top of page

Steampunk in New Zealand

It all started with a beer mug

Steampunk in New Zealand has a distinct identity and is internationally praised for its "can do" attitude and Kiwi DIY approach. Whether it is the fashion, accessories, weapons or even means of transport seen sported by Kiwi Steampunkers, it is more than likely that the wearer has made it all themselves. 

Agent Darling, aka Iain Clark, created an exhibition piece for a party in 2008 - a bronze beer mug. It was received so well, and stimulated the imaginations of so many, that he wanted to hold an exhibition of Oamaru's creative minds. Thus the first 'League of Victorian Imagineers Steampunk: tomorrow as it used to be' exhibition was held at the Forrester Gallery in Oamaru in 2009. 

Sally Hope suggested the addition of a fashion show and gala ball to the 2010 exhibition, and from that the Steampunk NZ Festival was established.


As participants and spectators requested more steampunk events be included in the weekend, the annual Steampunk NZ Festival became the largest, longest running steampunk event in the Southern Hemisphere inspiring the formation of an additional 22 other Steampunk Chapters around the country along with shops, galleries and experiences. 

What is steampunk?

Imagine a future where steam was the

last technology discovered

It is based on imagining what the Victorians might have created for the modern world. The movement was based on the imaginings of science fiction writers such as H. G. Wells.  The term Steampunk was coined in the 1980s allegedly by Kevin Jeter as a way of distancing retro-tech sci-fi writers from "cyberpunks", such as William Gibson. From it's literary origins it has grown into an aesthetic all of its own and, some would argue, a philosophy for life: an innovative and colourful challenge of the ever-progressing advance of today's technological world. 

Steampunk has sparked a love of older materials such as brass, copper, wood, glass, mechanical workings and ornate engraving. These elements are then incorporated into an unlimited array of costume pieces, weapons, and gadgets. 

Take a look at this wonderful video about a 2010 Steampunk exhibition at the Museum of the History of Science in Oxford, UK.





SteampunkNZ Festival is held in the coastal town of Oamaru (pronounced Awe-ah-mah-roo) on the eastern coast of New Zealand's South Island. 

The local area was originally named Ma Kotukutuku, after the pa which was established atop the present Cape Wanbrow. The name Oamaru, meaning 'the breathe of Maru' or 'the place of Maru', originates from a Maori campsite established near Oamaru creek in around 1100AD and became the predominant name for the town when European settlers arrived in the mid-1800's.

The town of Oamaru, as we would come to recognise it, started out as a service-centre for the agricultural/pastoral area between the Kakanui Mountains and the Waitaki River, and rapidly became a major port that, at the time, exceeded San Fransisco in size! 

Alongside the Steampunk fame, Oamaru is known for it's pristinely kept Victorian Precinct, the Blue Penguin Colony, and the iconic limestone that makes up so much of the town's architecture. Many more of the town's and surrounding area's attractions can be found on the map below.

The Waitaki District

The Waitaki District spans an area of 7,148.05 km2 from the east coast of New Zealand's South Island to the boarder of the West Coast District, by the Hunter Valley. The population of the Waitaki District is 20,829, with the majority, 63%, living in the town of Oamaru and much of the economy in the Waitaki District is driven by family-owned farms. 

Notable geological landmarks are explained by Maori lore: tradition tells of the ancient people Kahui Tipua building a waka (canoe), Arai Te Uru, which sailed from southern New Zealand to the ancestral Polynesian homeland, Hawaiki, to obtain kumara. On its return it became waterlogged off the Waitaki River mouth and in the wreck eel baskets, calabashes and the Hawaikian kumara were washed up onto the shore at Moeraki where they became the boulders found on the shore. Arai Te Uru sank at Matakaea (Shag Point) where the petrified remaines turned into Danger Reef. A crew member, Pahihiwitahi, left the boat to search for water which he found at the Waitaki river. He failed to reach the wrecked Arai Te Uru before dawn, though, and his body was turned into a hill in the Shag Valley. 


Modern academics have suggested this tale is an allegorical explanation of the fact that kumara will not grow south of Banks Peninsula.

If you have some spare time during your time in town why not explore the stunning scenery and historical marvels that the Waitaki District has to offer? See the map below for some ideas. You can also visit the Tourism Waitaki website for more information on the District here

SteampunkNZ Trust

The Steampunk NZ Festival is now run by the Steampunk NZ Trust. Based in Oamaru, the Steampunk NZ Trust is registered under the Charitable Trusts Act (Reg Num: CC47380), with the following mission:

  • To foster and promote Steampunk as an art genre.

  • To foster and promote Steampunk artistic development, and the public viewing and appreciation of Steampunk art. 

  • To foster and promote the collection and display, exhibition and performance of Steampunk art forms.​​

The Steampunk NZ Trustees are:

Neave Willoughby (Christchurch)

Kat Douglas (Christchurch)

Iain Clark (Oamaru)
Kathleen Stringer (Ashburton)

Carolyn Lewis (Oamaru)

Oamaru town centre attrations
Waitaki District Attractions
bottom of page