While you’re here, you won’t want to miss –
Don’t be deceived by Waitaki’s size – there are plenty of things to do and see in Oamaru and beyond in this small, but scenic, South Island region. Sandwiched in between Canterbury and Central Otago, you literally can’t miss Waitaki if you’re heading either north or south.
Stretching from the east coast to the foothills of Mt Cook, the diverse landscape is full of mountain views, rivers, lakes, rolling hills and interesting geological rock formations.
Small towns and friendly locals are part of Waitaki’s charm. Using Oamaru as your base, you’ll discover a wide range of varied things to do. And you’ll find people here are more than willing to stop for a chat and share the history and highlights of this delightful place.
Waitaki’s furthest inland town is Omarama, a junction to Canterbury in the north and Central Otago in the south. It’s also the gateway to the Waitaki Valley and high-country sheep farms – a fat white merino ram is the town’s icon.
As well as magnificent scenery, the town boasts some of the best gliding conditions in New Zealand. Take a ride with an instructor and fly silently on the thermal airwaves above the spectacular landscape.
If you prefer your views earthbound you’ll love Omarama’s outdoor hot tubs for a magical outlook onto the surrounding ranges.
Drive east from Omarama to Otemata and in 5 minutes you’ll reach the impressive Benmore Dam, the largest hydro-electric dam in New Zealand and a must-see on any trip to Waitaki.
Next to Benmore are 2 other smaller hydro-electric dams, Aviemore and Waitaki. Go for a short walk to lookout points for some great photo opportunities. As well as 20th century dams, you can also find remnants of an earlier time in the Waitaki Valley.
The Takiroa Māori rock art is a treasured feature of this area and can be viewed near Duntroon. The drawings, created from animal fat, charcoal and red ocher, are dated to the 19th century.
The past is certainly embraced in the elegant coastal town of Oamaru.
It’s renowned for its large collection of Victorian white stone buildings, lovingly preserved and protected, and used for all types of local businesses. Check out the Tyne Street and Harbor precincts for historic banks, schools and hotels and shops. Landmark buildings include the AMP Building, St Patrick’s Basilica and the Opera House.
Self-guided or guided tours are available – visit the i-SITE information center for details – you can also hire a penny-farthing bicycle here and go for a ride!
For a cool modern twist on Victorian culture, check out Steampunk HQ for visionary displays, creative fashion and re-worked machines. The era of steam is brought into the 21st century in mid-November with the annual 5-day Victorian Heritage Celebration. The whole town dresses in period costume and throws an elaborate party with madcap fun, food and games.
Wildlife & Moeraki Boulders
Oamaru does not fall short for wildlife spotting among the things to do. Its Victorian harbor is home to numerous blue penguins which nest in and around the cliffs at the shore. Visit the Blue Penguin Colony for either daytime tours of the penguins’ nesting burrows or an evening viewing of their arrival home after fishing at sea for the day.
Further down the coast, Moeraki is also one of the region’s hot-spots for wildlife. At Lighthouse Point, you’ll find a yellow-eyed penguin colony, as well as sea lions, seals and shags.
The Moeraki Boulders are also a definite must-see. These huge spherical stones, resting on the beach, are 60 million years old and an extraordinary geological phenomenon. Formed from ancient seabed sediments they look like giant tortoises.
Waitaki Food & Wine
Moeraki is the location for the famous seafood restaurant Fleur’s Place, owned by New Zealand chef Fleur Sullivan. The restaurant, highly acclaimed by British chef Rick Stein, is extremely popular for its fresh, perfectly cooked seafood dishes.
Award-winning Riverstone Kitchen – just north of Oamaru – is also a great option if you’re looking for a fine dining restaurant.
Or check out some of Oamaru’s delicious artisan eateries – especially the Vinbrux Organic Bakery, featuring organic German breads made from traditional recipes and the local cheese at the Whitestone Cheese Shop & Café. Speaking of cheese, keep a look-out in lunch bars or cafés for a delicious South Island culinary snack – cheese rolls.
Picnicking with cheese rolls and a Waitaki wine isn’t a bad idea. The Waitaki is one of New Zealand’s latest wine districts and fast gaining a reputation for its Pinor Noir. The Chardonnay, Gewürztraminer, Reisling and Pinot Gris are also excellent. For a brilliant day of wine tasting, time your visit for February and attend the Oamaru Food and Wine Festival.
The Waitaki Region and Oamaru have a lot of unique things to do that are just waiting to be discovered. People fall in love with this area for its historic character, engaging wildlife and down-to earth friendliness. The discerning visitor won’t be disappointed.