Oamaru: the next New York?
Oamaru. A town famous for its white stone, Victorian precinct and two penguin colonies. But not even 150 years ago, the town was on the brink of becoming the cosmopolitan city of the south.
The story about how the small north Otago town with a population of nearly 14,000 people could have been the next New York is one that has fascinated the host of TVNZ series Coast New Zealand, Neil Oliver, who will dive into the history of the little town’s hey-dey in the show’s third local season.
The archeologist and fond historian says even though the town will feature in the programme’s latest season, it is the one that has most intrigued him despite it being his fourth trip to New Zealand.
‘‘It was really just a dot on the map, there was nothing much there except it was a small town with a beach,’’ the archeologist and historian said of Oamaru in the 1880s.
‘‘The people were aware of the fact it was dangerous for ships to come in to the coast; ships were being wrecked. So they spent an enormous amount of time and money building a breakwater which created a safe anchorage at Oamaru and that enabled the town to grow.
‘‘Businesses were set up, it became a place where some of the first shipments of frozen lamb went out from; wool from the surrounding area was going out on ships to the wider world right up into Europe and elsewhere.’’
It was a brief period, but an exciting one for the little town. Oamaru, Oliver explained. was growing faster, and was bigger, than San Francisco. It was considered a town ‘‘on the up’’, especially as it reportedly had more gas lighting than London.
‘‘There was an enormous amount of lime stone at Oamaru and they built the most amazing, beautiful buildings - all taking advantage of Victorian fashion and Victorian architecture. They built these fantastic grand buildings and broad streets.
‘‘At one stage Oamaru was home to the tallest building in the southern hemisphere, a five storey building. Everyone living there thought for a while they were really at the centre, this was going to be a New York, or a London, or a Hong Kong. It was going to be a place that would become one of the most important places in the world. ❚ Continued on P3
British TV presenter Neil Oliver takes a look at Oamaru in the new TVNZ series of Coast New Zealand.