We arrived there by car in the late afternoon on Sunday as the sun was getting low in the New Zealand sky. Kat had driven us from Akaroa to Christchurch, then south on to Oamaru. It had been a long but beautiful drive and Kat, Mitch, Frank and I decided to take a walk around the town center and find a place to get a drink. We strolled along the wide main boulevard full of shops which were mostly closed up for the day. The town had a very international feeling despite its small size, full of statutes and impressive old stone buildings. We found the more touristy part of town on Harbour Street and stopped at a pub in the Criterion Hotel to get a drink. The British-style pub had three deer heads mounted above the fireplace, each made of wood and not dead animals. It had a warm, comfortable feeling including a cat that lived there and was not moving out of its chair to make room for you.
After we had finished our drinks, we wandered down the street and across a bridge to The Steampunk HQ. The HQ located in an old grain elevator company building made of stone was closed for the day.
Steampunk is a Sci-Fi sub-genre that is part mid-century technology mashed up with early industrial steam-powered machinery. Part modern-day cyberpunk, part wild west, it is a fantasy world of retro and futuristic inventions and fashion. With my love of all things geeky, my imagination was on overdrive and I wanted more.
We played with and watched the few things they had outside of the HQ, the steam train that made noise and played music when you put money in it or the zeppelin that prepared for takeoff with a countdown, blowing steam, and flames all the while. A couple with several kids were watching with us, and I’m not sure who was more giddy about all this me or those kids. To the left of HQ was a small park next to the river full of trees, shrubs, and paths in every direction. The beauty of the park by the river as the sun set was a wonderful site indeed. After walking in the park we spend the rest of the evening wandering back to our hotel room and made ourselves some dinner.
The next morning we once again headed down to Harbour Street and worked our way through all the different shops. Soaps, t-shirts, funny items made from all sorts of local things were the majority of the goods. Whiskey tasting rooms and cafes lined the small street on both sides.
We excitedly, or perhaps I should say I excitedly, headed to the Steampunk HQ to check it out. The first thing you notice is a sign that reads “Please touch everything” and I was ready to do that. You enter the first room with its green glow cast on everything. The first thing you see is the imposing Metagalactic Pipe Organ with a standard looking organ keyboard and pipes. However, when you hit the keys, the sounds can be anything from a doorbell or phone ringing to clock chimes or a voice on a walkie talkie. Frank composed a concert of noises and sounds that shook the room, it was quite a sound. The edge of the room is lined with dentist and barber chairs and a few spit sinks with a selection of drills, very creepy. The next room, also awash in green light, contained metal sculptures made from various machine parts, steel plates and tubing. A steel gorilla atop a 1950 car, a large ostrich made of gears and sheet metal, and a scorpion looking Battle Bot.
In the corner is a door which leads to The Portal Exhibit, a light installation that according to the sign was “a gateway to new dimensions”. Inside up to eight people can fit on an elevated platform in a dark room which is about twice the size of the platform. All surfaces in the room including ceilings and floors are completely covered in mirrors, and hanging in the room are hundreds of string lights from ceiling to floor. The lights change colors continuously to an eerie soundtrack and it creates a sound and visual light show that goes on all around you for what looks like eternity.
After the light show, you head outside into the sunlight with a stockyard full of amazing things, directly to your left is the door into The Gadgetorium. The Gadgetorium looks and feels like a workshop for a mad scientist. Frank said it felt like being inside the Tardis from Doctor Who, I thought it was a little more like the buzzing electronics and doomed feeling of the Dread Doctors books. Between the buzzing electrical noises, beekers, books, and microscopes it was amazing and yet put me slightly on edge.
The final area of exploration is the stockyard with its bikes, jeeps, trains, and ships. All the dilapidated and beat up items were all available for us to use as we saw fit. We all climbed on, posed on, and played on the amazing collection of steampunk transportation paraphernalia. My personal favorite was a streetcar stripped down with a mounted machine gun (non-functioning, of course) on the roof. Mitch took to the large motorized tricycle with ape hanger handlebars and a standing platform instead of a seat and kept calling himself the mini Mexican because it so large compared to him.
We ended the day with a walk along the water in King George Park and the breakwater of the harbor before heading to Scott’s Brewing Company for a beer.
I’m not sure what I expected from Oamaru, but I certainly got much more.
I am a storyteller and I have been my whole life. I don't mean I lie, I just like to tell a tale or two from my experiences... and what is better than to help inspire others to experience something I love.