If there is one thing we hear more than anything else from our guests, it would have to be “if only we had known, we’d have planned to spend more time in Oamaru”. For many international travellers, Oamaru is unfamiliar, but for the past several years Oamaru has been the fastest-growing destination for international visitors, who clearly have begun to discover all that our town and surrounding have to offer. For this reason, we recommend that guests plan to spend at least two nights in Oamaru, though if you can spare the time, three would be preferable, and would ensure you have time to see and do more of what makes this part of New Zealand so special.
When we first came to New Zealand, we confess we did not know much about the country. We had heard of the main centres–Auckland, Wellington, and Christchurch–but beyond that our knowledge was pretty limited. We have come to realise, however, that the real treasure of New Zealand is not in the cities–though these are among the most livable and beautiful cities in the world–but rather in the countryside and small towns, in places like Oamaru.
To help our guests plan their visit to New Zealand and to Oamaru, we have put together a few suggestions of what you might enjoy doing and seeing while staying at Pen-y-bryn Lodge. You can get a sense of the attractions available by flipping through this little electronic booklet (a hard copy of which is in all our guest rooms). Also, the folks at Tourism Waitaki have developed an incredible map that helps visitors plan their stay, and that shows where all the amazing sights of the region are located. Click here to see that map and here for a suggested three-night itinerary that gives you a chance to see and do most of what our area has to offer. You may also want to visit the Oamaru blog, which describes some of the attractions in the Oamaru area that may be of interest to our guests, or view this video showcasing some of the people and attractions of our wonderful town.
Another new factor that is helping to put Oamaru on the international travel map is the development of the aspiring UNESCO Waitaki Whitestone Geopark in our region of the country. Expected to be approved by UNESCO headquarters in Paris by 2021, the park covers the entire Waitaki District, and features more than 40 sites of international geological importance that have also helped drive the development of our region’s culture, architecture and even our award-winning produce and wines. You can watch a video prepared by Ahipara Luxury Travel with us in October 2019 as we show them some of the key sights of the Geopark and explain its significance.
We hope you will take the time to explore Oamaru and the surrounding area as we did, and come to share our love for this true New Zealand gem. But of course, you are most welcome to spend your time with us to relax within the Lodge, wandering through our extensive landscaped gardens and enjoying the numerous hidden corners of Pen-y-bryn.
Oamaru is home to two colonies of penguins, Blue Penguins (also known as Fairy Penguins, the smallest of the penguins) and Yellow-Eyed Penguins, which are among the rarest. Visits to these colonies can be arranged by your hosts. For more information on the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, click here.
Nearby Moeraki is home to the iconic beachside boulders, spheres of stone strew along the waterfront just outside of the picturesque fishing village. While here, you can also venture toward Moeraki lighthouse and gain a good view of their Yellow-Eyed Penguins and other wildlife, and a further five minutes will take you to Shag Point and its resident fur seal population.
The Vanished World Heritage Trail is a self-guided trail that allows the visitor to see numerous fossils and geological formations that give you a feeling of “deep time”, and was the progenitor of our UNESCO Geopark application. A drive along this trail will take you all through the Waitaki District, from the seaside to the mountains, and offers a unique perspective on the area’s changing landscape. For more information, visit the Vanished World website by clicking here.
Among the many beautiful drives in the area, Danseys Pass is certainly one of the most popular. Easily done as a day trip from Pen-y-bryn, a drive along Danseys Pass will take you to the old Central Otago towns of Naseby and Ranfurly, as well as to Elephant Rocks and some Maori rock paintings.
New Zealand’s highest peak, Mt Cook, is easily reached from Oamaru, taking approximately two hours (with ample time to stop to photograph the stunning scenery along the way). Ohau, Lake Tekapo, Omarama and other holiday destinations of the Mt Cook area are all nearby and make an exceptional outing from Pen-y-bryn.
Oamaru Public Gardens are reputedly among the finest in the land. In addition, a number of private gardens are available for viewing, by appointment.
