With its impressive architecture and natural beauty, the stunning Waitaki region is a must-see destination. There is something for everyone in Waitaki, from the adventurous travellers and landscape lovers to relaxation enthusiasts and culinary aficionados; it perfectly balances some of New Zealand’s best and well-known features.
Here we highlight our top 10 things to see and do in the Waitaki region and its surrounds.
10. Explore the Oamaru Public Gardens
Location: Oamaru; entrances off Severn and Chelmer Streets
Opening Hours: Open every day
Travel back to the Victorian days with a wander through the Oamaru Public Gardens. Growing since 1876, these gardens perfectly reflect the region’s Victorian history. From the moment you enter the main gates, you’ll be in awe of the blossoming colours filling the grounds. The Craig Fountain is a major draw point in the gardens, as it stands out from the bedding areas with its fine Italian marble and large stature.
From the moment you enter the main gates, you’ll be in awe of the blossoming colours filling the grounds.
If visiting with a loved one, make your way to the Summerhouse; an incredibly romantic spot that is frequented by grooms-to-be taking the knee and proposing. Other notable points in the garden include the Japanese Red Bridge, the Oriental Garden and the Fragrant Garden.
9. See an exhibition at the Forrestor Gallery
Location: 9 Thames Street, Oamaru
Opening Hours: Weekdays from 10:30am – 4:30pm; Weekends/Public Holidays from 1pm – 4:30pm; Closed ANZAC morning, Good Friday, Christmas Day, Boxing Day & New Years Day
Housed in the old Bank of New South Wales, the Forrester Gallery services the greater Waitaki region with a varied and exciting exhibition programme throughout the year. On top of the exhibition programme, the gallery houses a range of ever-growing art collections that are of certain significance for the region. The Forrester was originally opened in 1983 and since then has received restorations following damage from natural disasters.
Housed in the old Bank of New South Wales, the Forrester Gallery services the greater Waitaki region with a varied and exciting exhibition programme throughout the year.
The building itself is something to revel, with its large white columns greeting visitors and its intricate designs, it is neo-classical architecture at its finest. Visiting the gallery should be nearing the top of all visitors lists, and the ever-changing exhibits ensure you won’t be disappointed if you’re planning a return visit. Past exhibitions have included Look Again; a collection of art works chosen by local school kids and created by beloved North Otago artist, Colin Wheeler, and Peaks; a collection of abstract artworks by local artist Frank Auger.
8. See the ancient Takiroa Rock Art Shelter
Location: Kurow-Duntroon Road, State Highway 83, Duntroon
With a mysterious beginning, the Takiroa Rock Art Shelter is a prized possession in New Zealand as one of the country’s most prominent rock art sites. The Waitaki River is believed to have been a seasonal hunting and fishing hotspot half a millennium ago. The art was supposedly used to warn off approaching strangers and bad weather and still now acts a as a helpful shelter for local herds.
The art was supposedly used to warn off approaching strangers and bad weather and still now acts a as a helpful shelter for local herds.
The images depicted on the rocks are quite abstract with some mirroring that of birds, various other animals and people. These drawings are accompanied by depictions of European sailing ships and animals, which suggest people later revived this custom. Access to the shelter is via a paved footpath, so be sure to have your walking shoes at the ready as well as your camera.
7. Visit the Elephant Rocks
Location: Island Cliff
With a world famous reputation, the Elephant Rocks continually draw visitors from all walks of life. These limestone formations are part of the Vanished World Trail which passes through several of Waitaki’s geological wonders. Though located on private property, the rocks are accessible the public and are reached easily from Oamaru and Omarama.
With a world famous reputation, the Elephant Rocks continually draw visitors from all walks of life.
They are believed to have been created more than 25 million years ago, the rocks were created and formed on the seabed. Turned into rock and limestone by the pressure, after rising to the surface they were shaped by the wind and water into the incredible formations we see today. There are various ways to experience the rocks including rock climbing, abseiling and of course just simply admiring.
6. Ride the Alps 2 Ocean Trail
Location: Aoraki/Mt Cook to Oamaru and reverse
One of New Zealand’s Great Rides, the Alps 2 Ocean Cycle Trail is an incredible experience. Stretching out over 300 kilometres, the track winds its way through and around some of the region’s most beautiful sites. Keep your eyes peeled as you’ll pass various scenic highlights such as Mt Cook, Elephant Rocks, Maori Rock Art, Golden Tussock Landscapes, Vineyards, Oamaru’s Victorian Precinct and Waitaki Lakes to name a few.
The perfect activity for all ages to enjoy, the ride is an easy level comprised with both on and off-road trails.
