Geological sightseeing in Waitaki, New Zealand

Geological sightseeing in Waitaki, New Zealand

HSuddenly the city ends in the whiskey shop. It just stops like it’s being built. If you just look at the classic facades, they are all of a sudden empty spaces, and behind them a small harbor with a lonely ship swaying in front of it. Of course, more interior modern development continues. However, the architectural jewel of the city center bursts into the midst of expansion into an urban harbor front. In fact, the Umaru center in southeast New Zealand is a kind of Victorian Pompeii. The credit for preserving it is due to sudden deterioration.

Ulf von Rauchaubt

Responsible for the “Science” department at Frankfurter Allgemeine Sonntagszeitung.

“The oldest preserved building work dates back to 1861, when the population of Umaru was 207,” explains city guide Jim Hopkins, and leads us to the arch bridge below the wide Main Street to visit this artifact. “It is possibly the oldest preserved building in all of New Zealand.” The adult man, who worked in television before retirement and is still a Waitaki County Councilor, explains that the street view was not used for the parades, but the tall, drawn carriages of oxen must allow. This brought wool and wheat to the port, which was shipped from here to all parts of the world and made the city very rich in a short time. “Its zenith was in the years after 1880, when the population rose to more than 5,000,” says Hopkins. Luxury hotels looked like mushrooms, and the streets, on a smaller scale, tried to look like those in Vienna or Paris. Even the grain silo got a symmetrical Wilhelminian-style facade. Today “Steampunk Headquarters” houses strange artifacts from a future that never came.

The Criterion Hotel in Umaru was built in 1877


The Criterion Hotel in Umaru was built in 1877
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Photo: Ulf von Rauchhaupt

Umaru’s future didn’t come either. In 1889, the first seaworthy steamboat was launched, but the port of Umaru was not suitable for steamships. Business and money moved to Christchurch and Dunedin, and what remained is a bank temple in the Corinthian column arrangement, a town hall with bell tower and hotels – few of which had functioned that way for a long time. Since then, what the architects consider a breakthrough appears to have overtaken Umaru. The city became a fossil.

In a way, it was before. The well-preserved Victorian Old Town is also due to the fact that it was not built with wood like anywhere else in New Zealand at the time. Hardly any trees have grown on the marshy Waitaki River estuary. Alternatively, here is the Ututara formation, a thick layer of light-colored limestone that provides perhaps the best building block in the country. It consists of the remains of tiny marine organisms whose shells were deposited here about 34 to 28 million years ago when the area was covered by a shallow sea.

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