When the first European settlers arrived in Oamaru in the 1800s, one of the attractions was the absence of trees, which meant that they could easily begin planting crops in the area without first having to clear the land. Of course, the downside to that situation was the absence of timber with which to build. Elsewhere in New Zealand, most of the early buildings were built of wood, using the excellent native timbers that were found throughout the islands, including rimu and kauri, but here in Oamaru none was to be found. As luck would have it, however, Oamaru turned out to have an abundance of limestone, and before long the stone was being quarried and used to build the incredibly ornate buildings that remain to this day, making Oamaru truly unique for its vintage architecture.
Of course this Oamaru stone, as the local limestone came to be known, is useful not just for architecture, but also for art. Anyone coming to Oamaru will be greeted on the highway by the beautiful sight of an Oamaru stone welcome sign carved out of Oamaru stone, looking like the work of a Greek or Roman builder who has finished part of the facade of a temple and has taken a short break.
Every two years, the town of Oamaru hosts an Oamaru Stonecarving Symposium, attracting artists from all over to spend two weeks in a local park, where they are given an enormous block of stone to carve, which they then sell at a silent auction taking place on the final weekend. This year’s symposium ends on 20 November, so there is still time to see the amazing works that are underway (including an incredible stone rocking chair!). And to entice you further, below you can see a video that was shot by the Tourism Waitaki people, interviewing one of the artists.