The Empire Hotel, unlike most backpackers', has been a hotel since the 1880s, and it was elegant in its day. Since modern plumbing has had to be added retroactively, it is now best suited to serving backpackers rather than dignitaries.
The Empire is right at the edge of Oamaru's Victorian Old Town. It is very well located for visits to the historic district, and a pharmacy, a supermarket, and a computer store are all within three blocks. It is also next door to two working railways -- a modern freight line and a vintage steam train, which is great for train buffs, but a tad noisy.
The Intercity bus station is only three flat blocks away, on the same side of Thames Street. As you approach from the station, you'll come to a pair of narrow red doors with a neat gold "13" on them, and next to it will be the Empire Hotel's sign. Drivers will see the hotel's awning, which stretches out over the sidewalk and says "BACKPACKERS," before they see the sign. There is ample parking in a lot behind the hotel.
Rooms and Bathrooms
Each guest receives two keys -- a room key and the key to the front door, which is locked from 9 p.m. to 9 a.m. Dorms have bunk beds and singles, doubles, and triples are also available. There is a unisex bathroom on each floor. The upstairs bathroom contains two toilets, each with its own small sink, four vigorous showers, and two more sinks. There is a changing area, with hooks, in front of each shower.
The Empire Hotel has a comfortable TV lounge on the ground floor and a computer lounge on the first floor. Wi-Fi service is excellent and relatively inexpensive though the advertised "free internet" is a bit misleading -- you get one hour's free use a day. There are three computers for the use of guests without laptops, rented at the same rate.
There are two kitchens, one on each floor. A laundry room and a "games room" are in the basement -- in the latter are a pool table and a piano, but we never saw anyone using either while we were there. The TV lounge is well used; the computer lounge is rather quiet. Most guests, at least when we were there, are young international travelers.
We like the Empire. In addition to the points mentioned above, it is within walking distance of the Little Blue Penguin Reserve, for which Oamaru is famous, and its proximity to the ocean means that little blue penguins can sometimes be seen in the parking lot of the hotel!