We left Queenstown knowing the drive time to Oamaru was less than three hours, but with all the time in the world, we decided to overnight in historic Clyde. Staying at Oliver’s boutique hotel, it’s always a pleasure. The historic buildings having been lovingly restored in every way by owners, Andy and David Ritchie, originally from Auckland.
With dinner at Oliver’s and a luxurious night in the restored stables, we were ready to move onto our destination, but not before a sneaky peek at Andy and David’s latest acquisition. They recently purchased the pub across the road and have restored it with the finest of care, creating nine en-suited bedrooms. This restoration project, ‘The Lord Clyde,’ will ensure accommodation is available on the site, as it has for the last 150 years. A freshly baked breakfast is provided for all their guests in the communal breakfast room.
Then, it was onto our destination detouring to Fleur’s Place for lunch in the small, sleepy fishing village of Moeraki, some 30km south of Oamaru.
Fleur’s Place is a bit of an institution serving fresh fish straight from Moeraki Bay fishing boats. The catch of the day is the main feature on the menu, as well as regular fare including chowder, whitebait, muttonbird and other delicacies. We shared a whitebait fritter larger than a dinner plate and a meal of freshly caught Blue Cod.
The coastal restaurant was established in 2002 on an old whaling station site and is built from demolition material and collectables from all over New Zealand. The owner Fleur Sullivan is larger than life and is now in her 80’s. She made her reputation in Central Otago when she established Oliver’s restaurant in Clyde, the very place we ate at the night before.
After eating at Fleur’s we made a small detour to famous Moeraki, where perfectly rounded boulders, millions of years old can be found on the local beach.
I had not visited Oamaru before so was looking forward to exploring New Zealand’s most complete streetscape of Victorian commercial buildings. The buildings constructed from locally quarried limestone were built between 1865 – 1885. It was the focal point for trade through the port of Oamaru. The buildings consisted of large grain and seed warehouses which served the prosperous agricultural sector in the district during the latter part of the 19th century. Sixteen Victorian buildings are now owned by the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust who are working to preserve this incredible Victorian Precinct.
Having learnt about the historic limestone buildings we located the local quarry. Judy, one of the family members associated with the quarry dropped what she was doing and took us on tour. We visited the limestone works used for fertilizer and the actual quarry where two-tonne slabs were being quarried. Tours can be easily arranged by calling ahead.
Judy’s husband was cutting the quarry floor as we watched in awe of this beautiful stone coming to life in front of us. The face of the quarried sites is restored, looking like undulating hills once again. The first building to be built from the stone from this quarry was the local Opera House in 19o7.
Our Queenstown neighbours, Bob and Sue Berry are originally from Oamaru and are the founders of Whitestone cheese. Being a fan of their cheeses, especially the halloumi and The Lindis Pass Camembert they had kindly arranged a tour of their factory with their son Simon. We learnt about the different cultures and processes and I would recommend a tour of the factory.
After a busy day, we checked into our hotel, Poshtel, on Oamaru’s main street. Until recently, the building was office space. Now, thanks to its Auckland owners, it’s a fun hotel. According to his wife, he is a collector and each room is themed telling a story about Central Otago. There’s a Fishing Room, Bowling Room, the Antarctic Explorer Suite and more. It was a refreshing stay as I hadn’t imagined we could find a hotel that quirky and eclectic in Oamaru.
I wandered the streets before dusk heading to the Steampunk HQ, the old grain elevator building in the Victorian precinct. If you’re into really weird collectables, visit the Steampunk HQ. To be honest, I didn’t know what Steampunk was, but in a nutshell, it refers to a genre of speculative fiction in which steam, not electricity drove technological advancements.
Steampunk HQ promotes sustainability and recycling and features an interesting collection of retro-futuristic sci-fi art, movies, sculpture and sound.
Along with all the surprises we found in Oamaru, we found great food too. We stumbled across Cucina Restaurant and after an outstanding meal on the first night, we returned for a second evening. The food was excellent. It will be ‘the icing on the cake’ for a wonderful New Zealand provincial experience.
For another great roadie in the Otago region, read this,