I have been down in Oamaru, one of my favourite haunts, a town of about 13,000 with the character, energy and rich diversity of a much larger city. This time the draw-card was the Oamaru Heritage Festival, a sort of Waitaki District "Show Week" with an historic theme to match the town's fantastic array of Victorian and Edwardian lime-stone buildings. With the demise of much of Christchurch's Vic & Ed streetscape Oamaru's star can only rise further (in a long ago posting I suggested that the District and city councils of the east coast of Te Wai Pounamu, could unite to offer a heritage and walkway package, united by an iconic weekly steam train Christchurch to Dunedin (and one offering both tourist and budget class rail)
For the festival in Oamaru my partner and I hired Victorian costumes and joined several hundred other people similarly clothed - its a hoot, dress-up for adults, lots of fun and friendliness. It also gives one a so much deeper sense history being about living people. The grim black & white photos of Victoriana come alive in colour and the character of people does not change, in many ways appears more pronounced. That said, you can play at being whoever you like, such as this dandy couple.
The main theme of the week is Victorian Heritage but there are also sub-themes (so to speak) of history in general and Steampunk. There was a new exhibition of steampunk inventions and artworks - by everyone from local school children to the most sophisticated devices (some from Peter Jackson's WETA studio's) - all with marvelous captions of exotic Victorian time travel with explorer names as sterling as my alter ego, Montague Porch. This incredible exhibition at the magnificent Forrester Gallery indeed cements Oamaru's claim to being steampunk capital of the world!
Steampunk - tomorrow as it used to be!
We were also lucky enough to see the Loon's Theatre company from Lyttelton do Berlin Burlesque, a sort of update on similar themes to the movie/show "Cabaret" in Oamaru's magnificent and beautifully restored Opera House. The Loon's show is based on a leading German entertainer and night club owner murdered by the Nazis. and is fittingly done in cabaret form. The complexity and precision timing of this spectacular never boring mix of music, singing, lighting, acted history, costumes and acrobatics (all with burlesque spice) was a world class, a fantastic show.
Which makes me think, if the quake damaged circo arts school at CPIT can not be rebuilt, I believe the Government could do much to psyche up Lyttelton's recovery and future image and tourist trade by creating a CPIT campus of circus and performing arts, possibly on the London street site of the former Harbour Light Theatre. This would offer an anchor institute for the main-street revival, a school in a distinctive larger landmark building and one that also incorporates actual operative performance theatres and venues. This in turn will generate and stimulate associated commercial activity and two way bus traffic (yes, well it is a public transport blog!) and a lively creative core of young people in Lyttelton.
With no fanfare, with no "big noter" politicians to boast about it, Oamaru has something else I love and admire, something so simple but which has long eluded the ability (or is it underlying awareness and commitment) of much larger Christchurch to achieve. It is something so simple, like good plumbing, I suspect it barely consciously noticed anyone other than me - a common transport hub for long-distance and local transport services.
Immediately off the main street in the centre of Oamaru, on Eden Street, are the bus stops for ALL the long distance bus services tofro Dunedin and Invercargill, and tofro Christchurch. It is a common 30 minute rest or lunch stop for most of these services, with two well provisioned cafes immediately adjacent, as well as other food options with a minute or two walk. Between public toilets and those for cafe customers "every convenience" is offered the traveler. One cafe, The Lagonda, also offers a booking agency for travelers and equally useful, a range of hire internet machines. Immediately adjacent to the bus stops is the cab rank of Whitestone Taxis. There are no shelters as such - and as usual on the East Coast sharp sunny day easterly winds need better wind block devices, but adjacent shop verandas offer rain proofing or cafes a cup to linger over until buses arrive.
Simple but effective
A range of traveler services in one place beside departure and arrival zones
Whether all this has just fallen into place or is the result of a more conscious planning I have no idea - I do know the combined might of Ecan and Christchurch City Council's spanning 20 years have been completely unable to achieve anything remotely similar. Neither august body appears aware that many of those who use public transport within a city (including students, retired people, out of town visitors) also want and need a seamless switch to taxis or long distance buses, or waiting spaces with food, toilets, access to internet, left luggage or booking facilities. Nor do these governing bodies (or not) seem to value that long term tourist image and word of mouth promotion is directly linked to ease, reduced movement related stresses, user-friendly services and enjoyment when visiting a place.
Whilst the new "temporary" bus exchange seems to work well for free flow of cross-town buses and transfers, the normal thoughtlessness and minimal interest in doing public transport better does consign Christchurch yet more years without a genuinely integrated approach to public transport. Much smaller Oamaru with iys act together makes Christchurch's big city ego look sometimes rather foolish!
Lastly in this pot-pouri of promoting things I love and public transport, does anyone notice that getting early start long distance coach and shuttle services from towns and cities at the centre of either of the two main islands (Te Wai Pounamu. Te Ika a Maui) is virtually impossible. Buses leave Auckland and Wellington, or Dunedin and Christchurch, early morning and pass through the Taihapes and the Oamarus about mid day often creating a half day of limited tourist use (especially for those without a car). For most travelers getting the most out of every day is fundamental. I imagine when planning an itinerary (NZ in three weeks etc) from online bus operator timetables, many tourists just write off the thought of stopping overnight in Timaru or Oamaru (or Taihape, etc) purely on the lack of early departure times or convenient bus service times.
I wonder when some enterprising coachline or shuttle service operator is going to realise there is an untapped market in a service early morning from Oamaru to Invercargill, or Oamaru to Kaikoura (and reverse), giving the bus users of these smaller centres big city access at more useful times whilst allowing overseas tourists a more useful early start.
As suggested in previous articles about Timaru-Christchurch commuter services, that extra night (and evening out at events or wining and dining) spent by tourists or family visitors could be worth many many tens or hundreds of thousands of dollars to local accommodation and hospitality providers in these smaller centres. In other words long distance bussing times become more of a mosaic of departure times across the whole day, stimulating greater patronage over-all.