The Peen-guins of Oamaru
I left Timaru the next morning after checking out the Phar Lap memorial -- on
Phar Lap road, next to the Phar Lap Lodge -- and continued driving down the coast
on Highway 1. A few hours later I
reached the town of Oamaru (pronounced “AH-maru,” pop. 12,000).
I was going to drive on to Dunedin that afternoon but decided to check
out this pleasant coastal town first.
Here's Lyle Lovett
singing about those sensitive Penguins.
RealPlayer. If problems, see
driving through Oamaru around mid-day, I stopped at a DOC (Department
of Conservation) Visitor Center near the beach on the far side of town and there, a
cute, soft-spoken ranger told me about the Oamaru penguins.
According to the ranger, whom I could barely hear, there are penguins (or
"peen-guins," as she quietly said) just about everywhere in New Zealand,
but the best place to view them is here at Oamaru. Apparently, there's a
colony of about 200 penguins living in a protected area just a few yards from
the Visitor Center. The penguins
spend the day fishing in the ocean and then return to the colony each evening
Believe it or not, on
most summer nights anywhere from 100 to 200 tourists pay $3 each to sit in the
DOC grandstand and watch the penguins emerge from the ocean, waddle across the dirt path and head back
to their little huts. And believe it or
not, after the ranger told me about this, I decided to spend the night in Oamaru
and check out the penguin show too, never having seen a penguin except maybe in
a zoo somewhere.
drove back into Oamaru that afternoon and found a room at the pleasant Heritage Court motel.
I talked to the friendly owner for a while and he gave me directions to the best
fish & chips place in town. As I'm discovering, fish & chips are
dish here in New Zealand, so I stopped at the takeout restaurant and got a huge
plate, and for only US$1.60. I quickly discovered that fish and chips,
when served with malt vinegar and some ketchup (oops, I mean "tomato sauce," as
they call it over here) are much better than the disgusting mutton dogs which
I'd been consuming for dinner (see
News: January 1, 2002).
After dinner, I bundled up and headed
back to the Visitor Center for the Amazing Penguin Show. I'm glad I got there two
hours early because the grandstands were soon full and the latecomers packed in,
peering through the crowd to catch a glimpse of the penguins (or "peen-guins")
as they emerged
from the surf and waddled across the road -- the penguins, that is, not the
tourists. All the while, each penguin was quacking with its
high-pitched squeal, sounding like a duck being strangled.
was certainly interesting and I’m glad I saw it, but sitting in a breezy
grandstand for two hours on a chilly evening while waiting for penguins to
waddle by is probably not something I’d do every night.
only does Oamaru have penguins, it also has some amazing architecture and
it's probably the prettiest city I’ve visited in New Zealand so far.
Some parts of town made me think I was walking through London in the
1800’s – and there are even horse-drawn carriages, old penny-farthing bicycles
(with the high front wheels), and a coal-powered train to complete the picture.
Oamaru is a delightful town and I spent several hours the next morning
walking around and soaking up the 19th-century ambience. This is definitely a place I’d like to visit again, even
without the penguins.
Above left: The penguin colony (left) and DOC
Visitor Center (right) in Oamaru.
Above center: Sitting in the chilly grandstand
that evening, waiting for the penguins to waddle in.
Above right: Sure enough, the penguins showed up a couple hours later.
Above left: The folks in Oamaru are pretty protective of their penguins.
Above center: "Dairies," or
convenience stores, are found throughout New Zealand. They're kind of like
7-11's or Circle K's in the U.S. but they have a lot more character.
Above right: Riding a carriage through Oamaru's historic district.
Above left: Tyne Street in Oamaru's historic
Above center: Street scene in Oamaru.
Above right: I really love the layout of towns in New Zealand. The
shops are all packed together, not spread out like in the U.S. This is
Sunday morning, so there aren't any shoppers.
Above left: The architecture in Oamaru is
Above right: Santa celebrating with Jim
Travels (2001-02) >
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New Zealand and Cook Island Stories > The
Peen-guins of Oamaru