Oamaru’s newest visitor attraction isn’t really an attraction at all – it’s an experience, Tourism Waitaki operations manager Wendy Simpson says.
Whitestone City, a Victorian era-themed heritage centre with some modern elements, was officially opened to the public on Sunday.
It is a joint venture between Tourism Waitaki and the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust with support from the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.
“It’s a heritage experience,” Mrs Simpson said.
“It’s really interesting. It’s not just like a museum. You can come in .. and be a part of it.”
When people enter Whitestone City’s doors though the lane behind Harbour St, they pay an entry fee and are given a passport to enter the complex, manned by five guides in period costume.
Visitors are first greeted by an Oamaru stone archway that leads on to a streetscape that includes a medical dispensary, a barber shop, a general store, an architect’s office with a hologram of the Criterion Hotel, and a newspaper stand, which features another hologram of a Victorian-era newspaper boy.
They then move on to a Victorian dressing experience that displays several authentic period gowns, hats, a video showing the difficulties involved getting dressed as a Victorian woman, and more than 60 replica portraits, in original frames, of Oamaru’s early settlers.
There is also a rideable carousel mounted with four penny-farthings, a playground for children to play Victorian-era games, and an agricultural area.
Behind a pair of red curtains is an area Mrs Simpson said was dedicated to Oamaru’s “colourful past”, featuring a bar and brothel complete with games that can be played, such as Victorian bagatelle.
Visitors then pass through a schoolroom with an almost 100-year-old map of the world, slate boards and a cane, which was used to discipline unruly children in days gone by.
There is also a “dunce desk” complete with a white, triangular hat marked with a black “D”.
The final stop is a parlour that houses furniture and a laid-out dinner set, before visitors exit on to Harbour St to continue their experience.
Items on display have been either donated or purchased or are on loan.
Tourism Waitaki communications co-ordinator Lisa Smith believed the ability for people to interact was the essence of Whitestone City.
“It’s authentic but usable, because we didn’t want people to feel like they had to stand behind a roped-off area,” she said.
“The whole purpose was people were able to come along to be part of a display, instead of seeing a display.”
Whitestone City was designed to appeal to both tourists and locals.
“It’s hard because it is an attraction, but it’s for the locals as well. It’s not just something for people who are not from here. It’s about Oamaru, it’s about our district, it’s about us, and we hope to reflect that in what we’ve done here.”
Mrs Simpson said, eventually, people would be able to exit Whitestone City and be offered a guided tour of Harbour St.
More than 1000 people passed through its doors at a free-entry day on Sunday.