Sunday, February 5, 2017

Oamaru & Cape Wanbrow fortifications

10-15 years ago if you said you were going to Oamaru for a holiday they'd have locked you up. It was literally dying (had one of the fastest aging and fastest declining populations in the country) and was about as exciting a place to visit as, oh I don't know, Middlemarch! In the past decade or so the town has reinvented itself thanks to a forward thinking council and businesses making the most of its run down and dilapidated Victorian Precinct. In the past couple of years the  300km Alps2Ocean bike trail- from Aoraki/Mt Cook to the sea- has also added more tourists to the mix. Throw in some penguins and a few nutters right into steampunk, not to mention a chapter of Alf's imperial Army (the empire never died damn it!) who saved the town from the Green Republicans in the Battle of Oamaru  in 2000,  and these days you have a very cool, very quirky small town which Lonely Planet rates as the coolest small town in NZ. Not bad really for a small, conservative, dying, farming service centre.

Alf's Imperial Army is in itself probably worthy of its own post. Founded by the rather eccentric Wizard of Christchurch who used to host daily battles in Cathedral Square vs the Bible Lady in the 1980s it is one of those very silly inventions, along with the McGilligudy Serious Party, of a slightly deranged group of Antipodians who've had a touch of sunstroke and don't take themselves, or life, too seriously.

Anyway, back to Oamaru. Most of the heritage building in Oamaru's, now famous Victorian Precinct, are built on the local Oamaru limestone, the quarry for which is still in operation. In the 1880s the town boomed on the back of wool, sheep and the development of the frozen meat industry that allowed NZ to refrigerate meat and sell it to Britain- in fact the first meat for this industry was processed at Totara Estate near Oamaru then packed in ice and shipped to Port Chalmers  in Dunedin and on to Britain, thus creating one of our main industries.  Back then Oamaru was one of the country's richest towns. The boom busted and the town slowly stagnated during the latter part of the twentieth century, like much of rural NZ. Young people couldn't, and many still can't, wait to leave the place but these days it really is a cool little town. Its no Wanaka, Queenstown, Akaroa or Hanmer Springs and that is a good thing. Its a small town comfortable with, and celebrating, its rich Victorian heritage and putting itself on the tourism map without going overbaord like Queenstown has done and has a cool quirky vibe about it due to its eclectic bunch of locals.

Cape Wanbrow Coastal Defence Battery

Today my wife and I went for a walk around Cape Wanbrow, the headland that protects Oamaru from the southerly storms that surge up the east coast of the South Island. In 1942 a gun battery was built on the headland to protect the harbour from Japanese invasion. Though we've been coming to Oamaru for holidays for more than a decade and our bach is 10 minutes south of Oamaru at beautiful Kakanui, I've not found the time to explore the fortifications until now.

The fortifications are looked after by the Oamaru Coastal Defence Restoration Group who are also the local WWII reentactors group. They have a restored 25 pounder they take to various shows such as the Wanaka airshow. I met one of the younger members late last year who has built himself a working railway jig and is currently building himself a replica bofors gun- not bad considering he is still at high school! 

Anyway today we went and explored the fortifications above Oamaru. Until recently the hillside was covered in pines but these have been harvested in the past few years and the fortifications are once more clearly seen.

Observation post- this has a parapet above it.

From above. 
And from below.

A lookout post?

The main gun emplacement.

The emplacement housed a US Navy 5" 51 calibre Mk VII 1912 gun, with an effective range of 12000 yards and a crew of 13. 
 The field of fire.

 Anyway enough ramblings from me.


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