Harbour Street in Oamau, after years of decline, has become a magnet for tourists and locals because of its transformation in recent times. To provide some context, a bit of history about Oamaru and its old port area might be useful.
In European historical terms New Zealand is a very young country, being settled well after North America, Southern Africa and Australia. New Zealand’s founding document, the Treaty of Waitangi was signed in 1840, some 50 years after the first European settlent in Australa. The first European to settle in the Oamaru district arrived some time in the late 1840s. In 1859 the town of Oamaru was first surveyed, and the Otago Provincial government declared “hundreds” there on 30 November 1860. The town grew as a regional service-centre for the agricultural/pastoral hinterland and rapidly became a major port. As pastoral farming developed, so too did the frozen meat industry which had its historical origins in this part of New Zealand. Oamaru flourished during this period and many of the significant buildings in the town were built using the locally plentiful limestone (Oamaru stone), which lent itself to carving. As a result Oamaru has a distinctive and “solid” feel to it which reflects it importance in the historical development of the surrounding Waitaki District . According to Wikipedia, By the time of the depression of the 1880s Oamaru had become the “best built and most mortgaged town in Australasia”.
When the New Zealand economy stalled in the 1970s the port was closed and Oamaru found itself hard hit. In response it started to re-invent itself to become one of the first New Zealand towns to realise that its built heritage was an asset. in 1987 the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust was formed, and work began restoring the historic precinct beside the port to become one of the most atmospheric urban areas in New Zealand.
On the weekends the old harbour area of the town comes alive as tourists and local visitors fill the area and explore the old warehouse buildings that now house craft workshops, cafes, small museums, curio shops, and the “Slightly Foxed Bookshop” dealing in quality secondhand books on exploration and other topics near the Harbour Street Market and Birdlands Wine Company. During our visit in February we spent time exploring the nooks and crannies along the street.