Oamaru and the Waitaki District are quickly developing a name as the newest “foodie” destination of New Zealand! While Whitestone Cheese has long been a keystone in Oamaru’s culinary landscape, the Waitaki Valley, considered “the Burgundy of the South” is the country’s newest wine district, producing excellent Pinot Noir, Pinot Gris, Chardonnay and other wines, many of which can be sampled during a day trip to Kurow, a short drive from Pen-y-bryn. And to give you plenty of opportunity to sample the wines, we can arrange transport.
Oamaru is also the ideal base for a visit to Riverstone Kitchen, winners of the 2010 Cuisine NZ Restaurant of the Year award, and Fleur’s Place, famously chosen by British chef and food writer Rick Stein as the place he most wanted to visit for an article for the British Daily Mail newspaper.
Oamaru’s newest attraction, Whitestone City was established in 2017 with support from the New Zealand government and recreates the Oamaru of the 1880s in one of the historic precinct’s beautiful old buildings. Interactive exhibits showcase the office of the architects responsible for Oamaru’s distinctive built heritage, a chemist, barber, and a general store, and you can ride a unique penny-farthing carousel, play Victorian-era games or try your skills in the Victorian classroom. It’s already won several awards, and a combination ticket with the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony lets you save a bit of money if you plan to visit both.
Housed in a beautifully restored historic building, the Oamaru Opera House brings headline entertainment from around the world to perform on its immaculate stage. Shows take place regularly throughout the year and in 2013 among the performers who graced the stage was none other than Dame Kiri Te Kanawa in her sole New Zealand performance of the year.
Steampunk is a phenomenon uniquely suited to Oamaru. Conceived as an imagining of how Victorians might have pictured the future, it’s an art movement that has no equal. Oamaru holds an annual Steampunk Festival, which in 2010 goes from late October until early December, with exhibits on display on the street as well as in the Forrester Gallery.
History truly comes alive at Totara Estate, the home of New Zealand’s meat exporting industry. It was from Totara Estate that New Zealand’s first shipment of frozen lamb was packaged for transport to England (and the ship itself left from Oamaru Harbour). The estate today offers a glimpse into that world, as well as being located in a beautiful setting. A climb to the monument at the property offers unmatched views of the mountains and the surrounding countryside. For more information, click here.
As the best preserved colonial town in New Zealand, it is only natural that Oamaru should host an annual Victorian Heritage Festival, celebrating this enviable heritage. Lasting from Wednesday to Sunday of the third week in November, the festival sees the entire town decked out in Victorian finery, with penny-farthing races, performances and demonstrations of crafts that are still practiced on a daily basis by artisans in town. For dates and details, click here.
With such easy access to rivers and sea, Oamaru and the surrounding district are very attractive to sports fishing enthusiasts. We have fly fishing, surf fishing and ocean fishing nearby, and Pen-y-bryn can provide fishing guides to help ensure that your outing is a successful one. For more information on fishing in the district, click here.
Oamaru is home to several golf courses, including the North Otago Golf Course and the Lower Waitaki Golf Club. Your hosts can help to make bookings.
Near to Oamaru are the Ohau Snow Fields, with snowboarding, skiing, and all the facilities one expects from a Kiwi ski centre! And it’s all within a short drive of Oamaru.
The incredible topography of Elephant Rocks and the surrounding area makes for a beautiful backdrop for an afternoon of rock climbing. The amazing formations offer a range challenges, and will surely provide a climber of any skill level with a good workout!
The Alps2Ocean cycleway between Mt Cook and Oamaru is New Zealand’s newest cycle trail, traversing 312km from Mt Cook to the Oamaru Harbour. Guests can choose to follow the entire length of the trail, or portions of it, and there are operators in Oamaru who can transfer you and a bicycle to your desired starting point while you leave your suitcases at Pen-y-bryn to await your return.
Pen-y-bryn Lodge is located opposite Awamoa Park, which is home to several tennis and bowls courts that are open to the public.
With all that you can do in and around Oamaru, you will probably want to relax a bit, too! While Pen-y-bryn itself offers many opportunities to kick back and relax in our beautiful surroundings, Omarama and its hot pools overlooking the Southern Alps is just a hour’s drive away and offer a wide range of spa treatments in addition to the hot tubs. Your hosts can help you to make a booking.