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The World Capital of Steampunk?

A visual tour of Oamaru, the New Zealand town that has become a top steampunk destination

Tuesday, June 25, 2019
Steampunk HQ
Photo: Daniel Stockman (CC BY-SA 2.0) from Flickr.

If steampunk has a Mecca, it’s likely in Oamaru, a coastal town (pop. 13,950) between Christchurch and Dunedin in New Zealand’s South Island. The town is home to the Steampunk HQ art gallery as well as Steampunk NZ, the longest-running steampunk festival in the Southern Hemisphere. It’s also known for its historic downtown district with many Victorian-era structures.

“Steampunks are there who are living the dream, 24/7,” says Tee Morris, co-author of the Ministry of Peculiar Occurrences series with his wife, Philippa Ballantine. “It’s not something you just do on the weekends. You get dressed in steampunk. You live the life. It’s awesome.”

He describes Steampunk HQ as “a steampunk’s playground.” Housed in a 19th century grain elevator building, it features quirky art exhibits and an outdoor area with steampunk contraptions such as an “Aethertractor” and “Kaleido Machine.”

“They encourage you to play with stuff,” Morris says. “It’s all very hands on.”

The gallery was founded in 2011 by Don Paterson, Jac Grenfell and Brian de Geest, after de Geest purchased the Meek’s Grain Elevator building.

Steampunk NZ has its origins in a 2009 art exhibit conceived by Iain Clark (aka Agent Darling), a local jewelry maker. That led to a steampunk fashion show and gala ball, and then to the present-day festival with a parade, maker workshops, steampunk market, and more.

In 2014, Steampunk NZ hosted the first teapot racing tournament, which has since become a staple of steampunk events around the world.

It’s a tempting destination, but in lieu of a formal pilgrimage, you can check out the scenes in the gallery below.

Photo: Wendy Mann (CC BY 2.0) from Flickr.

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