A national house and garden tour, a wine and beer festival, theatre awards, a Legends pro-am golf tournament, a rogaine challenge, an ultra marathon, an A&P show and a Young Farmer of the Year regional final – Oamaru is set for a busy couple of weeks.
This weekend, the main event is NZ House & Garden‘s house tours, which are expected to draw about 2,500 people from across the country to Oamaru over two days.
NZ House & Garden editor Sally Duggan said it was the fastest selling tour in their 11-year history, and the first time they had run the event over two days in one town.
The first 1,200 tickets sold out in 48 hours and, after consulting with the rest of the Oamaru homeowners, organisers decided to add an extra day of tours.
“All eight house owners got on board .. and then that [second] tour sold out within 48 hours,” Ms Duggan said.
There was no doubt Dot and Neil Smith’s Riverstone Castle had huge pulling power.
“Dot’s just a small forcefield, really, she’s just amazing,” she said.
“People are just entranced by her story. It’s just a fabulous fairy story, isn’t it. This quite humble, hard-working couple with this dream that they just worked for years and years and years to create.
“It’s just so gorgeously, wonderfully extravagant what she’s done and I think people just get on board with her energy and vision.”
But Riverstone Castle was not the only drawcard of the tour, with another seven of North Otago’s most outstanding homes opening their doors this weekend, all in support of Breast Cancer Foundation NZ.
Outside of the main centres, organisers looked for regional New Zealand towns with “a bit of a vibe” and an interesting housing stock.
“We felt that very much about Oamaru,” she said.
“We met so many creative people with ideas for their homes and for local businesses and that sort of thing – we were really impressed.”
People were coming from all over the country for the opportunity to see inside Riverstone Castle and other North Otago homes.
“Personally, I’ve had people on the Coromandel talk to me about the tour, people in Auckland .. I know a lot of people who are making it a weekend, making it a trip away,” she said.
Accommodation is at a premium in North Otago and Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro hoped Oamaru businesses would see the influx of visitors as an opportunity, and open their doors over the weekend to cater for the increased demand.
“It’s about seeing an opportunity, taking it and then getting the reward of it,” Mrs Munro said.
“You can either choose to take it, or choose to ignore it, but the choice is theirs.”
Awareness of Oamaru and the Waitaki district’s tourism offerings was growing, she said.
“Things like this house tour is an example of the interest from outside, that such things are creating,” she said.
“They’re going to draw people in and the more people that see Oamaru, its character, its atmosphere, all of the unique things that make it what it is, and the Waitaki district as a whole, will hep create that momentum and help it build.”