The Night Sky in North Otago


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The Milky Way over Moeraki

So many visitors to Oamaru and the surrounding area comment on how clear the night sky is here, and how there are so many more stars here than back home. I’m not sure that there really are any more stars in New Zealand than anywhere else, but the fact that we have a lot less light pollution than other places certainly makes it seem like there are. In 2012, the nearby town of Lake Tekapo became a UNESCO-registered “Dark Sky Preserve” in recognition of all that they do to protect the night sky from being affected by streetlights and other man-made phenomena, and in 2017 Oamaru also announced that it will be replacing its existing streetlights with LEDs that will also further reduce any light pollution that degrades stargazing in the area.



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The Magellanic Clouds and Milky Way

Wherever you go in North Otago, if the sky is clear at night and the moon is cooperating (best viewing is when the moon is new or as close to new as possible) you are virtually assured a great chance to see the stars in all their glory. Among the things you can see in the Southern Hemisphere that you cannot see in the North are of course the Southern Cross; the Magellanic Clouds, two galaxies beyond our own that appear as small ‘clouds’ of stars; Canopus, the second-brightest star in the night sky (though visible in some parts of the Northern Hemisphere, it is more readily visible in the Southern); and the constellation Centaurus, ‘home’ of the closest star to Earth other than the Sun, Alpha Centauri.



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The Milky Way

If you are interested in capturing images of the night sky, there are numerous good spots to do so in our area, including Moeraki, the beaches, and the Elephant Rocks, all of which offer dark skies and foreground interest to aid in creating a pleasing composition. Pen-y-bryn Lodge is even offering a special package for people interested in exploring the southern night sky, with a two-night stay in Oamaru, complete with a view of the skies through their telescope and a primer in astrophotography, and a night at SkyScape in Twizel in the high country where there is virtually no light pollution at all and the sky is wide open above you. For more information visit their website by clicking here.



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Another New Oamaru Attraction Opens

jg-20170531-Canon EOS 5D Mark IV-9616.JPGIt seems that the list of things to do in Oamaru is getting longer and longer by the minute! Today, just in time for the annual Oamaru Fire & Steam Festival that starts on Friday, 2 June, and the NZ Steampunk Festival that takes place all weekend, a new attraction has opened in a small space on Tyne Street in the Historic Precinct. Called Dr. Kano’s Fantastic Flight, it is the brainchild of Don Patterson, a renowned Oamaru-based artist who is also responsible for the restoration of the Oamaru Railway Station and its Prehistoric World exhibits. But whereas the Prehistoric World takes a look into the distant past, it could be argued that Dr. Kano’s Fantastic Flight is a glimpse instead into the future. It would be a shame to reveal too much of what to expect from a visit here, so suffice it to say that the experience lasts around 15 minutes and is unlike anything else that I have seen in Oamaru or beyond, and it’s a relatively inexpensive $15 per adult.

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Fire and canapés awaiting our guests.

from Instagram: #gigatownoam
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Whitestone City Opens in Oamaru

jg-20170517-Canon EOS 5D Mark IV-9512After many many months of work, Oamaru’s newest visitor attraction, Whitestone City, has officially opened! Created jointly by Tourism Waitaki and the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust, with funding supported by the New Zealand Ministry for Business, Innovation and Enterprise (MBIE), Whitestone City offers visitors a chance to experience something of what life was like for newly landed migrants arriving in Oamaru in the late 19th Century.

Guests enter the attraction from the seaside entrance of a restored warehouse amid the sounds of the surf, recreating what it would have sounded like had you been arriving off of a ship just in from Europe. You cross through a ‘street’ lined with period shops, including a recreation of an 1880s chemist’s shop, barber, and newspaper office, together with an architect’s office (ostensibly that of Forrester & Lemon, responsible for building much of Oamaru), complete with a model of the Criterion Hotel that has been projection-mapped with a video loop that recreates the drawing, building, and a day in the life of one of Oamaru’s most iconic buildings (this alone is worth the price of admission, in my opinion).

jg-20170521-Canon EOS 5D Mark IV-9547Further along, the street opens up into a large play area, in the centre of which is a carousel with four penny-farthing bicycles that you can ride (included in price of admission), together with a wide assortment of Victorian-era games, croquet, and other entertainments.

jg-20170521-Canon EOS 5D Mark IV-9556Next is a small theaterette with a video demonstrating the process of a lady getting dressed in the complicated clothing of the period, along with sample outfits from throughout the Victorian era. The walls in this area are also decorated with copies of portraits of early residents of Oamaru, all donated by the Oamaru Settler’s Hall.

Further on there is a reconstructed saloon of the period, complete with a sign warning patrons to be on the lookout for loose women, with videos playing about the history of Oamaru and its place in the New Zealand of the day, and finally, a period lounge with table set up with Victorian porcelain and other period furnishings.

jg-20170517-Canon EOS 5D Mark IV-9511Whitestone City is open daily from 9:30am until at least one hour before the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony evening viewing commences.

