The Victorian Heritage Celebrations have been held in Oamaru for over 30 years in November and are a highlight not only for the city but also all of the wonderful people who make the journey to attend it. While some of the events come and go, or change to fit the theme selected for the year, there are a few cornerstone events that happen every year.
If you’ve heard of the Heritage Celebrations but haven’t yet made the trip to attend then I definitely recommend experiencing them at least once in your life. There are several free to attend events and others that are ticketed. Dressing up in Victorian dress is encouraged, but if you’re happy just to watch events such as the Grand Street Parade and the Cycle Racing in modern attire no one is going to turn you away.
Here are a few of the core events that make up the Victorian Heritage Celebrations in Oamaru:
The Grand Opening
Not only is this a great way to start the Heritage Celebrations, but it’s also like a family reunion as you get to catch up with so many people that you haven’t seen since last year. It also provides a chance to meet new people who you will run into all over the next few days at different events.
Usually a drinks and nibbles type event, with short opening speeches from the Mayor and chairperson of the Celebrations Committee.
This is held on the steps of the Opera House and quite literally stops traffic. Everyone who is dressed in their Victorian and Edwardian outfits poses not only for the official photo, but for all of the other eager camera welding enthusiasts who cluster in the middle of the street.As well as assembling for the photo, this is also when prizes are handed out for the best window display by local shops, and best dressed-to-theme prizes.
The Garden Party
Held in the beautiful Oamaru Botanic Gardens (unless the weather is (hardly ever) terrible), the garden party is a brilliant chance to gather by the rotunda and enjoy the company of friends and acquaintances, play a game of croquet, drink tea and nibble on sandwiches, scones, and a piece of cake. This is free for anyone to attend and the atmosphere is always delightful.
You might even be lucky enough to take a horse and carriage ride.
The ball is the biggest event of the Heritage Celebrations and always very popular. Run by Jim and Jen, this is an evening worth paying the ticket price for. If you don’t know many of the dances there is a practice held in the morning, and if you haven’t brought a partner along with you that’s okay – someone will ask you (or you can ask them). It’s a very judgement free zone so if you muck up the steps a bit that’s okay.
Dinner is served in courses throughout the evening too, providing an opportunity to chat to others attending the ball. Chances are, by the end of the evening, you’ll be tired but so pleased that you attended.
Grand Street Parade
Held on the Saturday, this parade winds it’s way from the Historic Precinct to Thames Street as far as the Opera House before returning to the precinct. You will see suffragettes, local groups, school floats, vintage cars, and so much more.
Penny Farthing and Cycle Races
Held on the Saturday afternoon, cyclists and penny farthing riders compete in different races including slalom, slow races, and sprints. Always a drawcard for spectators, it’s always a good idea to secure your viewing spot before they start.
Victorian Fashion Show
Crinolines, bustles, and puffed sleeves!
Held after the races in the Scottish Hall (and presented by yours truly), this is a popular event which gives you the opportunity to admire the Victorian fashions that take to the catwalk.
There is usually a bit of a mix of day and evening dresses, and a range of fashions from throughout the Victorian era. You might even learn a few Victorian Secrets (that’s right – there have been undergarments on display before) and a menswear section is being introduced this year.
The other dance during the Heritage Celebrations is less formal (and less expensive) than the ball and is held on the Saturday night. With more of a laid-back feel and more energetic dances it is always a lot of fun. Dinner is served partway through and there’s generally a walk through before each dance so it’s easier to join in.
Sunday is Fete Day, when the Historic Precinct is blocked off from traffic and stalls line the footpaths. Not only will you have stalls to browse but there’s plenty of entertainment provided from buskers to live music performances on the main stage.
You’ll want to secure the best vantage point to watch the Stone Sawing Competition. Men, women, and children all have a go, competing to see who can saw through a block of Oamaru stone first. If you’re feeling brave you can sign up on the day to have a go yourself.
Other events in the past have included historical talks, a musical evening, burlesque, magic show,
Clarks Mill and Totara Estate, two heritage sites just outside of Oamaru hosts events and run tours.
If you want a more in-depth look at what events were held in previous years you can check out past programmes here.
What if you have nothing to wear?
Never fear! The incredibly lovely, extremely talented ladies at The Victorian Wardrobe have a large range of outfits for men, women, and children. If you’re going to be in Oamaru earlier in the year you can pick and book your outfit ahead of the event. They’re usually open on Thursdays but you can also make an appointment to see them at another time and day.
If you can’t book in ahead of time that’s okay – there are still plenty of outfits to choose from during the Heritage Celebrations. Just pop in and they will happily play fairy godmother and transform you into a gentleman, lady, or even a member of the working class if you prefer.
Can I wear the same outfit?
Absolutely, while some attendees have a different outfit for each day, there is no rule to say that you can’t wear the same clothes during the Celebrations – a lot of people do 😊
What else is there to see or do?
Oamaru has plenty to offer and you’re guaranteed to find something that takes your fancy.
Known as the Steampunk Capital of the World, Oamaru has a sort of Steampunk Museum that sits on the edge of the Historic Precinct. Steampunk HQ is instantly recognisable thanks to the steam train outside the building.
If you love cute little animals then you can visit the Blue Penguin Colony and watch the Little Blues waddle ashore in the evening. You can also visit Bushy Beach to see Yellow-Eyed penguins
And you’re spoilt for choice when it comes to dining options. Oamaru has lots of great cafes and restaurants, like The Last Post, Steam Cafe, and Short Black. You definitely can’t go wrong with an ice cream from Deja Moo. And, of course, the crown jewel of the Victorian Precinct – the Criterion Hotel.
Check out the Victorian Heritage Celebrations website
And their FAQ Page