World Famous in New Zealand: Steampunk HQ, Oamaru

The Steampunk HQ in Oamaru.
SIOBHAN DOWNES

The Steampunk HQ in Oamaru.

Welcome to Oamaru, where steampunk is smoking hot.

WHERE/WHAT IS IT?

First, let's get the semantics out of the way. What on earth is steampunk? Well, the simplest way to describe SP is that it's a vision of the future, as dreamed up by a person living in the 19th century. It's a literary genre, philosophy and aesthetic, examples of which can be found within the walls of a historic building in Oamaru - the self-styled steampunk capital of the world.

A steampunk blimp in the backyard.
SIOBHAN DOWNES

A steampunk blimp in the backyard.

Steampunk HQ is located in the Victorian precinct of the quirky coastal settlement, an hour-and-a-half's drive north of Dunedin. This old part of town is one of the best-preserved Victorian streetscapes left in New Zealand, and will make you feel as though you've hopped on a penny-farthing and pedalled back in time.

The HQ is housed within a former grain store, built in 1883 - when Oamaru was bigger than Los Angeles. The imposing building, scarred by the flames of a massive blaze in 1920, wouldn't look out of place in a Tim Burton film.

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Steampunk crab sculpture.
SIOBHAN DOWNES

Steampunk crab sculpture.

WHY GO?

To call Steampunk HQ a museum or gallery wouldn't do it justice - it's a wonderland of upcycled treasures, bizarre gadgets and ghostly figures. You'll find strange creatures made from scrap metal, an eerie collection of vintage dentist chairs, and even an ominously flickering doomsday clock. The backyard is filled with old planes, trains and automobiles, in various states of steampunkery.

The best thing about Steampunk HQ is that there are no "please don't touch" signs. In fact, there are plenty of hands-on exhibits, like the metagalactic pipe organ, where you can pretend to be an alien DJ. Also be sure to check out The Portal, a surreal mirrored room with hundreds of glowing lights that gives the sensation of stepping into another dimension.

INSIDER TIP

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While in Oamaru, stop by the spooky steampunk-inspired Friendly Bay Playground, with its giant penny-farthing, armoured elephant and twisting tube slide. Just like the olden days, there's not a safety supervisor in sight.

ON THE WAY/NEAR BY

There are lots of beautiful boutiques and galleries within the Victorian Precinct, so it's worth setting aside some browsing time. Don't miss Adventure Books, a gem of a bookstore that specialises in travel and exploration, and artist Donna Demente's eye candy-filled Grainstore Gallery.

HOW MUCH?

Entry into the museum costs $10 for adults, $2 for children, or $20 for families. Make sure you have an extra $2 coin on you to crank up the smoke-billowing, fire-spitting steam engine outside the main entrance - it's quite the spectacle.

BEST TIME TO GO

Time your visit to coincide with the Steampunk NZ Festival, held every year over Queen's Birthday Weekend. Attracting steampunk aficionados from all over the country, it's the best way to fully immerse yourself in this weird and wonderful world, with fashion shows, feasting, and the curious sport of teapot racing. Last year's festival even made it into the Guinness Book of World Records for the largest gathering of steampunks in one place.

 - Stuff

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