A Steampunk and Victorian Day in Oamaru

Walking around Oamaru with its whole streets of white limestone buildings fronted with vintage-styled shop signs, really makes you feel like you’re in the 19th century. That’s on a day when there’s NOT hundreds of people walking around the town dressed in Victorian clothing and steampunk outfits! We love the enthusiasm and the amount of people actually participating by wearing costumes to the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations. This is day two of the Victorian Fete in Oamaru. After yesterday’s parade with steam engines, costume and penny farthing competitions, we are keen to head back into town today to see what else the Victorian celebrations have in store!

Steampunk capital of New Zealand

Although the Victorian Fete, along with its stalls and entertainment, starts at 10am, we want to check out Oamaru’s permanent homage to the Victorian era, more specifically, a certain theme of the Victorian era: steampunk! For those of you who don’t know what steampunk is, it is a genre of science fiction that uses steam-powered machinery rather than advanced technology. As steam-power comes from the Victorian age, you’ll often find that this genre of sci-fi depicts people in Victorian clothing and set in Victorian buildings. In Oamaru, they have a whole museum dedicated to steampunk. So first things first, we’re going to Steampunk HQ!

The smoking steam train

You can’t miss the building in the corner of Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct with its huge steam train outside pimped out with extra steam-exuding pipes and all sorts of metal spikes welded around its body. This train is more powered by a $2 coin rather than steam, releasing fire and smoke from its pipes. Above is a blimp sporting the cog and skull logo of Steampunk HQ.

The awesome entrance to Steampunk HQ The awesome entrance to Steampunk HQ
DJ Robin on the organs! DJ Robin on the organs!
Watch out for the mechanical moa! Watch out for the mechanical moa!
Bombs away, Laura! Bombs away, Laura!

DJ Robin on the steampunk organ

If that doesn’t entice us inside then nothing will! We walk into the dimly lit room of the gallery, with certain sections lit up with coloured lights. Not only does this make the place extremely atmospheric, but it forces us to get up close to discover some of the weird, wacky and wonderful art and play with the interactive pieces. First of which is the coolest Goddamn organ ever! Robin gets on the keys, surrounded by the organ pipes and speakers found on old vinyl players. Instead of the dramatic tones of a church organ, the keys play some sick beats, bro! It turns you into a steampunk DJ! (And it’s not our first time DJing in New Zealand, let us tell you!)

scrap metal animals and sci-fi machinery

Man, we could talk all day about the art on display here at Steampunk HQ. Even when you think you have discovered it all, you’ll find that there was a man dog with its nose pierced with a bull ring hiding between two dentist chairs in front of a control panel that fires up whatever your imagination tells you it fires up. Even the dim lights are actually held by hands coming out of the wall! A transparent section of the floor reveals a scene beneath you with projecting screens and more machinery on the floor below us.

Hanging from the ceiling of the next room is the sculpture of a stingray welded together with scrap metal – one of many animal metal sculptures found in this room. The most prominent of which is a gorilla on top of a tangle of pipes. A sign invites you to walk inside this pipe shelter to see what creepiness lies inside…

From inside the portal!

The Portal

Before heading out to The Yard, there is one more intriguing-looking room we want to visit: The Portal. The instructions on the wall tell us to press a large red button, enter the room, and close the door behind us… Ok, then…

We walk into a room encased with mirrors creating the illusion that the room infinitely expands. Lines of lights hang from the ceiling shaped like skulls, grenades and all sorts. At the moment, the lights are white. Then the room goes dark and the show begins. We won’t ruin it for you, but we can definitely see why they call it “The Portal”.

Badass vehicles in the Yard

The Yard is full of the big boys’ toys! The stuff that probably wouldn’t fit inside Steampunk HQ, mostly consisting of modified buses, steam rollers, a canon-type thing and a badass motorbike. You can go inside these vehicles, on top of these vehicles, and take some mean photos with these vehicles. It’s an awesome end to such an unique gallery!

Victorian dancers are just a small part of the fete entertainment Victorian dancers are just a small part of the fete entertainment
Picking up some vintage-styled wares for next year's festival Picking up some vintage-styled wares for next year's festival
Where's Robin? In the Oamaru Farmers Market Where's Robin? In the Oamaru Farmers Market

Oamaru’s Victorian Fete

The Victorian theme of the day is now taking us to the Victorian Fete. With a cheap entry-fee, we cross the gates to the entire Victorian Precinct filled with food and craft stalls, vintage machinery demonstrations, puppet shows, stilt walkers, penny farthing lessons, sawing competitions, live music, and heaps more! Every circuit we do around the fete, we come across another obscure Victorian-themed competition. What’s more, about 80% of the people here are dressed up in their Victorian best for the occasion. In fact, we feel a little out of place!

Real fruit ice cream

After checking out the farmer’s market and a few demonstrations, we treat ourselves to something New Zealand does particularly well, real fruit ice cream! We watch as the ice cream dudes blend real strawberries and whippy ice cream together to create the freshest-tasting ice cream in all the land.

Watching the celebrations from the Oamaru Backpackers

Although we don’t stay at the whole event that parties well into the night, we do enjoy listening to the music and watching the crowds of Victorian-dressed people dancing from the Oamaru Backpackers, which has a fantastic view over the harbour. We sit in the sun lounge, having snacks with the super friendly and welcoming manager of the backpackers, Kate, and her sister and owners, Kelly and Phil. Incidentally, they have invited us to watch Phil do a sheep shearing demonstration tomorrow! It will mark the end to the perfect triangle of New Zealand farming experiences we have done on this trip: we have done beekeeping, we have done dairy farming, and tomorrow, we are going to do sheep shearing! Oh yeah, and we’re going to be tasting some cheese at the Whitestone Cheese too. Join us then!

Laura and Robin

Some sort of sawing competition at the Oamaru Victorian Fete
Some sort of sawing competition at the Oamaru Victorian Fete Spherical Image - RICOH THETA

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