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.