Architecture

A Legacy in Limestone

Within 25 years of the first European dwelling of cabbage trees and clay being built in 1853, Ōamaru had risen to become not only the country’s ninth largest town, but also reputedly “the best built in New Zealand”.


The discovery of an excellent building material, limestone, contributed to the young town’s early appearance of permanence and stability. Because the stone was easily carved, architects and stonemasons revelled in the creation of the then fashionable classic forms of architecture. Their skills, aided by the general prosperity of the time, have given Ōamaru some of the finest 19th century streetscapes one could hope to find in New Zealand today.


Ōamaru has traditionally been a servicing centre for the farms and estates of the interior. At Totara, just south of Ōamaru, sheep for New Zealand’s first shipment of frozen mutton to the United Kingdom were killed and processed.

Because the port played an important role in the handling of imports and exports, the harbour area was understandably developed first. Here, creamy white limestone hotels, banks and offices rose alongside equally well-designed and well-proportioned grain and wool stores and warehouses.


The widening of the Thames Street bridge over the Ōamaru Creek then enabled the commercial area to spread along Thames Street. With the development of the northern end of the town, “The Whitestone City”, as Ōamaru soon became known, continued to expand.


This shift of commerce, together with the closure of the Port of Ōamaru in the l970s, has been fortuitous for the town’s 19th century heritage. It has allowed the area to remain largely intact…poised, if you like,
to greet an era of renewed appreciation.

AMP Building

Architecture OAMARU, ITCHEN/TEE ST Now upstairs the home of its owner the North Otago Club, and hosting downstairs the Cucina Restaurant and Tees St Café, this building was originally designed by Forrester and Lemon for Hood and Shennan’s Drapery in 1874. In 1886 it was remodelled for the AMP Society.

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Courthouse

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET Arguably the finest building by the prolific local architectural partnership of Forrester and Lemon, the Ōamaru courthouse was built 1882-3, superceding an earlier courthouse to the south. The well – proportioned classical design reflects the influence of Palladian architecture. Supreme Court sittings were held here until

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Criterion Hotel

The Criterion Hotel has eight upstairs rooms available, together with a breakfast room. These are the only rooms located in the heart of the historical precinct, the perfect place for tourists to stay in order to visit more of Oamaru’s attractions.

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Customs House

Architecture   OAMARU, TYNE STREET Now the home of the North Otago Art Society, this former Customs House has had many varied uses over the years. For a time it served the Waitaki County Council and later the Buffalo Lodge. It was designed in 1883 by Forrester and Lemon. 29 Tyne Street

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Forrester Gallery

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET This former Bank of New South Wales was built at a time of rapid growth in Ōamaru. Designed by Dunedin architect Robert Lawson in 1883, the building forms a handsome pair in limestone with its equally imposing neighbour, the National Bank. Both have luxuriant acanthus leaves

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Harbour Board Office

Architecture OAMARU, Harbour STREET This former Harbour Board office, built in 1876, is one of the first public buildings designed by Ōamaru architects, Forrester and Lemon. Heavily ornamented, the building was designed in the Venetian Renaissance style. It is now the Headquarters of the Ōamaru Whitestone Civic Trust. 2 Harbour

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NZ Loan and Mercantile Warehouse

Architecture   OAMARU, Harbour STREET Built in 1882, to the design of Dennison and Grant, this elegantly detailed, three storey Victorian warehouse was built for NZ Loan and Mercantile when it was the largest stock and station agency in New Zealand. The building was designed to hold 100,000 sacks of

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Oamaru Harbour

Architecture   OAMARU HARBOUR This Victorian/Edwardian deep water port survives in a relatively intact and unchanged state, representative of a site type that has generally disappeared. Its key component, Sumpter Wharf, was constructed in 1884 specifically for the refrigerated steamers designed to run between New Zealand and Britain. Recognising its

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Oamaru Opera House

The beautiful Oamaru Opera House stands resplendent in historic Thames Street, an intact, heritage-listed nineteenth century streetscape. Built over a century ago, the Oamaru Opera House has long been a hub for social, political and cultural activity, and continues to be the first choice for quality entertainment, meetings and conferencing

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Oamaru’s Courthouse

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET Arguably the finest building by the prolific local architectural partnership of Forrester and Lemon, the Ōamaru Courthouse was built in 1882-3, superceding an earlier courthouse to the south. The well- proportioned classical design reflects the influence of Palladian architecture. Supreme Court sittings were held here until

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Oamaru’s First Post Office

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET Now a restaurant, this former post office, built 1864 is now Ōamaru’s oldest surviving public building. It is the only known example of architect W. H. Clayton’s work remaining in the town and differs from its more elaborate neighbour, the second post office, which replaced it in

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Oamaru’s Former Post Office

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET Now the home of the Waitaki District Council, this elegant essay in limestone was designed by Forrester and Lemon in 1883, but without its clocktower. It was Thomas Forrester’s son John, who saw to the addition of the 28 metre high tower in 1903. The clock

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Oamaru’s National Bank

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET Originally built for the Bank of Otago in 1871, this elegant and dignified building was, like its neighbour, the Forrester Gallery, designed by Robert Lawson. The Bank of Otago, founded in 1863, was absorbed by the National Bank in 1875. 11 Thames StreetOamaru 9400 New Zealand

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Railway Station

Architecture   OAMARU, HUMBER STREET This wooden building was designed by George Troup in1900. It was Ōamaru’s second station and typified the town’s move north from Tyne St. Its 700 seat dining room was the largest in the South Island. At the station’s peak, eight passenger trains with over 5000

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Smith’s Grain Store

Architecture OAMARU, TYNE STREET Built in 1881-2 by James Johnston, a stone mason and main rival to architects Forrester and Lemon, this former grain store is probably the most ornamental grain store in the country. In its heyday it could hold some 30,000 sacks of grain. Between 1906-1970, the building

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St Luke’s Anglican Church

Architecture   OAMARU, Corner Itchen/Tees St The first part of this prominent church, the south end of the nave, was built as early as 1866, followed by the rest of the nave in 1876, the spire and chancel in 1913 and the West porch in 1922. Rumsey and Jackson designed

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St Patrick’s Basilica

Architecture OAMARU, REED ST This magnificent Catholic church building was designed by Dunedin architect F.W. Petre, well-known throughout the South Island for his church architecture. Like a number of large churches, St Patrick’s was built in various stages, the first in 1893 and the last in 1918. The interior with

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Thames Street Bridge

Architecture OAMARU, THAMES STREET The central portion of this stone bridge over Ōamaru Creek was constructed in 1861 to link the old town centre with Thames Street in the north. Originally only 5.5 metres wide, the bridge was widened to its present width of 40.24 metres in 1876. Until 1932,

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Union Bank

Architecture   OAMARU, TYNE STREET This former Union Bank of Australia was designed by Forrester and Lemon and built 1878-9. It is one of the earliest examples of the Venetian palazzo style of commercial architecture in New Zealand. The Union Bank was the forerunner of the ANZ Bank. Today the

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Waitaki Museum

The North Otago Museum collects and showcases a variety of artefacts and objects that tell the various natural, cultural, agricultural and industrial stories of the Waitaki District.

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