Next stop on the coast is Oamaru. Though the town lacks the Mediterranean flair of art deco Napier, it too can boast some of the country’s most interesting architecture. Oamaru’s historic buildings generally reflect the classical styles favoured throughout New Zealand during the nineteenth century. What makes them distinctive however, is the widespread use of local limestone; a material that is soft enough to be quarried with a circular saw but which gradually hardens when exposed to air.
Many of these old limestone buildings are to be found in the Tyne-Harbour Street Historic Precinct, the only complete example of a nineteenth century commercial area in New Zealand. Some of the noble old premises are at present a bit dilapidated, but a restoration scheme is under way that will hopefully return them to their former grandeur in the not-too-distant future. On holiday weekends a steam train runs through the Historic Precinct to provide that extra touch of nostalgia (check at the Information Centre for details).
Within walking distance of the Historic Precinct and downtown Oamaru is, surprisingly enough, a blue penguin colony. The world’s smallest penguins have built their nests around the Harbour area and a section of foreshore has been set aside as a refuge for them. From the viewing platforms at the end of Waterfront Road, the dapper little birds can be seen just after dusk as they return from a day’s fishing at sea. The yellow-eyed penguin site at Bushey Beach can be reached by following Graves Walkway (2 hours return) from the blue penguin colony.