery sunny Sunday afternoon. The fortunate location of the fast-growing township of Oamaru adjacent to limestone quarries led to its stunning architecture at the end of the 19th century. In the 1870s it was a fast-growing metropolis, which was expected to become one of the largest cities in New Zealand. But it turned out differently: in the next ten years, the city was almost entirely ruined.

After a hearty lunch at “Riverstone” , we set off to explore the city. Oamaru seemed to be especially designed for steampunk . In the first week of winter, which begins in New Zealand in June, the annual festival is held here, dedicated to this genre. Its main organizer is a gallery of Steampunk HQ , which actually turned into the capital of New Zealand Oamaru Steampunk.

The central part of town is composed of Victorian buildings. In local stores you have better chances than anywhere else to find something very strange and unique: from old-fashioned bicycles to to brooches with a cameo in the form of a skeleton, whimsical works of art or a set of furniture for the living room. And bookstores will delight even the most sophisticated bibliophile.

Especially amazing is the antiquarian bookshop “Slightly Foxed”. The lovely New Zealand salesclerk, dressed in a traditional outfit, will write up your purchase with a fountain pen in a large old-fashioned ledger, ring up your bill on an old-fashioned cash register, and then wrap your books in brown paper, tie them up with a piece of twine, and stamp the package with the store’s logo and, finally, hand over the valuable purchase to you. It seems as if this lovely vintage shop appeared to us miraculously from a time when books were considered of great value and issued exclusively in paper form.

One rarely encounters this type of sale in our world of impersonal internet-shopping and sterile payment methods. I looked a bit awkward, handing over a plastic bankcard instead of cash for payment. It’s completely possible that, not long before serving me, the colourful saleswoman used a laptop, but this is the most amazing thing about Oamaru—a combination of old and new, or if you like, a neo-Victorian lifestyle.

Then I looked at the bottom of the post and saw that there was another post from the same day, this one called “The Nature of North Otago”. You can read that one in the original Russian by clicking here, or you can read my translation below:

About a million years before Queen Victoria, North Otago was in the possession of the smallest penguins in the world - Koror or blue penguins . Even the adults are tiny: weighing about 1 kilogram and growing to no more than 30 centimeters. The protection of the blue penguins in Oamaru is an integral part of ecotourism. At sunset, we find ourselves sitting alone in two areas blown by cold winds from all sites across from the rocky shore with specially equipped ramps for penguins. They help the lttle guys to get to their nests.

If you believe Jean-Michel, New Zealand fur seals are not hunted by blue penguins. Apparently, the couple of seals lying side by side also heard it as they continued to ignore the approach of a bevy of blue birds busily heading to the rocky shore.

Flocks of juvenile Korora chattering amongst themselves, entertained us all along the road to a rocky cliff. The local observation deck is illuminated by orange sodium vapor lamps, which do not blind penguins, unlike the forbidden flashes of cameras. While still strong enough to withstand the cold, we see hundreds of tiny penguins frolicking on the ocean surface, in such wonderful and familiar to them (but obviously not for people) weather. As the guide warned us, when leaving this wonderful place it is necessary to look under the car – to make sure there are no small aquatic birds hiding down there.

Ahipara Luxury Travel caters to travellers from all over the world–not just Russia–so if you are thinking about coming to New Zealand and seeing this beautiful country’s many unique features like Oamaru and North Otago, be sure to give them a ring!

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Oamaru is NZ’s Coolest!

We have long thought that Oamaru was just on the cusp of being discovered, and it seems that we were right–just a few years after moving here and setting up our lodge, we now find that not only has Air New Zealand posted the above video highlighting a (very small) selection of things to do during a holiday in the Oamaru area, but no less an authority than Lonely Planet have declared that Oamaru is “quite simply New Zealand’s coolest town” in their newly published New Zealand guide. In addition to that, they have included Oamaru as one of the “must sees” at the front of the book, and listed the Victorian Heritage Celebrations (held during the third week of November every year) as something to plan your trip to NZ around.

Lonely Planet and the video above mention Steampunk HQ as being especially worth visiting. What they don’t mention is that they have a newly opened “Infinity Portal”, which I had the pleasure of visiting yesterday, that is unlike anything I’ve experienced before. I don’t want to say anything more about it, though, since it’s the kind of thing best left to be a surprise for when you visit yourself! But suffice it to say, that it makes the $10 admission fee ($2 for kids) well worth it!

Oamaru has definitely started to make the “big time”. Our friends up the road in Queenstown had better start worrying!

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Oamaru’s Pen-y-bryn Lodge Gives Best Bang for the Buck

In the latest instalment of Wendy Perrin’s Insider’s Travel Guide, Jean-Michel Jefferson, owner and founder of Ahipara Luxury Travel, shares his insights into “Active New Zealand“, including recommendations of must-see sights, must-do activities, and even a few things to avoid. When it comes to his “best bang for your buck” hotel, he gives Oamaru’s Pen-y-bryn Lodge the nod, citing the lodge’s elegant architecture and gourmet cuisine, along with its proximity to a colony of the extremely rare yellow-eyed penguins.

Oamaru also gets a mention in another post on the same site, this time in Donna Thomas’ “Affordable New Zealand” itinerary, recommending a visit to the iconic Fleur’s Place just south of town.

Wendy Perrin is also apparently preparing a full-fledged guide to the Oamaru area, which should really help more and more travellers discover this hot destination in New Zealand.

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Welcome to Oamaru

jg-20140907-8625Spring has sprung in Oamaru, bringing with the sound of birds and the sight of spring-blooming bulbs. With the arrival of spring, Oamaru also begins to welcome back the usual throngs of warm-weather visitors, starting this weekend with the resumption of special passenger trains into our beautiful historic railway station. Today’s train brought close to 400 travellers up from Dunedin for the day, here to enjoy a beautiful early spring Sunday, visit the buzzing Oamaru Farmers’ Market, peruse the shops in the Victorian Precinct and just soak in the atmosphere of this historic town. 

 

jg-20140907-8640-2There is so much for visitors to see and do in Oamaru that no less a personage than Allan Dick, the former publisher of NZ Today magazine who recently made Oamaru his home, put together this little welcome kit that was handed out to all today’s visitors. We think it’s a valuable document for anyone coming to town, so we’re sharing it here. 

Today’s visitors would have had a hard time trying to fit in a quarter of the things listed here during their visit today, so when you come, be sure to leave yourself sufficient time to enjoy all that Oamaru has to offer!

 

Oamaru WelcomeOamaru Welcome 2Oamaru Welcome 3Oamaru Welcome 4

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