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New Book on Oamaru and the Waitaki Released

IMG_0029Oamaru and the Waitaki District are easily among the most beautiful parts of New Zealand (in our humble opinion), yet there has not been a corresponding volume of books on the area available for visitors or locals to purchase. Fortunately for them, the owners of Pen-y-bryn Lodge have taken it upon themselves to address the situation, and have released a 100-page volume to fill this gap.

The book, which they have titled simply Oamaru and the Waitaki: Home to Historic Pen-y-bryn Lodge, is full of stunning photography that they mostly shot themselves, together with a short history of the district and descriptions of the area’s distinctive features. At the rear of the book they provide a brief history of Pen-y-bryn itself, together with a photographic tour of several of the estate’s rooms, all culminating with a few recipes that their guests have asked them to share.

Copies of the book are available for sale for $40 at Pen-y-bryn as well as at several businesses in Oamaru (including Oamaru Paper Plus, Steam Café, Presence on Harbour, Art on Tyne and the Oamaru i-Site), and an electronic version is available for purchase through the Apple iBooks store as well.

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The Town Bike Opens for Business

jg-20170326-iPhone 6-2344.JPGOamaru has in recent years become a centre for cyclists, many of whom have arrived in town after completing the Alps 2 Ocean cycle trail. Oamaru is a hilly town, and biking here poses a certain challenge, but that challenge is now reduced a bit thanks to a new business that has opened in Thames Street.

The Town Bike offers e-bikes for hire, and if you’re not familiar with e-bikes they look  much like regular bicycles, with the addition of an electric system that can assist you when pedalling up hill or going long distances. With a range of around 120km, depending on how much you depend on the electric assist and how many hills you ascend, you can easily use one of these bikes to make your way from Oamaru to points as far away as Elephant Rocks and the Moeraki Boulders.

In a clever move, the shop, which is adjacent to Martyn’s Cycle Shop, even offers a deal if you decide to purchase one of these bicycles for yourself–bring your receipt to Martyn’s and they’ll deduct the value of your bike hire from the cost of a new bicycle to take home!

The Town Bike’s eight bicycles are named for historic “ladies of the evening” who plied their trade in Oamaru, back when the town had more brothels than anywhere in the Southern Hemisphere, a clever nod to Oamaru’s boisterous past.

Bike hire rates are available for rides up to two hours, up to four hours, or up to eight hours, and they offer several suggested spots to visit no matter how long you plan to use them:

Up to Two Hours: Whitestone Cheese; Steampunk HQ; Blue Penguin Colony; Oamaru Lookout Point; Bushy Beach.

Up to Four Hours: Oamaru Lookout Point; Bushy Beach; Kakanui Beach; Moeraki Boulders.

Up to Eight Hours: Elephant Rocks; Alps 2 Ocean Duntroon; Maori Rock Drawings; Kurow Estate Winery.

The Town Bike is open daily from 10am to 6pm at 47 Thames Street.

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So Much is New in Oamaru!

It has been ages since my last post–for which I can only offer humble apologies!–but there has been a lot going on in what has been, for us at least, the busiest tourist season in years. So, what’s new? Let’s see…

  1. The fifth annual Harbour Street Jazz and Blues Festival took place last weekend and was a smash by all accounts. There were dozens of performances all over the historic part of town, culminating in a roaring cabaret night at the Loan & Merc on Sunday evening. Looks like next year’s sixth annual event will be bigger still…jg-20170319-Canon EOS 5D Mark II-4571
  2. A new shop has opened in Thames Street offering e-bikes (bicycles with an electric motor) for hire, giving people an excellent means of exploring the beautiful area of Oamaru at a slower pace, and without straining too much to get up our numerous hills. (Interesting name, too…)17504291_495893237465452_148800448602357939_o
  3. The main street of the Oamaru Victorian Precinct, Harbour Street, is now pedestrian-only on weekends as part of a temporary experiment to see how such a closure to vehicles affects visitors, businesses on the street, and the general mood of Harbour Street. Council will look into the impact of the closure after the trial period and make a determination whether to continue it. Locals took the opportunity of the first day of the closure to have a mid-street picnic.16835927_1146118795511219_6214913412210122325_o
  4. A new bicycle park has opened in the Harbour area, in a previously unusable tract of land between the Loan and Mercantile building and the sea. Here kids can learn the skills of riding a bicycle in an environment that replicates actual roads, with traffic signs, roundabouts, and other road features. 17362476_1277862508948595_908295098570271697_n
  5. The Station Restaurant has changed hands, and is now known as Station Wok, serving up surprisingly authentic Chinese dishes. This is the first restaurant in Oamaru to offer cuisine reminiscent of what you can find in China, and was an immediate sensation to the town’s many Chinese visitors, and also to the discerning locals who were looking for something different. And, happily for us, they are open every day of the week!
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