The perfect activity for all ages to enjoy, the ride is an easy level comprised with both on and off-road trails. The name derives from the fact that the trail links the Southern Alps to the Pacific Ocean. Travellers are advised to allow at least four to six days to complete the entire track comfortably, or you can embark on a single day ride one of the eight sections of the track.
5. See at a show at Oamaru Opera House
Location: 94 Thames St, Oamaru
Opening Hours: Weekdays 8:30am – 4pm; Saturdays 10am – 1pm
Another cultural hub in the Waitaki region, the Oamaru Opera House has been entertaining the residents of Oamaru and its visitors for over a century. Considered the social, political and cultural core of the region, the Opera House still stands strong with its 19th Century decadence and beauty. The building itself is of cultural and historical significance to the community and the country, with its registration under the Historic Places Act.
Another cultural hub in the Waitaki region, the Oamaru Opera House has been entertaining the residents of Oamaru and its visitors for over a century.
With performances stretching across comedy, theatre, music and dance there is always something to see. Attending a performance at the Oamaru Opera House is a must for visitors to the region.
– Prices vary between shows
4. Visit Oamaru Victorian Precinct
Location: Itchen, Tay, Tyne and Harbour Streets, Oamaru
Oamaru’s Victorian era was a thriving success with travellers from around the world taking up residence to take advantage of the region’s flourishing gold, wool, what and meat industries. Back in the 19th Century, the population in Oamaru exceeded that of San Francisco in the United States. Since then, the world has evolved but the sturdy limestone buildings in Oamaru are still standing strong.
Businesses operating in Oamaru Victorian Precinct include various coffee shops, cafes, a bakery, wine shop, old-style pub, art galleries and second-hand bookshops.
With various businesses operating out of these buildings keeping this precinct alive, visitors are often amazed when they visit or happen to stumble upon it. Businesses operating in Oamaru Victorian Precinct include various coffee shops, cafes, a bakery, wine shop, old-style pub, art galleries and second-hand bookshops.
3. Visit the world famous Moeraki Boulders
Location: Koekohe Beach
Bringing to the Moeraki region to the forefront of travellers radars, the Moeraki Boulders are worth the pit stop. With an unknown origin, these enigmatic spherical rocks are strewn across the beach and planted solidly into the sand, weighing several tonnes and reaching up to two metres in height.
With an unknown origin, these enigmatic spherical rocks are strewn across the beach and planted solidly into the sand, weighing several tonnes and reaching up to two metres in height.
It’s believed that the boulders were formed around 65 million years ago as a result of calcite concretions. In comparison, Maori legend believes the boulders are washed ashore gourds (large fleshy fruit) after the Araiteuru voyaging canoe was wrecked coming to shore hundreds of years ago. These are an incredible site to see and if you’re travelling along the North Otago coast are easily accessible.
2. Walk amongst the Omarama Clay Cliffs
Location: Quailburn Road, Omarama
Wander around these incredible natural formations, located a mere 10 kilometres west of Omarama. The cliffs are marvellous to look at with its towering pinnacles and narrow ravines, the formations have been created over a million years out of layers of gravel and silt. The movement of ancient glaciers supposedly shaped the size and shape of the pinnacles into what they are today.
The cliffs are marvellous to look at with its towering pinnacles and narrow ravines, the formations have been created over a million years out of layers of gravel and silt.
The cliffs are located on private land, and require a small fee or donation to visit. Visitors are asked to leave a donation at the box at the gate to the Cliffs or pay a $5 car admission fee at the Omarama information centre.
1. See the world’s smallest penguins
Location: Waterfront Rd, Oamaru
Opening Hours: October to March: 10am until between 8:30pm and 11:30pm; April to September: 10am until between 7pm and 8:30pm
Watching the world’s smallest penguin species; the Blue Penguins, make their way back home after a big day in the water is a truly amazing experience. Seated in an outdoor grandstand, you’ll be able to watch as the penguins waddle ashore and make their way home as the moon sits high in the sky. This non-intrusive way of seeing the penguins adds to the experience, ensuring your presence is not harmful or in the way of these tired penguins.
Seated in an outdoor grandstand, you’ll be able to watch as the penguins waddle ashore and make their way home as the moon sits high in the sky.
There are various ways to see this penguin colony, you can sit in the grandstand with general admission, or sit closer again with the Premium Tour in the evening, or embark on self-guided and guided day tours around the grounds – the choice is yours. However, once you’ve laid eyes on these adorable residents, you’ll never want to take your eyes off them.
– Children (5 to 17 years) from $5
– Seniors/Students from $8
– Adults from $10
– Families from $25
In addition, if you’re looking for all the top things to see and do in and around New Zealand including activities, attractions and more, be sure to check out our main region section to browse and book online!