The Steampunk Capital of the World?



Fans of science fiction, fantasy, and steampunk may find themselves asking—why does New Zealand have all the cool places to travel?  First Peter Jackson chose New Zealand for the film locations of The Lord of the Rings and The Hobbit movies: now there is an entire tourist industry dedicated to taking travelers to all the stunning film locations. If this is not enough, tourists can visit Flock Hill, Purakaunui Bay, and Auckland City to see where The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe was filmed. Of course, fans of the X-Men can visit Otago and feel like they are walking through scenes of X-Men Origins: Wolverine. But for the true immersive experience, steampunk fans can visit Oamaru, a town dedicated to the steampunk aesthetic: a town whose residents claim they are living in the Steampunk Capital of the World.*

Oamaru declaring itself the steampunk world capital is not an usual type of boast in New Zealand as many towns claim they are the “world capital” of something. Otorohanga, for example, boasts they are the kiwi capital of the world. But Oamaru is apparently uniquely qualified to fulfill its claim. It has a well-preserved historic district packed with Victorian-style houses, over 70 buildings registered with the New Zealand Historic Places Trust, a yearly steampunk festival, a steampunk-themed playground complete with a Victorian age style rocket slide, and a giant penny farthing swing.

Oamaru also houses the Steampunk HQ in a converted grain elevator. Originally built in 1883 in the Victorian style, it has been only slightly modified over time. During the late 1800s Oamaru was a flourishing seaport and many buildings, including the building that now hosts the Steampunk HQ, were constructed with a special type of local sandstone. It was the first elevator building in the Southern Hemisphere and helped to establish Oamaru as a gateway for exported produce.

In the 1920’s, the top two stories of the building were destroyed by fire.   The structure was restored and the remaining three stories serve today as the center of the steampunk aesthetic in Oamaru. It includes an industrial-inspired steam-powered art gallery and retro-futuristic showroom.



A fire-breathing steam engine sits in front of The Steampunk HQ and a shark-mouthed zeppelin hangs over gates. Inside there are many working steam-powered gadgets and there is a construction yard in the back where people can view steampunk projects in various stages of completion. There is even a time-travel Portal– a retro-futuristic mirror and lighting installation that features glowing light sculptures.

This is another steampunk-themed destination to add to my future travel itinerary. It would be wonderful to see and experience all of this first-hand. Somehow I think I would feel right at home in a town dedicated to the steampunk aesthetic . . .

*Incidentally Oamaru is also the home of a Blue Penguin colony. Somehow the ideas of steampunk and penguins really do seem to go together. If the locals don’t sell little penguin dolls wearing steampunk-style goggles and clothing, they are missing out on a wonderful marketing opportunity.




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