Oamaru means the “place of sheltered fire” in Maori. For us, it was the place of hidden treasure. Like so many stops on our travels, Oamaru has charmed and amazed us. Some friends on SV Mintaka told us that Oamaru was the town that most surprised them and was well worth visiting. They stopped once heading south from Whangarei and again on their way north from Stewart Island. The pilot guide says that the entrance is “closed to all shipping, prone to extreme shoaling and dangerous to all mariners without recent knowledge.” The harbormaster for Port Chalmers/Dunedin manages the Port of Oamaru. When we mentioned to him that we were hoping to call in there, he connected us with Kevin Murdoch, the Commodore of the local yacht squadron. Kevin explained that the recently dredged entrance has a leading mark (two triangles that align to keep you in the channel) and that we were welcome to pick up a free, recently serviced mooring. This all sounded doable; we told him we’d probably stay for a couple of days before heading north. That was two weeks ago…
Oamaru was settled by Europeans in the mid-1800s and was the first location in New Zealand from which they shipped frozen meat internationally. There is no natural harbor, but two breakwaters protect the small bay (aptly named “Friendly Bay”). It does get some minor swell and surge which we don’t mind, but it’s very sheltered in general. The town has the Victorian Precinct district, filled with buildings made from the Oamaru limestone and therefore has a very European feel. There are days we feel like we could be in a small French village. The district comes complete with a great bakery, two breweries, and loads of cute shops filled with local goods. On top of that, the supermarket and laundry are within walking distance. What more could you want!
Little did we know upon arrival that we’d be taken in by the Rohrbach’s. They arrived here over a decade ago from Germany and have two Suzuki music kids around the same age as Adelaide and Isa. On top of that, Chris is a horseman with the same horse addiction that Annie has. We have spent the last two weeks enjoying numerous meals and excellent conversation. Dagmar, Chris’s wife, has pulled out all the stops; we’ve had many meals with other locals and are starting to feel part of the town. The girls have played loads of games and even went for a swim in the harbor (brrrr – tremendous peer pressure from Kiwi kids was involved). We’ve also had fun hunting ducks and rabbits. The ducks were fortunate that day, not so for the rabbits! They sure were delicious! With a quick internet search, you’ll see that this region of NZ is overrun with rabbits, so we are really just giving back to the community.
We had planned on leaving this morning for Akaroa but were woken up by 35-knot wind gusts. The marine forecast bumped up to include 5 meter (17′) seas. We decided Friday’s forecast (lower winds and seas) with some rain and colder temps was a safer forecast for us. The season is getting on, and we’re fortunate that we’re not on a schedule. The daytime highs are in the 50’s and 60’s with lows in the upper 30’s to mid ’40s. If the sun is out (which is a regular occurrence), it’s a nice day. We may not be beating the winter north, but we are fortunate to pick our passage days.
Now that we are staying a few more days, it’s time to put the dinghy back in the water and continue exploring this magical little town.
By Cameron Vawter
Playing at the Moeraki Boulders, a natural stone formation on a beach south of Oamaru. Dagmar and Chris have loaned us their car, so we have been able to explore a bit afield which was been lovely.