Craftwork Brewery, Oamaru

In 1905, Oamaru went dry, leading to the closure of all the town’s breweries, of which there were quite a few at the time. It was 108 years before a brewery would reopen in the town, when in late 2013 Scott’s Brewery relocated from Auckland to the Oamaru Harbour. Happily for us, it did not take 108 more years for Oamaru’s second brewery to open, since native-grown Craftwork Brewery has established itself in the town in the past few months. Founded by Michael O’Brien, known to many as the town’s bookbinder, and his partner Lee-Ann, Craftwork has, in a very short time, found itself in shops and bars around the country. Their beers are Belgian-style craft ales, produced using organic and local ingredients, with clever names like “Flemish Floozie” and “It’s Spelt Grisette” and labels designed by local artists. As a testament to the high quality of their beers, they walked away with a bronze and a silver medal in the first contest they entered, and two “best in class” awards in another! Definitely give one a try when you see it, and you won’t regret it!

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Oamaru “Unique in the World”

National-GeographyIn late May, Pen-y-bryn Lodge hosted Aleksandr Grek and Andrei Kamenev, the Editor-in-Chief and Chief Photographer, respectively, of the Russian editions of National Geographic and National Geographic Traveler, two of the most esteemed magazines in the world. During their short visit to Oamaru, they not only shot some awe-inspiring images of Yellow-Eyed Penguins and Kakapos, but also happened to be in town at the same time as the Oamaru Steampunk Festival. They were interviewed recently, and commented that while they thoroughly enjoyed their New Zealand visit, and plan several features about the country in upcoming editions, Oamaru was one place that they considered to be “unique in the world” and worthy of a special return visit.

Visitors to Oamaru are often surprised by the variety of things available to see and do in the area, and frequently say that “if we had known there was this much, we’d have stayed longer”. Well, thanks to this visit by these journalists, and others, the “secret” of Oamaru seems about to be revealed to the world at last!




Steampunk Festival


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Steampunk Festival Hits Oamaru


The Queen’s Birthday Weekend is the unofficial beginning of winter in New Zealand, but in Oamaru it is also the official Steampunk Festival weekend, when this historic and beautiful town becomes the destination for hundreds of outlandishly dressed people from all over the country and indeed the world, who come to celebrate the world of Steampunk.

If you’re not already familiar with Steampunk, it is a form of science fiction that imagines a how the future would have looked to the Victorian-era imagination, featuring “retro-futuristic” imagery, tools and decorations. Doctor Who has a lot of Steampunk elements, and even shows like The Simpsons have made Steampunk references in select episodes.

jg-20140531-6237The NZ Steampunk Festival has grown into a sizeable event, spanning three days and incorporating dances, readings, markets, and competitions. Perhaps the biggest of these competitions (and the one that formed the nexus of the Steampunk Festival) is the Steampunk Fashion Show, where creative folks show off the costumes they have developed for their Steampunk personna, which can involve some truly fantastical elements.

A new event that took place this year was the first annual Steampunk Teapot Race, which saw dozens of competitors race remote-control teapots through a complicated obstacle course. Of course hilarity inevitably ensued, as these contraptions were not exactly designed for manoeuvrability. And for people who did not already have a complete Steampunk outfit, there was a day-long Steampunk souk held on the opening day of the festival where you could stock up on brass goggles, clockwork jewellery and all the other appurtenances of the Steampunk lifestyle.

The climax of the weekend is the Steampunk Ball, at which the winners of the fashion show are announced. But that’s not really the end of the festival, since there is also a “people’s choice” award to be awarded, and YOU can vote! When the photos have been uploaded, there will be an open voting process. When the link is available, we will share it of course!

Posted in Activities, Art, General, heritage, new zealand, Science Fiction, Scifi, Steampunk, tourism, travel | 2 Comments

Oamaru on Fire Sets Town Alight

For the third year running, the Queen’s Birthday weekend in Oamaru kicked off with a bang with the Oamaru on Fire festival. This nighttime event takes place in the historic centre of Oamaru on Harbour Street, with all sorts of fire-related performers, pyrotechnics, and other festivities, together with live music, food, drink and just plain old good fun.

It seems like each year’s edition of this event is bigger and better than the last. This time, one of the highlights was a 3-D mapped projected video on the façade of the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust building, which turned the normally sedate building into a real show-stopper.

Other highlights included the sight of countless visitors in Steampunk finery meandering among the stalls and attractions (since this weekend also finds Oamaru hosting the annual New Zealand Steampunk Festival), the chance to try some of Oamaru’s tastiest morsels from numerous vendors who set up on the street, and then the firing of a World War Two howitzer to signal the end of the event and the beginning of the celebratory fireworks display.

As luck would have it, for the third year in a row, the weather was simply perfect for this event–in fact, the whole weekend enjoyed fine weather with daytime temperatures comfortably in the low teens, together with crisp clear nights with stunning displays of stars. Plan to be here next year when Oamaru on Fire promises to be even bigger and better still!

