Located on the East Coast of New Zealand, Oamaru is a quiet wee town with amazing Victorian Architecture made from local limestone, giving the sense of a clean (limestone being white) town with beautiful rocky beaches that are home to the world's smallest penguin.
The Little Blue Penguin has been the main attraction for large coach tours that plow into the city like a wild duck tucking into a loaf of bread and then they disappear just as quickly, when the last crumb falls it's off to the next stop.
You may think, oh my, did Frankenstein's monster find a lover? I wish this was the case, as that poor fella doesn't get enough credit.
However, what you'll actually be seeing is Oamaru's interpretation of "Steampunk", and it is this beautiful and whacky thing that comes to a climax once a year in a festival for the ages, that literally feels like you're travelling back in time.
Now let's explore this rapidly developing culture in New Zealand by first understanding its origins.
What is Steam Punk?
It is "Steam" with a not so subtle dousing of "Punk".
During Queen Victoria's reign, there was a rapid development of British industry, the invention of the steam engine liberated productivity from manual to automatic, this began to enrich people's material life. Various inventions and theories emerged in an endless stream that combined "science and technology to create a better future".
People began to worship steam power and mechanical wonders, this led to the formation of a unique fashion trend that was essentially based off the following thoughts:
A complex metal machine is beautiful.
Elegant Victorian dress is also beautiful.
These two ideas fused together to become "Steam Fashion".
The word "punk" makes us think of the loud and aggressive form of rock music popular in the late 1970s. The subject is often rebellious and independent, with followers expressing dissatisfaction with the real world.
Put these two concepts together and it should provide you with a general overview of the culture that developed. The eighties and nineties of the last century gave the term a following and various pieces of art began to spring up based on the theme of science fiction.
What makes a small New Zealand town at the bottom of the world the Steampunk Capital?
Oamaru's Steampunk culture is traced back to 2010 when a small group of artists first gathered there. At the beginning the locals didn't know what they were doing, even some of them thought a mysterious cult was forming.
As always, people's questions did not stop, but Steam Punk culture kept on sweeping the town as more and more artists slowly heard of the Victorian Buildings and the local's readiness to accept this robotic culture. It filled a gap that, when looking back, seemed inevitable.
A major boost to this was provided when the acclaimed father of Oamaru Steampunk, "Iain Clark", contacted Wellington's Weta Workshop and asked them for a hand in developing the trend. (Weta Workshop may sound familiar, it is the home of the "Lord of the Rings" series of films for props and special effects)
Weta Workshop loved it and donated a whole container of Steampunk style artwork to an exhibition in Oamaru. The high profile Weta name attracted a large number of nearby farmers to the crowd as it was a novel sight and quite possibly a breath of fresh air. I can imagine the gumboots walking around thinking, is this art?
But then, after the exhibition, many farmers began to go home to fiddle with scrap metal that had been left over from old machines, which was also too expensive to dump, coming up with a variety of sculptures and works of art that fitted in perfectly with this newly founded Steampunk scene.
With the participation of farmers, Oamaru's Steampunk art scene began to flourish into what it is today.
Plus, if you plan your time in New Zealand for around the end of May 2018, spend more than one night in Oamaru and you'll get to enjoy the Steam Punk NZ Festival. But remember, you cannot just buy these costumes, they are all individually made from scrap metal attached to Victorian clothing. They do look cool though, so you better not turn up in everyday clothes!
No matter what you wear, this is the one place you're guaranteed to be welcomed with open arms.
Citing the father of Oamaru Steam Punk, Iain Clark;
"Being different is becoming the norm here - something we celebrate"
Also, if you're planning on coming to New Zealand sometime soon and you're looking for some travel advice or even just a friendly yarn then feel free to get in touch with us here and we'll give you the inside scoop.