After the Holmdale sailed away in March 1974, no more trading vessels called at Oamaru. Conventional coastal shipping was on its last legs, and the Oamaru Harbour Board decided not to risk spending money on dredging to recapture vanishing trade.
In 1974 the harbour board celebrated its centenary, erecting a plaque that listed the port's milestones. Four years later the board was abolished, and the council took over its assets.
Since then only small fishing boats, pleasure craft and the occasional navy patrol boat has visited. With little money coming in, the council has struggled to maintain facilities.
Tourism has brought new opportunities – and threats – to the heritage values of the port. A blue penguin colony was established in the board's old quarry by the breakwater in 1992. Later a tourist railway opened between the waterfront and the town's historic precinct. In 2006, despite some opposition, a new restaurant was built on the 1879 Cross Wharf. In 2007 the Oamaru Whitestone Civic Trust opposed plans to build apartments in waterfront warehouses.
Although Oamaru was not included on the Department of Conservation's 2007 proposed indicative list for World Heritage, it may make a future bid. In the meantime, the town faces the challenge of preserving historic fabric while adapting spaces and structures to new use.