Such a cute little town! I stayed at Empire Backpackers in a double room right on the main drag of town. The hostel was super cute and clean. Loads of bathroom space, which is always appreciated and even though I was there during the height of tourist season (right after New Years) the place still seemed empty. The TV room was super comfy and had a great selection of videos. The kitchens was well equipt and cleaned daily. Upstairs was another kitchen and computer room with 2 computers with free internet access, which was great for me, because I was in the middle of a few weeks were I had no plans on checking my mail, so this was a nice treat.
The big tourist thing to do in town is the Oamaru Penguin Parade where you can watch the little blue penguins come back to shore after a long day in the ocean. The best time of day and year is in the summer and right after sunset, which unfortunatly is close to 9:30 or 10pm since you are so far south, but totally worth it! Little Blue Penguins are the smallest penguins in the world and are so cute! The parade is kind of expensive, but I had a great time and found the whole thing totally worth it. So much fun watching the penguins fall onto the shore. The parade also has a guide talking about the penguins, so it’s informative as well. The whole thing is super touristy, so be prepared. There is another place, a little out of town to view penguins in the wild, but you are really far back and there are no tourist lights so you can’t really see much. Ask at the visitor centre about this.
On your way out of town on the way down to Dunedin are the Moeraki Boulders, which are these huge boulders in the ocean. They are perfect circles, which is nuts. My reccomendation would be to enter via the beach and NOT the visitor centre as the visitor centre asks for a donation of $2 to use their stairs to get to the boulders faster instead of the long walk on the beach. I didn’t know and went to the visitor centre, which has a gift shop and cafe, if you are in the mood. But a walk on the beach is probably nicer. And while they don’t have anyone manning the stairs and you don’t have to donate, it’s New Zealand and they are just so nice, you feel bad if you don’t:-).
Moral: Typical cute little New Zealand town. One main street, surrounded by farmland and one major tourist attraction where all the buses stop. There are some hikes and festivals throught the year to keep people interested, but most likely nothing you are going to work your schedule around. A good place to stop if you have the time to break up the drive between Christchurch and Dunedin.