Under normal circumstances, the arrival of an email message would not be the sort of thing that would be especially memorable. Who remembers when any particular message arrives, and who would even bother to commemorate such a mundane occurrence? But when the email in question is one that changes your life, it takes on a bit more meaning, and the date of its arrival becomes one imbued with extra meaning.
And thus the arrival of an otherwise unremarkable email on 23 December 2009 in J2’s inbox, and its subsequent forwarding to mine, is one that I tend to commemorate. That email, from a real estate agent in Christchurch, set the ball rolling that led us to where we are today. The subject line was “Here’s the place for you…” and it started with this prophetic sentence: “I’ve attached a place I think could be suitable for you. It’s in Oamaru.” We had never heard of Oamaru, and in fact didn’t even know how to pronounce it (I initially thought it would be pronounced like “Wamaru” for some reason), but through the power of Google Maps’ street view function we were soon familiar with the layout of the town, the range of its shops, and decided it was worth a look. You of course know the rest of the story if you have been reading this blog.
As this fifth year ends and we look forward to the impending fifth anniversary of our arrival in our new hometown, it is interesting to see how much has changed here in the time since we arrived in Oamaru. When we arrived, the Lonely Planet guidebook dedicated a scant two pages or so to Oamaru and the surrounding area; today we merit a full nine pages, and in the edition just released a few months ago they even state that Oamaru is “quite simply, New Zealand’s coolest town”. A NZ television show held a contest to choose the country’s “sharpest town” and Oamaru ran away with it. New shops and restaurants open regularly, and their calibre continuously improves.
When we arrived we knew that we wanted to get involved in local affairs beyond the confines of our own little business, but I don’t think we ever thought that it would happen so quickly. I am now on no fewer than four local boards: the local farmers’ market (which I helped set up); the trust that oversees the maintenance and restoration of the town’s historic buildings; a voluntary association of tourism businesses; and the local council-owned tourism authority cum economic development board. Even J2–normally somewhat more shy about getting involved in things–has joined in, designing a smartphone app for the tourism association to help visitors find their way among the district’s tourist sites, while also promoting the association’s members’ businesses (you can download it at www.oamaru.me/wta-android or www.oamaru.me/wta-iphone and check it out, though the iPhone version is still awaiting approval at the App Store). This has had the unexpected effect of luring more local businesses to join the association, and spurring more of them to become a bit more internet-friendly and tech-savvy. The development of the app has, in turn, prodded the group to embrace the creation of a website, which I took on, and which you can visit at waitaki.wordpress.com.
In addition to all these things that we’ve had a hand in, other Oamaruvians have also been pushing in the same direction, with a bevy of creative types firming up the town’s reputation as the Steampunk capital of NZ, if not the world, and sporty outdoorsy types have pushed for the creation of the country’s longest cycle trail that terminates at the Oamaru harbour. The national tourism agency just released a video of this trail, which you can view below (it’ll start right before a certain lodge that we all hold dearly makes its entrance, but please do watch the whole thing):
In addition, enterprising young people have made Oamaru into the home of not one, but two of the country’s best craft brewers, several new food businesses, and quirky shops. A critical mass has yet to be achieved, but the days when Oamaru was known as the place where your grandparents retired to are coming to an end.
We certainly thought we saw some unrealised potential when we first arrived in Oamaru for a look at the house that we now call our own, but we never thought that so much of it would be realised quite so quickly. We feel that, for once in our life, we have managed to be on the cutting edge of an emerging trend. Though perhaps that email from five years ago today was right when the sender wrote “…there’s lot’s of potential [and] enthusiastic people would do well here.” Well, we certainly don’t lack for enthusiasm!