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Step back in time . . . Oamaru Heritage Walking Tour guide Gerald Lord explains the finer details of the Harbour St buildings. PHOTO: GUS PATTERSON

As much as reading about history can be informative, getting out and experiencing it first-hand brings it to life.

New daily walking tours departing from the Oamaru i-Site take people through the streets and buildings of the North Otago town, with a focus on history and heritage.

Walking tours had previously been available by arrangement, but Tourism Waitaki general manager Margaret Munro said the organisation decided to make them a regular fixture.

They started in November as a part of the Oamaru Victorian Heritage Celebrations.

“Walking tours are the fastest-growing attraction worldwide,” Mrs Munro said.

“We felt it was a product that should be available seven days a week.”

One of the five tour guides is Gerald Lord, who is a carpenter by trade.

Mr Lord’s interest in the finer details of the town’s history began when he was running a carpentry course for school leavers and worked on some heritage buildings.

“There is so much history that someone needs to carry it on,” Mr Lord said.

“People [who] come on the tours can’t believe some of the buildings and history – there are so many hidden gems.”

Mr Lord said that when he took a tour group, he tried to first ascertain what the participants’ interests were, and catered the tour accordingly.

The job was an enjoyable one, he said, and his passion and knowledge of the town shines through.

“Oamaru is worth sharing with people. isn’t it?”

The walking tours leave from the Oamaru i-Site daily at 10.30am.

Oamaru’s early years

  • Oamaru proved an attractive location for a settlement – no trees needed to be cleared, and there was a potential harbour due to Cape Wanbrow, plentiful limestone for construction and the discovery of gold in the Lindis Valley in 1861.
  • In 1861, Oamaru’s population was 207. In 1878, it was about 5000, 87% of it under 40 years old.
  • The first telegram sent from the crew of Terra Nova reporting the death of their captain, Robert Scott, was sent from Oamaru in 1913. When they came ashore, the crew could not say who they were or what the message was about, because of an arrangement with a news company in London that had exclusive rights to publish the news.
  • Wool was the first major export for the region, followed soon after by grain. Most of the heritage buildings in Harbour St were designed to store and process those two products.
  • In the first 30 years of its existence, Oamaru boomed. In 1878, there were 30 commercial buildings under construction. However, in the 1890s the price of commodities dropped, leaving Oamaru, in the words of tour guide Gerald Lord, “as a bit of time capsule”.