For a look at some photos from the event, take a look here:

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Harbour Street Jazz Festival Returns!

Jazz ProgrammeThe Oamaru Harbour Street Jazz Festival will be taking place this coming weekend, 21-23 March, at several venues across Oamaru’s Historic Precinct. This is a great opportunity to hear some fantastic music in some of New Zealand’s most beautiful buildings during the Otago Anniversary Weekend. Tickets are still available, so why not make a weekend of it and come on over?

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Visiting Clarks Mill near Oamaru

For the past several years we have been hearing about how we had to make time to visit Clarks Mill (for some reason, that is the correct spelling, without an apostrophe in “Clarks”), the only surviving water-powered flour mill in New Zealand. Despite all the people telling us to make the short trip from Oamaru to Maheno to visit the mill, we either did not have the time, or, if we’re honest, the inclination, to make the journey until today.

During February, Clarks Mill is open every day, but on Thursdays and Sundays they operate the works, which seemed to be a great incentive to make the visit today. After a short introduction to the history of the mill (built in 1865 as part of the nearby Totara Estate, with machinery imported from all corners of the world, electrified in the 1930s etc) we were escorted into the main works of the mill to prepare for the switch to be thrown and the machinery to kick into action.

You really have to see the works in action to believe them. They are a marvel of both ingenuity and Victorian technology, and are incredibly impressive. The mill is three storeys tall, and it takes a small crew of volunteers to run the mill safely, with them calling to one another to make sure the coast is clear before the power is turned on and the nearly 150-year old equipment rattles to life. As is expected from such historic machinery, it does not exactly operate silently. The noise is not oppressive, however, but it does prevent the easy understanding of anything that the volunteers try to tell you about the equipment, its function or its history. Fortunately there are written descriptions throughout that explain everything, along with a very informative photo gallery adjacent to the top floor.

If you are in the Oamaru area, it’s well worth the 10-minute drive to visit Clarks Mill (and be sure to visit Totara Estate, too, while you’re at it). It’s open daily in February, and on Sundays from November to April, or by appointment.

Here are a few videos to give you a taste of what lies in store in this treasure of NZ history:

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Oamaru–Give it More than One Night!

One of the things that people in Oamaru hear more than anything else from visitors is something along the lines of “Wow! If only we had known about all the things to do here, we’d have planned to stay longer.” In the past few weeks, I have heard this an awful lot, and it’s one of those things that all you can do when you hear it is shrug and say “well, be sure to tell your friends, so they’ll benefit from your experience.”

But we can do better, and that’s what this little blog aims to do–to share with you the experience of so many people who stumble across Oamaru and wish they could have stayed longer. Here’s what one set of guests to Oamaru’s historic Pen-y-bryn Lodge had to say about their visit on Tripadvisor:

If we had to do it again, rather than spending a night in Auckland, we would stay here two nights and have dinner at the lodge at least one of those nights. It would deb say to spend a half-day poking around Victorian Oamaru and another half-day traveling and walking around the cliffs on the coast.

There really is a tremendous amount to do here, as this non-exclusive list shows:

  • Visit the penguin colonies
  • Meander through the Historic Precinct
  • Check out the exhibits at the Forrester Gallery and North Otago Museum
  • Peruse the art galleries of Harbour and Tyne Streets
  • Go for a cheese tasting at Whitestone Cheese Factory
  • Stroll through the Oamaru Public Gardens
  • Go back in time at Totara Estate and Clarks Mill
  • See how the future might have been at Steampunk HQ
  • Sample the wines of the Waitaki Valley
  • Follow any of a number of hiking trails
  • Bike all or a part of the Alps 2 Ocean bike trail
  • Wander along the Vanished World Trail of ancient geological formations
  • Photograph all the beautiful scenery of the area
  • Have a massage or reflexology treatment (or both)
  • Watch replica classic cars be built at Tempero’s
  • Eat some of NZ’s tastiest food at some of the country’s destination restaurants
  • Fish some of the country’s most pristine and beautiful rivers
  • Visit the Janet Frame house
  • Do nothing at all and just soak in the atmosphere of one of NZ’s most charming towns

We are not the only ones who believe in Oamaru as a multi-day destination. Guests of Pen-y-bryn were recently sent to Oamaru for a three-night stay by their travel agents. When sent their itinerary, the guests asked “why Oamaru, and why for so long” and the agent just said “trust us”. They spent their time extremely well, going on a short fishing expedition one afternoon, followed by a session with one of the South Island’s most sought-after reflexologists; walking along Bushy Beach; having a delicious chef’s choice lunch at Riverstone Kitchen; shopping for art at the galleries; and hanging around Pen-y-bryn Lodge, where they enjoyed three table d’hôte dinners in a row.

So, when you plan your visit to New Zealand’s South Island, be sure to leave enough time to give Oamaru its due–you’ll be very glad you did!

Posted in Activities, Architecture, Art, drink, food, General, gourmet, heritage, history, new zealand, shopping, Steampunk, tourism, travel | Tagged , , , | Leave a comment