This blog post was updated on October 9, 2019.

Can you imagine what type of inventions the Victorians might have created for the modern world? If so, then you’re well on the way to considering yourself a steampunk. For the uninitiated, steampunk is a subculture that revolves around the reimagining or, rebellion (punk) of the social and technological aspects of the 19th century (steam). Now, if only there was a place that was completely dedicated to it?

Inspiration for the subculture can be traced back to the early science fiction works of HG Wells and Jules Verne. But the term was first used in 1987 by science fiction author K.W. Jeter.

Oamaru, three hours south of Christchurch, is the world’s unlikely capital of steampunk (it even won a Guinness World Record for the biggest gathering of these steam influenced punks in one place). Located on New Zealand’s South Island, this humble farming town boasts the best-preserved collection of Victorian architecture in the country.

Steampunks Gathered in New Zealand

(Image via Flickr CC – Brian & Jeff)

In 2010, when Weta Workshop (a Wellington-based special effects and props company that worked on Lord of The Rings) donated half a shipping container of artwork and statues for a steampunk exhibition in the town, the steampunk movement began to take hold. The tipping point came when local farmers (intrigued by the creative, outlandish inventions on display) began tinkering with their own steam-influenced contraptions that led the wider community to embrace their new steampunk home.

Now thriving with oddballs, antiquarians, and bohemians of all sorts, Oamaru encapsulates the steampunk ethos with offbeat galleries, hip venues, dedicated festivals, one-of-a-kind museums, and an abundance of fascinating shops. So find the lowest airfare to the Southern Hemisphere, unlock your potential for kookiness and start exploring the uniqueness of Oamaru’s surviving Victorian streetscapes.  

Tally-ho, pip-pip and away we go!

Steampunk HQ

You can’t be the steampunk capital of the world without having an official HQ. And, the Steampunk HQ in Oamaru is New Zealand’s premiere steampunk attraction! Located on the waterfront, next to the train tracks, you’ll find a fire-breathing steam engine and a giant, shark-mouthed blimp that will let you know you’ve arrived. Set up in a massive, three-story Victorian-style sandstone building (built in 1883, originally used as a grain elevator), Steampunk HQ is full of bizarre contraptions, spooky figures, working gadgets and a whole host of other steampunky goodness.

There’s retro-futuristic sci-fi art, movies, sculpture, immersive light and sound experiences, and a large yard that’s full of machines in various stages of construction. Such as a giant motorbike (known as the “aethertractor”), a skeletal-stripped back freight train, and a rocket to the moon. Admission prices are $10 for adults, $2 for children, and $20 for families.

The Steampunk NZ Festival

(Image via Flickr CC - Brian & Jeff)

(Image via Flickr CC – Brian & Jeff)

Get immersed in the Victorian steam-powered future with the Steampunk NZ Festival! A glorious, 4-day celebration that usually takes places the first week of June and transforms Oamaru into an entire steampunk town. At the festival, you’ll find a whole host of activities and innovations, such as fashion shows, gadget testing, feasting, airships, markets, music and even teapot racing! There’s also short story and steampunk literary readings, maker’s workshops and demonstrations as well as a series of short theater pieces that are showcased at the Oamaru Opera House. And, to top it all off, the festivities come to a close with an epic, Victorian inspired Gala Ball! Even if you aren’t a fully-fledged “steampunkaneer”, you are guaranteed to have the best, and quirkiest time possible! 

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Steampunk Playground

(Image via Flickr CC - Darren Puttock)

(Image via Flickr CC – Darren Puttock)

Steampunk doesn’t just connect past and present; it connects people. And, the Oamaru Friendly Bay Playground is the perfect example of how the Oamaru community has come together around this unique and amazing subculture. Located in Oamaru’s historic waterfront and Victorian precinct, this steampunk-themed playground has it all! There’s a rocket slide, an elephant howdah zip line, and even a giant Penny Farthing swing set!

Even better, is that more attractions are expected to be added to the park in the future, including a tall mast ship, a tea room overlooking the harbor, as well as more trees and plants. So keep your eyes (or steam-powered monocle) peeled and be sure to pop by and check out the coolest playground ever.

While You’re Here …


If you happen to find yourself on New Zealand’s South Island and have had your fill of steampunk-related fun, then why not check out the colony of blue penguins that call Oamaru Harbor home. Native to the coastal mainland and islands of New Zealand and southern Australia, Blue Penguins are the world’s smallest penguins and live to about 8-10 years old.

At the Oamaru Blue Penguin Colony, you can see birds that are as old as 18, and if you book an evening tour, you can watch them arrive home from their days fishing. Best viewing is just before sunset, and general entry is $10, with guided tours costing $16.

Is steampunk’s your thing? So much so that you’ve made the trip to Omaru, New Zealand to help you plan? Tell us about it in the comments section! 

7 Responses

  1. Allan Catterall

    Good morning, great article on Oamaru but not to be left out Steampunk is alive and well right throughout New Zealand with many events at various cities over the year.
    The next event before the Oamaru festival is in Palmerston North in the central North Island. This event will be happening a couple of weeks before Oamaru and a link to the event is published below.
    We are having guests for the US and all over New Zealand visiting for the event. Hope to see you here!!!

  2. Colette Doherty

    Thames in the North Island is celebrating 150 years this November and holding its annual Steampunk festival from the 9th to the 12th. We are known as the Steampunk Capitol of the North Island. Steampunk in NZ is everywhere, Paeroa is having a Steampunk Party on the 6th of May. Always something somewhere!

    • Mark Silvester

      What a cool way to celebrate 150 years! Thanks for the suggestion, Colette.

  3. Angela Bennett

    Hello all, Furthermore (and not to be outdone!) the township of Thames (on the Coromandel Peninsula, upper North Island of New Zealand) has also embraced Steampunk culture, with a popular four-day festival every November:


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About The Author

From Australia, skateboarder/explorer.